Appellate Judge James A. Stewart really was impressed by one aspect of veterinarian James Herriot's life: lots of pints and thick beef sandwiches at the Drovers.
"Duty calls day or night, summer or winter."—James Herriot
Sometimes it pays not to advertise.
Veterinarian James Alfred Wight used the pen name James Herriot for his fictionalized memoir, If Only They Could Talk, because he was concerned about advertising prohibitions for veterinarians. Alf's 1970 volume was a success, first appearing Stateside in a combined volume with its first sequel as All Creatures Great and Small. Thirsk, the English town where Wight practiced, became known to the world as Darrowby.
The TV series All Creatures Great and Small had a fairly long run—in fits and starts—on the BBC, starting in 1978 and ending in 1990. It made stars of Christopher Timothy, who plays Herriot, and Peter Davison (Doctor Who), who played Tristan Farnon (but eventually left the Yorkshire practice to make time-and-space house calls).
The episodes here first aired in the fall of 1989. They star Christopher Timothy as James Herriot and Robert Hardy (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) as Siegfried Farnon, his wily senior partner. As the series begins, they have another partner, Calum Buchanan (John McGlynn, Gangs of New York), who resides above the surgery at Skeldale Hall. Regular characters also include Helen Herriot (Lynda Bellingham, Martin Chuzzlewit) and Calum's fiancee Dierdre (Andrea Gibb). Peter Davison makes a brief return visit as Tristan to make sure the bridegroom has a jolly good hangover in "The Call of the Wild."
Facts of the Case
Series 6, the penultimate series of the show, includes 12 episodes set in 1952:
• "Here and There"
• "The Course of True Love"
• "The Call of the Wild"
• "The Nelson Touch"
• "Blood and Water"
• "Where Sheep May Safely Graze"
• "The New World"
• "Mending Fences"
• "Big Fish, Little Fish"
• "In Whom We Trust"
• "The Rough and The Smooth"
• "The Best Time"
If you haven't already read anything by James Herriot, the episode descriptions should give you a picture of All Creatures Great and Small. While the writers can milk a cat's hairball for a little dramatic tension, the show is more about the interesting rural Yorkshire characters Herriot meets than about the animals, though the creatures are present in almost every scene. An episode usually serves up small slices of Yorkshire life, washed down with a little romance and a few pints at the Drovers, the pub around which Darrowby life centers. It's a heartwarming show, the sort that British TV has got down to a science.
Christopher Timothy makes a good Herriot, dedicated but with a playful streak that helps him deal with offbeat situations (like a monkey being let loose in the surgery). He cares about his animal and human charges, going beyond mere veterinary medicine to serve as a confidant and counselor. But he can still be exasperated when a farmer doesn't know what "ataxic" means (in case you'd be stumped there, too, it's when a pig staggers around like it's drunk; since pigs don't go to the Drovers, it's not a good thing.). Lydia Bellingham plays Helen as a devoted wife who's almost as much a part of the practice as partner Siegfried, not just in knowing her way around the surgery to fill a prescription but in counseling human clients. The comic touches are provided by Robert Hardy as Siegfried, who can rebuke James for adopting another dog, then be touched and adopt one himself, or organize a male bonding week, then be mesmerized by the newfangled TV set. Siegfried's role isn't purely comic; Hardy makes it clear that the senior partner is able and as devoted as Herriot.
The show stirs in a subtle dose of nostalgia, with period music playing constantly on the radio in the Herriot home. Vintage Cadbury signs are a sweet grace note in an episode revolving around the local sweets shop, and the start of the new Elizabethan age plays a big role in one episode, with ceremonial clips replacing the show's standard closing. Animal lovers will also be tickled by the show's animal-centric world view: you might find dogs hanging out at the Drovers and you regularly see pets trotting along beside their people.
The videotaped production has some technical flaws, with faces indistinct in the natural light and some occasionally shaky camerawork as the actors are chasing around farm animals. As befitting a show with the name All Creatures Great and Small, the score has a gentle majesty that evokes hymns; it comes through with no problems here.
As for extras, you get a "Who's Who in the Cast," but information about the real James Herriot and his countryside would be helpful.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The show isn't CSI by any means, but there's always the suggestion of veterinary realities—the horse that dies in childbirth, dead or wounded animals, and a monkey's case of diarrhea, to name just a few. These elements are handled tastefully and mostly off-camera. The show is done gently enough that it's suitable for all ages, but it is aimed more toward an audience that might remember what an old-time candy shop looked like or the start of the Elizabethan age with fondness.
If you're looking for gentle, heartwarming stories, All Creatures Great and Small is a safe blind buy. The rural veterinarian's life makes a good subject for this sort of TV series, since it lets its protagonist into the lives of both humans and animals.
Not guilty. Now let's close the surgery and nip off to the Drovers for a pint and a thick beef sandwich.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Who's Who in the Cast
Review content copyright © 2006 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.