All Creatures Great and Small (TV series)

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All Creatures Great and Small
All Creatures Great and Small tv series cast.jpg
Cast of All Creatures Great and Small: Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Peter Davison, Mary Hignett and Carol Drinkwater
Created byBill Sellars
Written byJames Herriot
Directed byPeter Grimwade
StarringChristopher Timothy
Robert Hardy
Peter Davison
John McGlynn
Carol Drinkwater
Margaretta Scott
Lynda Bellingham
Mary Hignett
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of episodes90 (List of episodes)
Producer(s)Bill Sellars
Running time50 minutes
Original channelBBC One
Original run8 January 1978 (1978-01-08) – 24 December 1990 (1990-12-24)
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All Creatures Great and Small
All Creatures Great and Small tv series cast.jpg
Cast of All Creatures Great and Small: Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Peter Davison, Mary Hignett and Carol Drinkwater
Created byBill Sellars
Written byJames Herriot
Directed byPeter Grimwade
StarringChristopher Timothy
Robert Hardy
Peter Davison
John McGlynn
Carol Drinkwater
Margaretta Scott
Lynda Bellingham
Mary Hignett
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of episodes90 (List of episodes)
Producer(s)Bill Sellars
Running time50 minutes
Original channelBBC One
Original run8 January 1978 (1978-01-08) – 24 December 1990 (1990-12-24)

All Creatures Great and Small is a British television series, based on the books of the British veterinary surgeon Alf Wight, who wrote under the pseudonym James Herriot. In 1977, the BBC tasked producer Bill Sellars with the creation of a television series from Herriot's first two novels, If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, using the title of the 1975 film adaptation All Creatures Great and Small.

Filming began in the autumn of 1977, and ninety episodes were aired over two three-year runs. The first run (1978 to 1980) was based directly on Herriot's books; the second (1988 to 1990) was filmed with original scripts.


The leading role was taken by actor Christopher Timothy, after Simon Ward (who had played the part in the 1975 film), John Alderton (who had replaced Ward in the sequel, It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet) and Richard Beckinsale all turned it down. Bill Sellars had wanted to give the role to Timothy from the outset, but the powers that be wanted to cast the role. Sellars, therefore, asked Timothy if he would accept the role of Tristan Farnon. "I had a wife, I had children, I had a mortgage to pay, and I wasn't working. So I said, 'No. It's Herriot or nothing.'" Timothy put everything on the line. "I got home one night, at about 9 o'clock. My wife was washing up in the kitchen. I walked into the kitchen and she said, without turning round, 'You've got the Herriot part.'" Timothy also stated that, after all of the roles had been cast except that of Herriot, one of the directors said, "Why don't we give [the part] to Christopher Timothy and make him a name?" In 2003, Timothy said that Alf Wight wrote him a letter after the series started, saying "You are the Herriot I wrote about".[1]

The cantankerous and eccentric Siegfried Farnon is played by Robert Hardy. "Some writers considered him an explosion, and all they needed to do was light the fuse and — bang — he would lose his temper, which was a great bore," explained the actor. "So I ended up occasionally writing my own scenes. I did make a nuisance of myself, and I'm afraid I made enemies amongst some of the younger writers. But that's necessary. Out of these battles come, if you're lucky, quality. It needs steel and a stone to make a spark."[1]

"He would simply say, 'This is nonsense, I'm not doing it,'" laughed Peter Davison, who plays Siegfried's boyish younger brother, Tristan. The character was based on Herriot's real-life colleague, Brian Sinclair. "I think I lied about every aspect of playing the part," explained Davison. "I said I smoked; I didn't smoke. I said I drank; I didn't drink. I said I knew a bit about animals; didn't know anything about animals." Tristan likes nothing more than slipping out to the Drovers Arms for a pint or two of Best Yorkshire Bitter whenever the opportunity presents itself, one of several traits that annoy his brother. Others include his penchant for sleeping late, failing his exams, and spending too much time chasing the female of the species.

Helen Herriot (née Alderson) is played by Carol Drinkwater in the first three series and two specials, then by Lynda Bellingham in the final four series. Mary Hignett plays housekeeper Mrs Hall in the first three series, with Mrs Greenlaw (Judy Wilson) (1985 special and series 4, episodes 1–5) and Mrs Alton (Jean Heywood) (series 7) inheriting the roles. Margaretta Scott appears as the recurring aristocratic dog-owner Mrs Pumphrey. Her grumbling servant, who is irked at having to look after Mrs Pumphrey's pampered dog Tricky Woo, is Hodgekin (Teddy Turner).

With the amount of screen time to fill, the series quickly became much more of an ensemble show, developing all the characters considerably. In particular, the role of Tristan was significantly increased. This was partly because Christopher Timothy was injured in a car accident during a fortnight break in the middle of recording the first series. As a result, the Welsh actor was largely restricted to studio scenes, which meant that all the scenes involving location filming be rewritten and include Davison. "I remember Christopher's accident vividly," recalled Robert Hardy. "It was a ghastly shock, and one thought, 'Well, that's the end of that. We shan't be going on.'" Timothy remembers: "The news from the hierarchy was: 'Tragic news about Christopher. Glad he's okay. Send his wife some flowers and re-cast.'"

"One of the plans was to make me James Herriot," said Peter Davison, "and then re-cast Tristan." Bill Sellars refused this option: "I said, 'I'm not doing that. It's an awful waste. We'll find another way around it.' We took the rest of the series apart, scene by scene, and all the scenes that Christopher Timothy was involved in, I extracted and took them down to the hospital, threw them on the hospital bed, and said, 'Learn those.'"

"I was plated and screwed instead of plastered," recalled Timothy, "and I was back at work in nine weeks. Which was insane, in retrospect: I could barely walk; I was terrified; I'd lost a lot of weight; and everybody worked round me."

"They would prop him up against a surgery table," said Peter Davison. "Then he'd start having a conversation with me. And then, at some point in the scene, I would have to move my eyes slowly across the room while two people would come in and literally carry him across to the next position."

In series 4, new vet Calum Buchanan (John McGlynn), based on Herriot's real-life assistant Brian Nettleton, is introduced. He and Tristan know each other from veterinary school in Edinburgh. He marries fellow Scot Deirdre McEwan (Andrea Gibb) early in series 6, and the pair move to Nova Scotia.

The Herriot children, Jimmy and Rosie, are played by several different actors in their various stints. Jimmy is portrayed by Harry Brayne in the 1983 special. Oliver Wilson takes over the role from the 1985 special until the end of series 5. Paul Lyon plays him in the final series. Rosie, meanwhile, is played by Rebecca Smith from the 1985 special until the end of series 5. Alison Lewis takes over for the final series.

James' early rival for Helen's affections was the well-off Richard Edmundson, played by Norman Mann.

Several farmers make recurring appearances throughout the series. Mr Biggins (John Sharp) is a notorious payment-dodger who regularly attempts to procure free service out of the practice, as well as decrying the cost of the vets' visits. In one episode he calls Herriot out to question a bill charge from 18 months earlier. On another occasion, in exchange for Herriot's assistance with a puncture on his car, Biggins agrees to settle his account. Little does Herriot know that Biggins post-dated the cheque. Biggins' first name is revealed to be Ezra in the series 7 episode "If Music Be the Food of Love", which is his final appearance in the show.

Mr Hartley (Peter Martin, who also plays Handshaw in series 1 and 2), meanwhile, is a relatively good-natured client, compared to the perpetually-disgruntled Ted Grimsdale (Bryan Pringle).

Fellmonger Jeff Mallock (Fred Feast and, later, Frank Birch) is regularly waiting in the wings to take ailing livestock to his knacker's yard. Whatever the vets' diagnoses, Mallock always thinks the real reason is "stagnation of t'lung".

Fellow vet Granville Bennett (James Grout), a cat specialist, is often on hand to help out with the more severe feline cases. His enjoyment of alcohol is always of a concern for James, however, who regularly ends up inebriated and making a fool of himself in front of Bennett's wife, Zoe (Pamela Salem).


The Herriot "novels" are written in a very episodic manner, with each chapter generally containing a short story within the ongoing narrative of Herriot's life. This format made the creation of a television series a natural adaptation.

The programme initially ran for three series, with each episode adapting one or two of the Herriot stories—usually a story thread centred on James, and a second centred on Siegfried or Tristan. The continuity of the show followed the general arc of the books: James' arrival at Darrowby in 1937, his growing experience as a vet, his humorous attempts at romance with Helen, and their eventual marriage. The programme ended in 1980 at the stage where the characters were drawn into the Second World War. This completed the adaptation of all the novels which Alf Wight had written up to that point. Two 90-minute Christmas Specials were subsequently made, in 1983 and 1985, set after the war.

Skeldale House, pictured in July 2011, when the building was up for sale. It is now a bed and breakfast.

At the end of the filming of the 1985 special, Christopher Timothy and Carol Drinkwater were asked if they thought that was the end of the series. "I'm fairly certain it is, yes," said Timothy. "There's very, very little material left." But surely there is another animal story every day? "It's a case of what James Herriot has written, though," replied Drinkwater. "He will, indeed, only allow us to use what is written. Which, I think, is fair."

Eight years later, in 1988, the programme was revived, after Bill Sellars was able to persuade Alf Wight to allow new scripts to be written around the existing characters, but not directly based on the Herriot books, with some story lines were repeated from the first run. The revived series was one of the first co-productions of the BBC (a practice that has since become commonplace), made in partnership with A&E and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The revival, set beginning in 1949, ran for four more series, taking the characters into the early 1950s. Peter Davison was busy with other projects and was seen far less frequently in these newer series, with the character of Tristan leaving for Ireland at one point before returning after several episodes. He left again after that (he is only seen in one episode of the sixth series), before returning for the majority of the final series.

The revived series gradually became more based around the development of the central characters – particularly after the introduction of Calum and Deirdre, with their romance and subsequent marriage – and it mainly centred upon the activities inside Skeldale House, rather than being a series about a veterinary practice. For the final series, all of the new characters were dropped (including Calum, Deirdre, and the Herriot children), and the series returned to its 1970s roots, focusing once more on the animals. The final broadcast was another Christmas Special, in 1990.

Robert Hardy was concerned that the series would be a brief affair. His worry was that it would "bore the townspeople and irritate the countryfolk". He put its success down to the fact that it featured "real people". Christopher Timothy, on the other hand, thought it had an excellent chance due to the popularity of Wight's books.[1]

In 2007, an unfilmed script by the show's script editor Johnny Byrne was recovered and presented to the BBC as a possible Christmas reunion episode, but the BBC did not commission it. Peter Davison joked, "Maybe they just thought we were too decrepit, I don't know!"[2]

Over 18–20 December 2011, the BBC screened a three-episode prequel, Young James Herriot, about Herriot's time at University, with Iain de Caestecker in the title role. Co-stars included Amy Manson and Tony Curran.[3]


The Kings Arms Hotel, on Main Street, doubled as the Drovers Arms in the series.
The dispensary section of the Skeldale House surgery on permanent display at the James Herriot Museum in Thirsk.

The programme was filmed in North Yorkshire, with some scenes shot at Bolton Castle and in the village of Askrigg, which doubled for the fictional Darrowby. Cringley House, now a bed and breakfast, provided the exterior shots of Skeldale House. The Kings Arms Hotel, which became the Drovers Arms during filming, features photographs on its interior walls of the cast drinking at the establishment during downtime.[4] Just up Main Street, Lodge Yard was featured in the episode "Against the Odds".

Parts of the beginning title sequence – in particular, the car passing through the ford — were shot on an unnamed road between Feetham in Swaledale and Langthwaite in Arkengarthdale.

Other locations used include Coverdale; Ellerton Abbey (Barlby Grange, the home of Mrs. Pumphrey); Finghall railway station[5] (which doubled as Rainby Halt); Hawes (Darrowby Cattle Market); Coverham (the bridge over the river in the episode "Advice & Consent"[6] and the gate of Holy Trinity Church in the episode "Mending Fences");[7] Ivelet Bridge[8] (in the episode "Call of the Wild"); Simonstone Hall (Darrowby Show); Thornborough Hall, Leyburn[9] (Ministry of Agriculture building); Great Gill, West Scrafton[10] (in the episodes "A New Chapter" and "Alarms & Excursions"); Village Shop, East Witton[11] (the Altons' cottage in the episode "The Prodigal Returns"); Thornton Steward[12] (in the episode "If Wishes Were Horses"); Langthwaite (J. R. Stubbs' store);[13] Market Place, Leyburn (Darrowby Market);[14] Village Hall, Muker[15] (the venue for the flower show in the episode "Hampered"); The Red Lion, Langthwaite[16] (as the Red Lion, Briston, in the episode "Every Dog Has His Day"); The Bolton Arms, Redmire[17] (in the episode "Beauty of the Beast"); The Green, West Burton[18] (in the episode "Plenty to Grouse About"); Manor House, Middleham[19] (Barraclough home in the episode "Against the Odds"); North Road, Middleham[20] (Geoff Hatfield's confectioners in the episode "Where Sheep May Safely Graze"); Ferndale, Middleham[21] (the Darnley sisters' home in the episode "The Rough & the Smooth"); Constable Burton Hall[22] (home of Major Headingley); Marsett Lane, Countersett[23] (where Calum proposes to Deirdre on the bus in the episode "Two of a Kind"); Old Chapel, Thoralby[24] (in the episode "If Music Be the Food of Love"); Semerwater (in the episode "The Female of the Species"); Braithwaite Lane, East Witton (in the episodes "Salt of the Earth",[25] "A Dying Breed",[26] and the bus stop in "Against the Odds");[27] and Redmire Village Green (Darrowby bus stop in the episodes "Puppy Love" and "Ways and Means").[28]

The exterior of Wensley Holy Trinity Church was used in the wedding of James and Helen.

Other than St Oswald's in Askrigg,[29] several different churches were used during filming: St Mary & St John's Church, Hardraw[30] (Darrowby Church); Wensley Holy Trinity Church[31] (James' and Helen's wedding in the episode "The Last Furlong"); St. Michael and All Angels Church, Hubberholme[32] (Franco and Katharine's wedding in the episode "Promises to Keep"); Holy Trinity Church, Melbecks[33] (in the episode "Golden Lads & Girls"); St Michael's Church, Spennithorne[34] (in the episode "Where Sheep May Safely Graze"); St Andrew's Church, Grinton[35] (in the episode "Brotherly Love"); and St Bartholomew's Church, West Witton (in the episode "Cats & Dogs").[36]

For the 1985 Christmas Special, filming was based in Richmond, North Yorkshire. The gymnasium of the barracks of the Green Howards regiment became Skeldale's surgery. The King's Head Hotel, meanwhile, was the scene of James and Helen's anniversary dinner.

Some indoor scenes (including all those of the interior of Skeldale House) were shot at the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham.

For the first three series, up until the two Christmas specials of 1983 and 1985, most interior scenes were recorded on video and edited together with filmed exterior shots, as was common practice in British television at the time. Many scenes were shot on location at some of the Dales' countless farms. This provided hardships in the winter of 1978–79, when the temperatures dropped well below freezing. "The snow was high and the ice was solid," explained Robert Hardy in 2003.[1] "I remember two occasions when we were so cold, from the wind on the tops, that we couldn't speak. We had to stop."[1] Peter Davison recalled: "People would hand me a cup of tea and I would stick my hand in it, rather than drink it, because my fingers were so cold."

When it came to the oft-joked-about insertion of an arm up a cow's uterus, Davison said: "People think we cheated, or something. I tell them that the BBC are not going to pay for a stunt cow that I can put my arm up." Robert Hardy added: "It's enchanting, because once you've got your hand inside you can understand how the interior works."

The series' exterior shots were originally to be filmed in Derbyshire, but Hardy took offence to the plan and threatened to walk out of the producer's office.[1]

The original set of the interior of the Skeldale House surgery is now located at the Richmondshire Museum in Richmond and is open to the public. Other extensive parts, including the living room and the dispensary, are on display at the James Herriot Museum in Thirsk, which is also open to the public.


The theme tune for All Creatures, "Piano Parchment", was written as library music in 1968 by Johnny Pearson.[37] It was chosen by producer Bill Sellars, who had earlier selected Pearson's "Sleepy Shores" as the theme for the TV programme Owen MD.[37] All the incidental music used in the show was written by Pearson.

TV episodes[edit]

Ninety episodes (including the three Christmas Specials) were broadcast over seven series. Each episode is fifty minutes in length.

DVD releases[edit]

All seven series and two Christmas Specials have been released on DVD in Region 1, Region 2 and Region 4.

DVD TitleNo. of DiscsYearNo. of EpisodesRegion 1Region 2Region 4
Series 1419781314 May 2002N/A2 January 2013
Series 1, Volume 1319786N/A7 April 20031 September 2003
Series 1, Volume 2319787N/A5 May 20031 September 2003
Series 1 & 28197827N/AN/A5 October 2010
Series 2419781415 October 2002N/A2 January 2013
Series 2, Volume 1319787N/A7 July 20035 May 2005
Series 2, Volume 2319787N/A15 September 20035 May 2005
Series 341979–19801416 September 200323 October 20064 May 2006
Series 4319881014 September 200426 December 200611 April 2007
Series 5419881219 July 20053 March 20082 April 2008
Series 6419891225 July 200618 August 20082 April 2009
Series 7419901314 August 200726 December 200818 May 2010
Christmas Specials21983 and 1985216 September 200320 October 20082 April 2008
Complete Collection331978–19909015 January 20089 November 2009N/A


The cast became household names around the world. "I've had letters from vets, both male and female, who say they became vets because of the series," said Robert Hardy.[1]

Christopher Timothy became the most famous vet on the planet, which became a mixed blessing. "After I did All Creatures, it was eight years before I acted on television again," he recalled. "I remember once going to see my agent and, going up the stairs to his office, hearing him screaming down the phone: 'He's not a vet, he's a bloody actor!'"[1]


In 2003, Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Carol Drinkwater and Lynda Bellingham appeared together on Stars Reunited. Also briefly joining them, and host Dale Winton, on the couch was Jack Watkinson, MRCVS, the Yorkshire vet with whom Timothy spent a week in 1977 prior to the filming of the series. Timothy has stated that, for him, it was the best week of the whole series.[1] "I did seriously feel, with all humility," explained Timothy, "that when I turned up to start filming: 'I'm sort of equipped for this.'"

Watkinson died in May 2013 after suffering a stroke. He was 84.[38] (Watkinson was the on-locaton technical advisor; Eddie Straiton, meanwhile, was his studio-based counterpart.)

Peter Davison could not attend, because had other commitments.

As did the 1983 Christmas Special, the interview included a tribute to Mary Hignett, who died shortly after the series' first run. "She was the warmest-hearted, most genial, most enchanting companion," said Hardy. "She was a total dear; I absolutely adored her, and it was tragic that she died far too soon and left us bereft." Timothy added: "A fabulous lady, and greatly, greatly missed."[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Stars Reunited All Creatures cast reunion, July 2003
  2. ^ Rawson-Jones, Ben (9 January 2009). "Davison: 'BBC rejected 'All Creatures' return", Digital Spy. Retrieved 10 January 2009.
  3. ^ "Former Corrie star Iain de Caestekcer to play young James Herriot in BBC drama". The Sun (London). 
  4. ^ The Drovers Arms – The Kings Arms website
  5. ^ "Finghall Railway Station, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Playing Field (1988)" -
  6. ^ "Bridge, Coverham, N Yorks, UK _ All Creatures Great & Small, Advice & Consent (1978)" -
  7. ^ "Coverham Church, Coverham, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small. Mending Fences (1989)" -
  8. ^ "Ivelet Bridge, Ivelet, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Call Of The Wild (1989)" -
  9. ^ "Thornborough Hall, Leyburn, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The New World (1989)" -
  10. ^ "Great Gill, West Scrafton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, A New Chapter (1988)" -
  11. ^ "Village Shop, East Witton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Prodigal Returns (1990)" -
  12. ^ "Thornton Steward, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, If Wishes Were Horses (1980)" -
  13. ^ "Bridge & Shop, Langthwaite, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small (1989)" -
  14. ^ "Market Place, Leyburn, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Blood & Water (1989)" -
  15. ^ "Village Hall, Muker, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Hampered (1990)" -
  16. ^ "Red Lion, Langthwaite, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Every Dog His Day (1980)" -
  17. ^ "Bolton Arms, Redmire, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Beauty Of The Beast (1978)" -
  18. ^ "The Green, West Burton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Plenty To Grouse About (1979)" -
  19. ^ "Manor House, West End, Middleham, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Against The Odds (1988)" -
  20. ^ "North Rd, Middleham, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Where Sheep May Safely Graze (1989)" -
  21. ^ "Ferndale, Middleham. N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Rough & The Smooth (1989)" -
  22. ^ "Constable Burton Hall, Constable Burton, N Yorks – All Creatures Great & Small, Be Prepared (1980)" -
  23. ^ "Marsett Lane, Countersett, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Two Of A Kind (1988)" -
  24. ^ "Old Chapel, Thoralby, N Yorkshire, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, If Music be the Food of Love (1990)" -
  25. ^ "40 Braithwaite Lane, East Witton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Salt Of The Earth (1988)" -
  26. ^ "48 Braithwaite Lane, East Witton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, A Dying Breed (1980)" -
  27. ^ "Braithwaite Lane, East Whitton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Against The Odds (1988)" -
  28. ^ "The Green, Redmire, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Puppy Love (1978)" -
  29. ^ "St Oswald’s Church, Askrigg, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Out of Practice (1978)" -
  30. ^ "St Mary & St John’s Church, Hardraw, N Yorkshire, UK – All Creatures Great & Small (1978-1990)" -
  31. ^ "Holy Trinity Church, Wensley, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Last Furlong (1978)" -
  32. ^ "St Michael’s & All Angels Church, Hubberholme, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Promises To Keep (1990)" -
  33. ^ "Holy Trinity Church, Melbecks, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Golden Lads & Girls (1978)" -
  34. ^ "St Michael’s Church Spennithorne, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Where Sheep May Safely Graze (1989)" -
  35. ^ "St Andrew’s Church, Grinton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Brotherly Love (1990)" -
  36. ^ "St Bartholomew’s Church, West Witton, N Yorks, UK" -
  37. ^ a b Johnny Pearson obituary in The Independent, viewed 26 July 2013
  38. ^ "JACK WATKINSON MRCVS" - Hollin Rigg Vets website
  1. Official James Herriot Website
  2. All Creatures Great and Small (TV series 1978–1990) at the Internet Movie Database
  3. Timothy, Christopher (7 December 1979). Vet Behind the Ears. London: Pan Books. ISBN 0-330-26075-8. 

External links[edit]