Thursday, 21 January 2016

322 All Creatures Great And Small

First  viewed :  8  January  1978

Yorkshire  vet   James  Wigt  became  , in  late  middle  age , one  of  the  publishing  phenomena  of  the  seventies  with  his  loosely  autobiographical  series  of  novels  about  the  lives  of  three  country  vets  in  the  Yorkshire  Dales  of  the  1930s  and  40s  under  the  name "James  Herriot" . My  mum  loved  them  and  as  she  was  terrible  at  taking  care  of  books, we  became  used  to  finding  bits  of  them  all  over  the  house. She  persuaded  me  to  go  and watch  the  1975  film  All  Creatures  Great  and  Small  when  it  was  shown  in  Rochdale  as  a  double  bill  with  a  wildlife  film,  Beautiful  People.  ( Interestingly,  Herriott  never  actually  wrote  a  novel  with  that  title- it  was  given  to  an  American  compilation  of  the  first  two  , If  Only  They Could  Talk  and It  Shouldn't  Happen  To  A  Vet.  I  found  the  film  really  boring  as  a  10  year  old  and  much  preferred  the  documentary  feature. I  didn't  bother  with  the follow  up  film  It  Shouldn't  Happen  To  A Vet  a  year  later.

The  young  Wigt/ Herriott  was  played  by  the  unknown  Christopher  Timothy  after  both  the film  Herriots  ( Simon  Ward  and  John  Alderton )  and  Richard  Beckinsale  had  turned  down  the  role. His  fictionalised  partners  were  the  eccentric  and  temperamental  Siegfried ( Robert  Hardy )  and  his  much-younger  and  more  likable  brother  Tristran ( Peter Davison  in  his  breakthrough  role ). His  wife  Helen  was  played  by  the  attractive  but  mumsy  Carol  Drinkwater.  With  much  of  the  action  taking  place  in  a  small  village  there  were  plenty  of  other characters  who  appeared  in  more  than  one  episode  most  memorably  Mrs  Pumphrey  the  elderly  widow  doting  on  the  poodle  Tricky-woo.

This  was  quintessential  feelgood  Sunday  night  TV  though  some  of  the  stories  were  quite  poignant. The  one  where  James  accepts  payment  from  an  impoverished  man  in  the  form  of a  cigar  and  then  smokes  it  when  he  dies  was  the  only  episode  I  recognised  from  the film. I  watched  it  pretty  regularly  as  there  wasn't  a  cat  in  hell's  chance  of  changing  channel  and  enjoyed  the  irrepressible  Tristran's  storylines  but  otherwise  it  left  me  pretty  cold. I  thought  Siegfried  was  an  appalling  character  and   James  and  Helen  a  bit  cloying.

Of  course  the  one  everyone  remembers  is  Peter  Davison  sticking his  hand  up  a  cow's  nether regions  to  deliver a  calf, apparently  for  real  although  it  has  been suggested  that  Davison's  histrionics  are  a  bit  exaggerated. It  was  certainly  much  talked  about  in  the  playground  the  following  Monday  morning.

After  three  immensely  popular  series  the  programme  had  more  or  less  caught  up  with  Wigt  and  the  series  had  to  stop  for  want  of  material  apart  from  two  Christmas  specials  in  1983  and  1985. Its  impact  was  profound; three  years  after  the  series  halted  in  1980,  veterinary  studies  was  the  hardest  degree  course  to  get  on  to  with  three  straight  A's  in  relevant  subjects  the  minimum   requirement.

Eventually  Wigt  agreed  to  let  the  Beeb  come  up  with  its  own  stories  and  the  series  was  resurrected  in  1988. Drinkwater  had  taken  up  environmental  activism  in  the  meantime  and  didn't  want  to  reprise  her  role  ( she  eventually  returned  to  acting  and  a  successful  second  career  as  a  writer ). Her  controversial  replacement  was  Linda  Bellingham  then  best  known  for  a  series  of  annoying  adverts  for  Oxo  gravy.

I  never  tuned  in  for  the  revived  series  and  can't  remember  if  mum  did  either.  It  eventually  ended  with  a  Christmas  special in  1990. Davison  of  course  was  Dr  Who   during  the   hiatus  in  the  series  and  remains  a  bankable  TV  actor. Hardy  remained  a  top  character  actor  , much  in  demand  for  patrician  roles  in  historical  dramas  though  he  seems  to  have  retired  now, having  turned  90  a  few  months  back. Timothy's  had  a  much  harder  time  of  it  with  a  six  year  stint  in   daytime soap  Doctors   the  most  substantial  thing  on his  cv.  The  Yorkshire  ton  of  Thirsk  and  its  environs  still  have  a  thriving  tourist  industry  based  on  the series  and  its  author. Wigt  himself  died  in  1995. He  would  have  turned  100  this  year.

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