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, circa 1978: Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Peter Davison, Mary Hignett and Carol Drinkwater
Genre Comedy-drama
Created by Bill Sellars
Written by James Herriot
Starring Christopher Timothy
Robert Hardy
Peter Davison
Carol Drinkwater
Mary Hignett
John McGlynn
Margaretta Scott
Lynda Bellingham
(list of characters)
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 7
No. of episodes 90 (list of episodes)
Producer(s) Bill Sellars
Running time 48 minutes
Original network BBC1
Picture format 4:3
Audio format Mono
Original release 8 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.

The series had two runs: the original (1978 to 1980, based directly on Herriot's books) was for three series; the second (1988 to 1990, filmed with original scripts) for four. Ninety episodes were broadcast in the six-year period.


Central characters[edit]

The leading role is played by Christopher Timothy. 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 down the role. Bill Sellars had wanted to give the role to Timothy from the outset, but the powers that be wanted to cast the role.[1] 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 Herriot 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".[2]

The cantankerous and eccentric Siegfried Farnon, based on Wight's real life partner Donald Sinclair, is played by Robert Hardy. "We all had a meeting together in London," recalls Hardy, "and Bill Sellars said, 'Now, these characters are all based on real people. None of you are to meet these people until we have made at least three episodes.' So I immediately got into my car and fled up to Yorkshire to meet my man, Donald Sinclair. I was intrigued beyond measure by him. He was a true eccentric and, like all true eccentrics, he had no idea himself how odd he was! He absolutely hated what I did, because he had no idea he was at all like that, but when we'd really got into it and were producing them at high speed, his friends used to come to me and say, 'You've got him, that's him.'"[1]

A bachelor at the time, Siegfried took over Skeldale House from another vet, named Grant. "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."[2] In the 1983 Christmas Special, Siegfried meets an old flame, Caroline Fisher, who has returned after living in America. They later marry and have children, as mentioned in the series 7 episode "Hampered".

"He would simply say, 'This is nonsense, I'm not doing it,'" laughed Peter Davison, who plays Siegfried's boyish younger brother, Tristan (affectionately called "Mister Tristan" by housekeeper Mrs Hall), whose character was based on the younger brother of Donald Sinclair, Brian. Upon first meeting Davison, Christopher Timothy joked to Bill Sellars, "Too tall, re-cast!"[1] "I thought, 'What if they suddenly noticed I was quite a bit taller than Robert Hardy?'" explained Davison.[1] "He thought I meant it," said Timothy. "He was horrified that I was trying to get him re-cast. I was in no position to do that and I wouldn't have done that joke for the world if I thought it would upset him. He's a lovely bloke, Pete, an absolute gent. I'm very fond of him."[1]

"In the early episodes I smoked a pipe, because I knew that Donald did in the early days," explained Hardy. "By the end I was very involved with my costumes and used to wear a lot of my own clothes, because at the beginning the designer put me into some of the most frightful stuff, which really made me unhappy because it just made me look like a block of really absurd tweeds."[1]

"I ended up in more of the series because Robert Hardy really liked the way the two brothers worked," continued Davison. "It gave him more scope for what he wanted to do. I've never learned so much from anyone as I learned from Robert, because I've just never worked with anyone else like him. He is an extraordinary actor. He would never do the same thing twice. In two takes he would give an entirely different performance — he would bark where he had whispered before. I had to keep on my toes, but I managed to keep up with him, I think, though obviously I'm not on his level."[1]

Hardy's demand for professionalism became plain to see. "If he thinks that someone is not doing the absolute best they can, he will tell them so," said Davison[3]

"On one level I'm not like Tristan at all," said Davison. "I was very, very shy growing up. I was very shy in company. I was shy at drama school. I came over as quite affable in a way, which served me well, but I wasn't confident."[1] "I think I lied about every aspect of playing the part. 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."[3]

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 "intensely irritating habits" that annoy his brother. Others include his penchant for sleeping late, failing his exams, and spending too much time chasing women. In the episode "The Prodigal Returns", when Siegfried mistakenly thinks "little brother" is impersonating a client on the other end of the telephone line, a few home truths come out: "Mr Biggins, if you've got it into your head that young Mr Farnon is a veterinary surgeon of any quality whatsoever, let me disabuse you of that idea immediately. He is nothing more than a slothful, drunken, incompetent lecher who will soon be seeking employment elsewhere." Tristan's party piece is a rendition of "The Mad Conductor" (Benito Mussolini conducting the Neurasthenic Strings), which he performs in "Out of Practice" and "...The Healing Touch". In the former episode, he downs a pint of beer. "That was real beer!" Davison said. "I don't think coloured water would have worked for some reason, and I don't know if they had the alcohol-free beer then?"[1] As for "The Mad Conductor", Davison continued: "I have no idea what I was doing! I just went a bit nuts really."[1]

"Peter was so good. We worked well together, " said Hardy of his on-screen sibling. "In the early filming days, I realised he was watching me. He watched and watched, and I said, 'Why are you looking at me all the time?' and he said, 'Because we're brothers, and I want to catch some sort of family thing that I can use so that it's obvious we are of the same family.' I was very impressed by that. He was very, very good."[1]

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 Hubbard (Marjorie Suddell) (1983 Christmas Special), Mrs Greenlaw (Judy Wilson) (1985 special and series 4, episodes 1–5) and Mrs Alton (Jean Heywood) (series 7) inheriting the roles. (A housekeeper by the name of Mary preceded Mrs Hall, who is a widow after the death of her husband, Arthur.)[4]

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 on Boxing Day 1977 during a fortnight break between the recording of "Out of Practice" and "Nothing Like Experience" in the first series. As a result, the 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.'"[2] This accounts for the three-week break in transmission dates between episodes 11 ("Bulldog Breed") and 12 ("Practice Makes Perfect") of the first series.

"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."

Recurring characters[edit]

Margaretta Scott appears as the recurring aristocratic dog-owner Mrs Pumphrey. Her servant, irked at having to look after Mrs Pumphrey's pampered Pekingese Tricki-Woo, is William Hodgekin (Teddy Turner). He longs for it to "have its chips" and succumb to illness, which is why he grumbles whenever the vets pay a visit.

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 emigrate 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, the well-off Richard Edmundson, was 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".

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

Knackerman Jeff Mallock (Frank Birch from series 1 to 3 and Fred Feast from series 4 to 7) 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 o' t'lung".

Fellow vet Granville Bennett (James Grout), a cat and dog specialist, is often on hand to help out with the more severe small animal 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).

As evidenced by Peter Martin above, several actors played more than one character throughout the course of the series; none more so than Bill Lund, who played four different people: Mr Sykes in "Fair Means and Fowl", a farmhand in "Pups, Pigs and Pickle", Mr Edgeworth in the 1985 Christmas Special and Mr Bushell in "Hail Caesar!".

Geoffrey Bayldon played three characters: Roland Partridge in "Pride of Possession", Mr Mason in the 1983 Christmas Special and confectioner Geoff Hatfield in "Where Sheep May Safely Graze".

Anna Turner also played three characters: Miss Thompson in "Big Steps and Little 'Uns", a stall holder in the 1983 Christmas Special and Mrs Pettinger in "A Cat in Hull's Chance".

Jack Watson played two cantankerous characters: farmer Isaac Cranford in "Nothing Like Experience" and vet Hilary Mottram in "One of Nature's Little Miracles". He reprised the role of Cranford in the 1990 Christmas Special.

Others who played two characters:

  • George Malpas: Mr Dean in "Dog Days" and Mr Dakin in "The Bull with the Bowler Hat"
  • Joe Belcher: Dan Cooper in "Dog Days" and Mr Thwaites in "Only One Woof"
  • Enid Irvin: Mrs Allen in "Sleeping Partners" and Mrs Wheatley in "For Richer, For Poorer"
  • Alan Hulse: Mr Willis in "Hair of the Dog" and Mr Stott in "The Pig Man Cometh"
  • Pearl Hackney: Mrs Crump in "Calf Love" and Mrs Hird in "Choose a Bright Morning"
  • Avril Angers: Miss Dooley in "Pups, Pigs and Pickle" and Molly Shadwell in "A Friend for Life"
  • Barry Jackson: Ken Billings in "Matters of Life and Death" and Mr Dowson in "Blood and Water"
  • Madeline Smith: Angela Farmer in "Pride of Possession" and Anne Grantley in the 1983 Christmas Special
  • Katharine Page: Aunt Lucy in "Golden Lads and Girls" and Mollie Minikin in "Only One Woof"
  • Fine Time Fontayne: George Forsyth in the 1985 Christmas Special and Joe Bentley in "A New Chapter"
  • Tony Capstick: Fred Allan in "In Whom We Trust" and Clem Hudson in the 1985 Christmas Special
  • June Ellis: Mrs Bellerby in "Faint Hearts" and Mrs Mason in "The New World"
  • Michael Lees: Mr Bond in "Cats and Dogs" and Colonel Bosworth in "The Healing Touch"
  • Peter Ivatts: Mr Blackburn in "A Dying Breed" and Tom Maxwell in "The Bull With the Bowler Hat" and "Against the Odds"
  • James Bree: Mr Plenderleith in "Out of Practice" and Humphrey Cobb in "The Bull With the Bowler Hat"
  • Danny O'Dea: Tom in "Faint Hearts" and Rupe in "The Pig Man Cometh"
  • Graham Hamilton: a soldier in "Alarms and Excursions" and Sergeant Bannister in the 1983 Christmas Special
  • Danny James: Smedley in "Dog Days" and Mr Meynell in "The Jackpot"
  • John Barrett: Kitson in "Breath of Life" and Mr Dent in "Every Dog His Day"
  • Keith Marsh: George Hindley in "Will to Live" and Mr Howell in "The Prodigal Returns"

"They used some genuine Yorkshire characters to play the farmers," recalls Sandy Byrne, the former wife of writer Johnny Byrne. "So he relished writing for them because they were so quirky and funny. One of the guest characters we both adored was Granville Bennett, from whom James never escaped without being utterly plastered. He was played by James Grout, who was wonderful! He very much enjoyed writing for Mrs Pumphrey and Hodgekin too."[1]

Robert Hardy concurs: "What I think made the thing a success was those Yorkshire and Lancashire actors we had playing the farmers. They were wonderful. They lent a real authenticity to their stuff, farmers complaining about their bills and all that."[1]

Meanwhile, Ted Moult, who played Harold Carter, was a real farmer in the 1940s but became a radio and television personality in the mid-1960s.

In addition to the aforementioned roles of Helen Herriot, her children and Jeff Mallock, a few characters were played by more than one actor:

Aside from the human characters, Siegfried's four dogs make regular appearances at Skeldale House. One of them — a whippet named Christie — was Robert Hardy's own; two belonged to Bill Sellars and a mutt belonged to producer John Nathan-Turner.[6]


The Herriot "novels" were written in an episodic style, with each chapter generally containing a short story within the ongoing narrative of Herriot's life. This format greatly facilitated their adaptation for a television series.

Filming began in the summer of 1977. "The first thing we did was a filming block on location in North Yorkshire," explained Peter Davison. "I just remember driving up and seeing this beautiful countryside that I'd never seen before. It was untouched. Initially we stayed in a little place called West Witton in Wensleydale, in between Leyburn and Askrigg. Robert Hardy always stayed [in Low Row] near Reeth, where he'd found this rather grand little bed and breakfast place. He would invite us around for dinner and would normally be sat there working on the script and would go in the next day, bang it on the table and say, 'I've rewritten this, here it is!' It was usually better."

Norman Mann, who played Richard Edmundson, recalled: "When we were up in Yorkshire, most of us stayed at the Heifer Hotel in Wensleydale, whilst Robert Hardy stayed in a different hotel. But he used to send a car over to pick us all up and we'd have dinner with him. He was the established name and he always made everybody feel so welcome."[1]

"Our routine in the beginning was that we would rehearse for a week [at BBC Park Western] in North Acton," explained Carol Drinkwater. "Then we would have Saturday off. Then we would have to be in Birmingham on the Sunday night and Pebble Mill on Monday morning to do the interiors studio scenes there. If there was filming, we would do a six-week block where we would all go north. That's how it started, until eventually Robert Hardy said he wanted it all to be on film, so for the specials we shot the interiors in Yorkshire on a sound stage on film and made it pretty much identical to the studios that we had at Pebble Mill."[1]

Peter Davison's memories of the recording process: "We had this weird process where we would rehearse for ten days in London, and you'd go up for two or three days to the studio at Pebble Mill. In those days they weren't done in the rehearse-record system. We did it in the old style way that they used to do when they were doing live television. So we would rehearse all day, and then from 7.30pm you would record, theoretically, as if it were live: sequentially and with no gaps. It never used to work out like that, but that was the idea behind it! But there was no recording in the day, which meant there was always this blind panic at night."[1]

Soundman Alex Christison reminisced about getting the sound right on the show: "The main problem with All Creatures was that we are talking about the days before multi-mic radio microphones were available, so you couldn't just scatter personal mics around each actor and mix accordingly. We were also recording in mono audio, so I didn't even have another track to play with like the dramas do these days with split track. Basically I relied on my boom swinger to get my sound. We'd done away with the old sync lead by then, thank God, which meant I wasn't joined up to the camera; the boom mic would be connected to my Nagra mixer and would be recorded separately to picture. The clapperboard really did concentrate the minds in those days because it was quite a costly process if you got it wrong. Because the cast were so good, they would see the boom in the corner of their eye and know when it was going to be over their head — then they would start speaking."[1] Separate crews were used for studio recording and exteriors.[1]

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, the final exterior shots broadcast filmed during the winter of 1979. 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 and based on his 1981 book The Lord God Made Them All.

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."

Three years later, however, the programme was revived, after Bill Sellars was able to persuade Wight to allow new scripts to be written around the existing characters, but not directly based on the Herriot books, with some story lines 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 focused on 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 and Deirdre), and the series returned to its 1970s roots, focusing once more on the animals. The final broadcast was another Christmas Special, in 1990.

The script editor for 42 of the 90 episodes was Ted Rhodes. Rhodes was killed during a confrontation with a cyclist in Wimbledon in 2003. He was 69.[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!"[7]

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.[8]


All exterior scenes were filmed in North Yorkshire, mostly in the village of Askrigg, which doubled for the fictional Darrowby. "We would take over Askrigg and drive the very few motorists crazy by stopping the traffic," remembered Peter Davison.[1] Indeed, the crew was banned from filming in Askrigg during the final series due to the disruption it was causing to the lives of the residents.[1] Filming also took place at some of the Dales' countless farmsteads — the same ones that James Herriot visited in the 1960s and 1970s,[5] although the names of villages, farms and people were changed. Exterior shots were originally to be filmed in Derbyshire, but Robert Hardy took offence to the plan and threatened to walk out of the producer's office.[2] Some indoor scenes (including all those of the interior of Skeldale House) were shot at the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham, a few months after the on-location portions. This is demonstrated in the first series, when Christopher Timothy is seen walking normally during the scenes filmed in Yorkshire during the latter part of 1977, but by the time the studio shots take place, after his accident, his immobility is quite obvious.

"All the timings have to be scheduled in advance," recalled assistant floor manager David Tilley. "It would be a blank sheet of paper when you started. The only thing that was pre-scheduled was the studio recording dates, which were organised by the BBC's Planning department, in conjunction with all the other series using the studios. We would then have to work out everything for each individual episode. We would always do the location filming first, so we assembled in Yorkshire to record the film inserts for 'Pig in the Middle' in the same block as 'Every Dog His Day...' I would have to make sure everyone arrived on time, either by car or bus, and that we had everything we needed to complete the scenes in time."[1]

For the first three series, up until the two Christmas specials of 1983 and 1985, most interior scenes were recorded on video at Pebble Mill and edited together with exterior shots. This provided hardships in December 1977, when filming briefly returned to the Dales, after a block of studio recording, to capture the look of winter. The temperatures dropped well below freezing. "The snow was high and the ice was solid," explained Robert Hardy in 2003.[2] "I remember two occasions when we were so cold, from the wind on the tops, that we couldn't speak. We had to stop."[2] 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." For the final four series, much of the filming other than at Skeldale House was done wholly on location at the farms. "Studios aren't really like cow byres or horse stables or country farm houses," explained Hardy, "so one had to make believe a great deal in those early episodes. I mean, they made good sets, but it was better later when we stopped using the studio and did all the filming in real locations in Yorkshire. That was when it really started coming alive, because the cameras were in real situations."[1]

"In the first series, we had large animals in the studio, with sets for farm barns and cow sheds, which were later filmed on location," explains designer David Crozier. "There were all sorts of things you had to take into consideration, not least of which was how you are going to dispose of the animal's waste, so we were effectively building these stables and cow sheds in the studio for real."[1]

"On location we were constantly concealing double yellow lines on the roads and pulling television aerials down," continued Crozier. "Road signs were always masked and replaced with period signage. Part of my kit when we were on location was large amounts of camouflage netting, because some stuff we just could not remove, we could only disguise, so this netting was quite popular."[1]

James Herriot's Yorkshire, written by the vet and published in 1979, mentions several of his favourite locations in "his" Yorkshire, many of which were used in the television series but with different names. These include West Witton, West Burton, Muker, Semerwater, Countersett, Coverdale, West Scrafton and Middleham.[5]

The Kings Arms Hotel, on Main Street, doubled as the Drovers Arms in the series.

When it came to the oft-joked-about insertion of an arm into a cow's rear end, 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."

What is now Skeldale Guest House, a bed and breakfast named for obvious reasons,[9] provided the exterior shots of the surgery building. The Kings Arms Hotel, which became the Drovers Arms during filming of the later series, features photographs on its interior walls of the cast drinking at the establishment during downtime.[10] The Drovers was made out to be located beside the church in the early series, as evidenced in the episode "The Name of the Game". "It was fun to design the Drovers, which later on they did on location in Askrigg," explained designer David Crozier. "But in the early days these scenes were all done at Pebble Mill."[1] Just up Main Street, past the pub, Lodge Yard was featured in the episode "Against the Odds". The back garden of a nearby house was used as that of Skeldale House in the latter part of the series.

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.

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.

"I used to love the old cars," explained Robert Hardy. "Except when they gave up. They were always giving up. We had a permanent mechanic up there and he was always deep inside the bonnet of this or that car. But I had some nice cars to drive, and when they worked they were great fun. And, of course, I was old enough to remember how to double declutch and all that sort of thing, so they weren't a shock to me."[1]

Other locations used include:

Ivelet Bridge, an ancient bridge over the River Swale.
Redmire was the location for Darrowby's bus stop.
Goathland railway station was used as that of Mannerton.
  • Ellerton Abbey (Barlby Grange, the home of Mrs Pumphrey)
  • Leyburn railway station (in the episode "Dog Days")
  • Bolton Hall (the home of Lord Hulton in the episode "Matters of Life and Death")
  • Coverdale
  • Hawes (Darrowby Cattle Market)
  • Coverham[11] (the bridge over the river in the episode "Advice and Consent")
    • Coverham Abbey (the home of Mrs Bond)
  • Ivelet Bridge[12] (in the episode "Call of the Wild")
  • Simonstone Hall (Darrowby Show)
  • Thornborough Hall, Leyburn[13] (Ministry of Agriculture building)
  • Great Gill, West Scrafton[14] (in the episodes "A New Chapter" and "Alarms and Excursions")
  • Village Shop, East Witton[15] (the Altons' cottage in the episode "The Prodigal Returns")
  • Thornton Steward[16] (in the episode "If Wishes Were Horses")
  • Langthwaite (J. R. Stubbs' store)[17]
  • High Row, Reeth[18] (Bob Howell's Music Shop in the episode "Charity Begins at Home")
  • Market Place, Leyburn (Darrowby Market)[19]
  • Village Hall, Muker[20] (the venue for the flower show in the episode "Hampered")
  • The Red Lion, Langthwaite[21] (as the Red Lion, Briston, in the episode "Every Dog Has His Day")
  • The Bolton Arms, Redmire[22] (in the episode "Beauty of the Beast")
  • The Green, West Burton[23] (in the episode "Plenty to Grouse About")
  • Manor House, Middleham[24] (Barraclough home in the episode "Against the Odds")
  • North Road, Middleham[25] (Geoff Hatfield's confectioners in the episode "Where Sheep May Safely Graze")
  • Ferndale, Middleham[26] (the Darnley sisters' home in the episode "The Rough and the Smooth")
  • Constable Burton Hall[27] (home of Major Headingley)
  • Marsett Lane, Countersett[28] (where Calum proposes to Deirdre on the bus in the episode "Two of a Kind")
  • Hardraw Beck, Hardraw (in the episode "The Course of True Love")
  • Goathland railway station (in the episode "City Slicker")
  • Semerwater (in the episode "The Female of the Species")
  • Braithwaite Lane, East Witton (in the episodes "Salt of the Earth",[29] "A Dying Breed",[30] and the bus stop in "Against the Odds")[31]
  • Spennithorne and Harmby Cricket Club (in the episode "Big Fish, Little Fish"). The pavilion built for the summer 1988 recording of the episode remained standing until 2015.[32]
  • Finghall railway station[33] (which doubled as Rainby Halt in the episode "The Playing Field")
  • Redmire Village Green (Darrowby bus stop in the episodes "Puppy Love" and "Ways and Means")[34]

Other than St Oswald's in Askrigg,[35] several different churches were used during filming:

The exterior of Wensley Holy Trinity Church was used in the wedding of James and Helen.
  • Church of St Mary & St John, Hardraw[36] (interior shots of Darrowby Church)
  • Holy Trinity Church, Wensley[37] (James' and Helen's wedding in the episode "The Last Furlong". This sequence was recorded in December 1977, before the first episode aired)
  • St. Michael and All Angels Church, Hubberholme[38] (Franco and Katharine's wedding in the episode "Promises to Keep")
  • Holy Trinity Church, Melbecks[39] (in the episode "Golden Lads and Girls")
  • St Michael's Church, Spennithorne[40] (in the episode "Where Sheep May Safely Graze")
  • St Andrew's Church, Grinton[41] (in the episode "Brotherly Love")
  • St Bartholomew's Church, West Witton (in the episode "Cats and Dogs")[42]
  • Holy Trinity Church, Coverham (its gate in the episode "Mending Fences"[43] and in the 1985 Christmas Special)
  • Old Chapel, Thoralby[44] (Hargrove Church in the episode "If Music Be the Food of Love")


Ninety episodes (including the three Christmas Specials) were broadcast over seven series. Each episode is 48 minutes in length.

Theme tune[edit]

What became the eponymous theme tune for All Creatures Great and Small was written as KPM library music in 1968 by Johnny Pearson.[45] Titled "Piano Parchment", it was chosen by producer Bill Sellars, who had earlier selected Pearson's "Sleepy Shores" as the theme for the TV programme Owen MD.[45] Two versions of the theme were re-recorded for the opening titles: that of the first run was more flute-oriented; meanwhile, the version used for the second was more in line with the piano-based original.

All the incidental music used in the show was written by Pearson and performed by him and his orchestra.

1978 soundtrack[edit]

The LP, entitled All Creatures Great and Small: The Original Music from the TV Series and Other Favourite Themes and released on Rampage Records in 1978, was produced by Larry Page and Adrian Kerridge. ("Autumn Reverie", also known as "Heather", although featured several times throughout the series, is not on the soundtrack. It was originally featured on Pearson's 1968 Gentle Sounds album.)

All tracks written by Johnny Pearson except where stated.

Side One[edit]

  1. "All Creatures Great and Small" (2:10)
  2. "First Love" (2:39)
  3. "Love Dream" (2:46)
  4. "Misty Sunset" (3:28)
  5. "Lover's Guitar" (4:36)
  6. "Today I Met My Love" (2:49)

Side Two[edit]

  1. "Sleepy Shores" (3:06)
  2. "Over the Hedge Rows" (3:22)
  3. "Sublime Country" (1:52)
  4. "Helena" (2:30)
  5. "Sunshine" (3:18)
  6. "Love Story" (Francis Lai) (4:56)

New pieces written after the first run of the series appeared in the second run, but these have not been released as a soundtrack. A few of them appear on Pearson's 1988 two-part release, KPM 1000 Series: Johnny Pearson Piano and Orchestra, including the notable trumpet piece "Country Fayre", the flute-driven "Fields and Hedgerows", the piano-based "A Ride in the Sun" and the orchestral "Thames Rhapsody", "Crystal Breeze", "Odd Moments", "Camelia Dance", "Lovers and Friends" and "Village Green". Also, on the first of the two editions, are two alternate versions of "Piano Parchment", a 60-second edit and a 30-second edit.

Home media[edit]

All seven series and three Christmas Specials have been released on DVD in Region 1, Region 2 and Region 4. The 1990 Christmas Special (entitled "Brotherly Love") is regarded as being part of Series 7.

DVD Title No. of Discs Year No. of Episodes Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Series 1 4 1978 13 14 May 2002 N/A 2 January 2013
Series 1, Volume 1 3 1978 6 N/A 7 April 2003 1 September 2003
Series 1, Volume 2 3 1978 7 N/A 5 May 2003 1 September 2003
Series 1 & 2 8 1978 27 N/A N/A 5 October 2010
Series 2 4 1978 14 15 October 2002 N/A 2 January 2013
Series 2, Volume 1 3 1978 7 N/A 7 July 2003 5 May 2005
Series 2, Volume 2 3 1978 7 N/A 15 September 2003 5 May 2005
Series 3 4 1979–1980 14 16 September 2003 23 October 2006 4 May 2006
Series 4 3 1988 10 14 September 2004 26 December 2006 11 April 2007
Series 5 4 1988 12 19 July 2005 3 March 2008 2 April 2008
Series 6 4 1989 12 25 July 2006 18 August 2008 2 April 2009
Series 7 4 1990 13 14 August 2007 26 December 2008 18 May 2010
Christmas Specials 2 1983 and 1985 2 16 September 2003 20 October 2008 2 April 2008
Complete Collection 33 1978–1990 90 15 January 2008 9 November 2009 N/A

Skeldale House[edit]

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

Although he has not always stayed there, instead living with Caroline later in the series, Siegfried owns Skeldale House, and while he is happy — within reason — to pay for its upkeep and renovation, he is rarely seen getting his hands dirty outside the surgery. Tristan, on the other hand, takes over the household duties from Mrs Hall in "Hair of the Dog" and "Home and Away", and James has to pick up the slack when Helen is out of action, on account of a slipped disc, in the first few episodes of series five.

The Pebble Mill set was laid out to match Skeldale House as it appeared in exterior shots.[1] A door at the side of the building, for example, was used to represent the entrance to the waiting room. On a couple of occasions, the cast had to go inside the Askrigg building to accommodate exterior shots on its windows. For example, in the Series 3 finalé "Big Steps and Little 'Uns", Helen waves James off to war from an opened second-floor window.

On the ground floor there are four rooms (clockwise from front to back): unused dining room (see below), the sitting room (the front half being the sitting area; the rear half being the dining area), the kitchen, and the surgery. Aside from the back door, another door in the kitchen leads to the surgery's waiting room. The house's only phone is in the hallway, in a nook by the stairs which also contains a grandfather clock and, later in the series, the door to the basement, where coal and wine are kept. A coat rack originally also appeared here, but was later moved to the foyer. The window above the front door announces that you are at "Skeldale House", a feature that remains today.

The dispensary section of the Skeldale House surgery on permanent display at the James Herriot Museum in Thirsk.

"For the studio, we changed the colours of the surgery in the second series in order to give it a bit of time progression," explained David Crozier, the designer. "I'd used the whitewashed look in the first series, because I'd found hundreds and hundreds of photos from that period in Yorkshire of house interiors painted in whitewash. But as we moved closer to wartime, we went with a darker look, which became the fashion at the time."[1]

The first floor contains the bedrooms, while the second floor contains a small suite which Siegfried offers to James and Helen in the first episode of series two. When the couple move to Rowangarth, Calum takes over the suite.

In "Merry Gentlemen", the final episode of the second series, we see behind the door immediately on the left as one enters the front door of Skeldale. The original, now-unused dining room, Siegfried uses it as overflow for storage of his reserve wine collection. Covered in dust, the room is brought back to life by Helen and Mrs Hall. The fire is lit, and the Christmas tree is put up in one of the corners.

In the early series, the back door opens into a narrow alley; later, the back garden becomes an expansive area of grass, shrubbery and stone walls. An aviary is seen in the episodes "Fair Means and Fowl" and, twelve years later, "A Cat in Hull's Chance".

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 World of James Herriot museum in Thirsk, which is also open to the public.


"There was something about the series. It had the right content," recalled producer Bill Sellars. "It became a world favourite, and at its height was actually watched by twenty million viewers. The BBC, planning all their schedules and choosing their programmes, were pestering me after the first series: 'We want thirteen more episodes now!' I'd say, 'Where are we going to get all this from, Ted [Rhodes, script editor]?'"[1]

The series occupied a slot in the TV week that helped solidify it as Sunday-evening fare. In the BBC documentary on the series, David Butcher of the Radio Times said: "At the end of the weekend you don't want anything too taxing, you want some kind of escapist, gentle, heartwarming, cozy kind of drama. A cup of cocoa drama. It's warm and simple and nice and lovely, and it's not going to frighten the horses." Robert Hardy remarked that: "It hit the right moment. There was a feeling still in the towns that the country was a glorious place inhabited by amazing people." TV historian Chris Diamond commented, "It's the perfect post-dinner, pre-bath time slot. You're going to be either hanging about in the living room trying to avoid dishes, or waiting to have a bath."

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.[2]

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.[2]

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!'"[2]

Reunions and interviews[edit]

Christopher Timothy and Robert Hardy attended a service of thanksgiving for Alf Wight at York Minster on 20 October 1995, eight months after the author's passing.

In 2003, Timothy, Hardy, Carol Drinkwater and Lynda Bellingham appeared together on Stars Reunited. Due to having other commitments, Peter Davison could not be present. Also briefly joining them, and host Dale Winton, on the couch was Jack Watkinson, MRCVS, the Yorkshire vet with whom Timothy worked with a week prior to the filming of the series. Timothy has stated that, for him, it was the best week of the whole series.[2] "I did seriously feel, with all humility," explained Timothy, "that when I turned up to start filming: 'I'm sort of equipped for this.'"

"None of us ever did anything that could harm an animal," explained Timothy in another interview. "The injections were all faked and arms up a cow's bum is not difficult to do — and the cows don't mind too much... in fact, some cows quite like it! Jack Watkinson wouldn't tolerate anything that he deemed as unethical. The directors at one point sent out a note about how animals should be treated in the furtherance of entertainment, but it was always left to the attending vet's discretion. If it had gone against any of his ethical code, Jack would have refused us to do it."[1]

Watkinson died in May 2013 after suffering a stroke. He was 84.[46] Watkinson was the on-location technical advisor. "In the studio situation our Veterinary Advisor was Eddie Straiton," remembered Robert Hardy. "He was an incredible character, an absolutely astonishing man."[1] Along with Donald and Brian Sinclair, Alf Wight dedicated his 1972 book All Creatures Great and Small to Straiton.

As the 1983 Christmas Special had done, the interview included a tribute to Mary Hignett (Mrs Hall), 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."[2]

Timothy, Hardy and Drinkwater reunited again in 2006 at The World of James Herriot museum in Thirsk.

A decade later, in October 2016, all four main actors from the original run reunited to mark the centenary of Alf Wight's birth.[47] For their parts, Timothy was 74, Hardy was 89, Davison was 65 and Drinkwater was 68.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af All Memories Great & Small, Oliver Crocker (2016; MIWK)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Stars Reunited All Creatures cast reunion, July 2003
  3. ^ a b The Cult Of... All Creatures Great and Small, BBC Four
  4. ^ As mentioned in the episode "Big Steps and Little 'Uns"
  5. ^ a b c d James Herriot's Yorkshire (1979), James Herriot, St. Martin's
  6. ^ Is There Life Outside The Box?: An Actor Despairs, Peter Davison (John Blake; 2017)
  7. ^ Rawson-Jones, Ben (9 January 2009). "Davison: 'BBC rejected 'All Creatures' return", Digital Spy. Retrieved 10 January 2009.
  8. ^ "Former Corrie star Iain de Caestekcer to play young James Herriot in BBC drama". The Sun. London. 
  9. ^ "Skeldale House from 'All Creatures Great and Small' fame brought back to life" - The Northern Echo, 24 March 2013
  10. ^ "All Creatures Great & Small" – The Kings Arms website
  11. ^ "Bridge, Coverham, N Yorks, UK _ All Creatures Great & Small, Advice & Consent (1978)" -
  12. ^ "Ivelet Bridge, Ivelet, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Call Of The Wild (1989)" -
  13. ^ "Thornborough Hall, Leyburn, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The New World (1989)" -
  14. ^ "Great Gill, West Scrafton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, A New Chapter (1988)" -
  15. ^ "Village Shop, East Witton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Prodigal Returns (1990)" -
  16. ^ "Thornton Steward, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, If Wishes Were Horses (1980)" -
  17. ^ "Bridge & Shop, Langthwaite, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small (1989)" -
  18. ^ "High Row, Reeth, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Charity Begins At Home (1980)" -
  19. ^ "Market Place, Leyburn, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Blood & Water (1989)" -
  20. ^ "Village Hall, Muker, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Hampered (1990)" -
  21. ^ "Red Lion, Langthwaite, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Every Dog His Day (1980)" -
  22. ^ "Bolton Arms, Redmire, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Beauty Of The Beast (1978)" -
  23. ^ "The Green, West Burton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Plenty To Grouse About (1979)" -
  24. ^ "Manor House, West End, Middleham, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Against The Odds (1988)" -
  25. ^ "North Rd, Middleham, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Where Sheep May Safely Graze (1989)" -
  26. ^ "Ferndale, Middleham. N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Rough & The Smooth (1989)" -
  27. ^ "Constable Burton Hall, Constable Burton, N Yorks – All Creatures Great & Small, Be Prepared (1980)" -
  28. ^ "Marsett Lane, Countersett, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Two Of A Kind (1988)" -
  29. ^ "40 Braithwaite Lane, East Witton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Salt Of The Earth (1988)" -
  30. ^ "48 Braithwaite Lane, East Witton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, A Dying Breed (1980)" -
  31. ^ "Braithwaite Lane, East Whitton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Against The Odds (1988)" -
  32. ^ "Cricket pavilion built for James Herriot recording to be replaced" - The Northern Echo, 3 April 2015
  33. ^ "Finghall Railway Station, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Playing Field (1988)" -
  34. ^ "The Green, Redmire, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Puppy Love (1978)" -
  35. ^ "St Oswald’s Church, Askrigg, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Out of Practice (1978)" -
  36. ^ "St Mary & St John’s Church, Hardraw, N Yorkshire, UK – All Creatures Great & Small (1978-1990)" -
  37. ^ "Holy Trinity Church, Wensley, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Last Furlong (1978)" -
  38. ^ "St Michael’s & All Angels Church, Hubberholme, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Promises To Keep (1990)" -
  39. ^ "Holy Trinity Church, Melbecks, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Golden Lads & Girls (1978)" -
  40. ^ "St Michael’s Church Spennithorne, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Where Sheep May Safely Graze (1989)" -
  41. ^ "St Andrew’s Church, Grinton, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Brotherly Love (1990)" -
  42. ^ "St Bartholomew’s Church, West Witton, N Yorks, UK" -
  43. ^ "Coverham Church, Coverham, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small. Mending Fences (1989)" -
  44. ^ "Old Chapel, Thoralby, N Yorkshire, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, If Music be the Food of Love (1990)" -
  45. ^ a b Johnny Pearson obituary in The Independent, viewed 26 July 2013
  46. ^ "JACK WATKINSON MRCVS" - Hollin Rigg Vets website
  47. ^ "Joy as TV stars reunite for James Herriot centenary event and author's legacy cemented" - The Northern Echo, 3 October 2016
  1. Official James Herriot Website
  2. All Creatures Great and Small (TV series 1978–1990) on Internet Movie Database
  3. Timothy, Christopher (7 December 1979). Vet Behind the Ears. London: Pan Books. ISBN 0-330-26075-8. 

External links[edit]