Daily Mail

Her­riot’s back – and they’re milk­ing the 30s nos­tal­gia

As new All Crea­tures Great And Small hits screens...

- Re­view by Christo­pher Stevens Entertainment · Movies · Glasgow · Call The Midwife · Anthony Hopkins · Alfie Boe · Dalarna · Samuel West · Robert Hardy · Simon Ward · Timothy West · Anna Madeley · Peter Davison · Diana Rigg · Rachel Shenton

WHEN I was a boy, the dom­i­neer­ing York­shire vet Siegfried Farnon seemed a ge­nial mon­ster – iras­ci­ble, bril­liant but un­pre­dictable, one of the ex­plo­sive char­ac­ters typ­i­cal of my grand­fa­thers’ pre­war gen­er­a­tion.

And in the best­selling books that were the ba­sis of Sunday night’s much-loved se­rial in the Sev­en­ties and Eight­ies, ap­pren­tice vet James Her­riot was the sym­bol of youth.

Her­riot was a mere lad in a man’s world, Siegfried the grown-up ogre. The gulf be­tween their per­son­al­i­ties summed up the fa­mous ‘gen­er­a­tion gap’ of that time.

Funny thing... from this dis­tance, that gap ap­pears to have van­ished. The plain Bri­tish de­cency that, de­spite their dif­fer­ences, united Siegfried and James in the 1930s is largely ab­sent in the 21st cen­tury.

The re­make of All Crea­tures Great And Small faith­fully re­vives the spirit of the beloved 1978 se­ries and sticks even more closely to Her­riot sto­ries.

The first book in the se­ries, If Only They Could Talk, opens with the ea­ger trainee stripped to the waist on the cob­bled floor of a barn, his arm up to the shoul­der in­side a cow, strug­gling to de­liver a breeched calf.

In the new TV ver­sion, that scene was neatly cap­tured at the cli­max of the first episode, the mo­ment when young James proves he’s more than just a naive city boy – he has the mak­ings of a real vet, and a York­shire one at that.

He’s still the fresh-faced in­no­cent, clum­sily knock­ing over or­na­ments and mud­dling up pets, just as Christo­pher Ti­mothy played him more than 40 years ago. But new­comer Ni­cholas Ralph has added a layer of greater ac­cu­racy, by giv­ing Her­riot (the pen name of Alf Wight) a mild Scots ac­cent. That baf­fled the Dales­men. ‘ Art thou a for­eigner?’ snorted one.

The open­ing five min­utes set the tone if not the place. Young James was liv­ing with his par­ents in a Glas­gow ten­e­ment, des­per­ate to put his ve­teri­nary train­ing to use.

This was a vivid recre­ation of city poverty in the Thir­ties, with bare­foot chil­dren in the streets and clothes dry­ing in the stair­wells. But a nos­tal­gic haze hung over the mem­ory, echo­ing the evoca­tive mood of Call The Mid­wife.

A leisurely farewell fol­lowed, both Her­riot par­ents dab­bing their faces with hand­ker­chiefs and mut­ter­ing about grit in their eyes, as a steam train de­parted in clouds of soot and cin­ders with their bold son aboard.

This se­ries in­tends to milk ev­ery drop of melan­cholic plea­sure from the lost and gen­tle past. For Chan­nel Five, the re­make is a nat­u­ral choice. They’ve had great suc­cess with the York­shire Vet doc­u­men­tary se­ries, fol­low­ing Her­riot’s re­al­life as­sis­tant Peter Wright on his rounds in the same Dales land­scape. Bosses at the chan­nel are so con­fi­dent that this six-part se­ries will be a hit that they’ve also filmed a Christ­mas spe­cial.

We didn’t have to wait long for the ar­rival of Siegfried – played by Sa­muel West, with a hefty dose of homage to Robert Hardy. ‘Mrs Hall,’ he bel­lowed at the house­keeper, ‘where’s the blasted pa­per?’

Hardy starred as the short-tem­pered, big-hearted owner of the Skel­dale prac­tice from 1978 to 1990. He poured a lot of him­self into the part: a man of gi­ant en­thu­si­asms and great in­tel­lect, he had a way of bark­ing at you rather than talk­ing. I out­raged him once by sug­gest­ing that some­one (prefer­ably me) should gather all his won­der­ful anec­dotes and tall tales into a bi­og­ra­phy. Hardy, au­thor of the de­fin­i­tive work on the English long­bow, had no in­ten­tion of ced­ing his cre­den­tials as a writer to any­one else, and in­sisted he would pen his own mem­oirs. Sadly, he died in 2017 aged 91 with the job un­fin­ished.

The first ac­tor to por­tray Siegfried was, in fact, An­thony Hop­kins, in a 1975 made-for-TV movie that co- starred Si­mon Ward as Her­riot. Hop­kins is a grand per­former, but in this role he was com­pletely eclipsed by Robert Hardy.

SA­MUEL, the son of an­other the­atri­cal ti­tan, Ti­mothy West, wisely makes no at­tempt to es­cape from Hardy’s shadow. In­stead, he lives up to it with flam­boy­ant erup­tions and a glint of laugh­ter in his scowls.

Bran­dish­ing a huge pair of pliers for geld­ing live­stock, he pro­claimed it to be, ‘the emas­cu­la­tor... enough to bring tears to your eyes!’ He has his match in the house­keeper, Mrs Hall ( Anna Made­ley) who is a rather un­der­writ­ten char­ac­ter in the books. She’s the force that holds the prac­tice to­gether... and en­sures that James gets to bed safely on his first night, after the lo­cals am­bush him in the pub to get him drunk on home-brew.

We’ve yet to meet Siegfried’s repro­bate of a brother, Tris­tan – a floppy-haired Peter Dav­i­son in the orig­i­nal se­ries, played by The Dur­rells’ Cal­lum Wood­house this time round. Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs Pumphrey (owner of the snap­pish Pekingese, Tricki Woo) hasn’t ap­peared yet either. But we did glimpse He­len (Rachel Shen­ton) the ca­pa­ble farmer’s daugh­ter, who... well, never mind. You’ll see.

Expect ten­der ro­mance, far­ci­cal mis­un­der­stand­ings and lots more dif­fi­cult births in freez­ing barns, with young James up to his eye­balls in mud and cat­tle. As Her­riot him­self liked to say, it shouldn’t hap­pen to a vet...

 ??  ?? Orig­i­nals: Christo­pher Ti­mothy, Robert Hardy and Peter Dav­i­son in the BBC se­ries
New stars: Rachel Shen­ton as He­len Alder­son and Ni­cholas Ralph as James Her­riot in the six-part Chan­nel 5 re­make
Orig­i­nals: Christo­pher Ti­mothy, Robert Hardy and Peter Dav­i­son in the BBC se­ries New stars: Rachel Shen­ton as He­len Alder­son and Ni­cholas Ralph as James Her­riot in the six-part Chan­nel 5 re­make
 ??  ?? Hardy-es­que: Sa­muel West as the still iras­ci­ble Siegfried Farnon
Hardy-es­que: Sa­muel West as the still iras­ci­ble Siegfried Farnon
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK