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All Creatures Great and Small – Channel 5 revives the James Herriot TV drama

One of my most popular driver guided tours is James Herriot Country and it is amazing how many people from all over the world still have such a soft spot for the James Herriot novels and the BBC TV adaptation – All Creatures Great and Small with Christopher Timothy playing the Yorkshire based vet.

James Herriot was the pen name of Vet -Alf Wight and I have already blogged about the “real James Herriot” so just follow the link below to read more.

The original TV series ran for 12 years between 1978 and 1990, running for 90 episodes and there were spin off feature films too. It was a brave move for Channel 5 to attempt a remake but with the popularity of Yorkshire being high and Channel 5 already broadcasting The Yorkshire Vet and Our Yorkshire Farm, with Amanda Owen the Yorkshire Shepherdess you can see why they felt it was worth a punt.

It is interesting that on Facebook there is an All Creatures Great and Small appreciation group and I remember last year the mass of comments when the remake was announced. The basic theme being “It will never be as good as the original!”.

The new series is due to be aired on Tuesday 1st September on Channel 5 at 9pm. It has been produced in partnership with the US broadcaster PBS and again follows the memoirs of Alf Wight and his life as a Yorkshire Vet in the 1930’s and 40’s. Some big names were drafted in to help with Brian Percival (Downton Abbey) Directing and the drama written by Ben Vanstone who adapted the Bernard Cornwell books into The Last Kingdom.

6 episodes were filmed and a Christmas special. Channel 5 are so confident of the series success that they have already commissioned a second series even before series one has aired! The new adaptation has also been part funded by Screen Yorkshire and was produced by Playground a BAFTA award winning company whose CV also includes Howards End and Wolf Hall. The Producer is Richard Burrell whose credits include New Tricks and Silent Witness.

When asked about the reason for the remake Channel 5 Controller Sebastian Cardwell said

“ James Herriot has a special place in the heart of the public and the commission of this iconic drama series, against the stunning backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales is set to bring joy to a new army of TV viewers”.
“The original books affectionately captured a unique slice of British life. In challenging times we hope the charming and heartwarming stories of community and compassion will resonate with new audiences.”

James Herriot is played by Nicholas Ralph – a newcomer who is making his TV debut. Other characters such as Seigfried Farnon, James Herriot’s boss is played by Samuel West who was also in Mr Selfridge. Tristan – Seigfried’s charismatic younger brother is played by Callum Woodhouse who is best known for the TV series The Durrels. Other well known names also included in the cast include Nigel Havers who plays the manager of a local racecourse and Diana Rigg who plays one of my favourite characters from the books – Mrs Pomphrey the owner of the over indulged Pekingese dog Tricky Woo!

I often take visitors to The World of James Herriot in Thirsk – a museum to all things Herriot based at the actual surgery where Alf Wight worked and lived. There is a section of the museum dedicated to the history of vetenerary practice and I had noticed last year many of the cabinets were empty with signs up saying they had been loaned to the production company for use in the remake of All Creatures Great and Small!.

Last year whilst touring the Yorkshire Dales in October I stopped at the historic market town of Grassington in Wharfedale for refreshments with some American clients. It was a stroke of luck, but the village square had been transformed into a 1930’s scene and was dressed as a set for Darrowby – the fictional village in the James Herriot books.

I was not lucky enough to see any of the filming but it was great to see the set. The shops and pubs had new signage and the props around gave you the real sense of being swept back in time.

Location Manager Gary Barnes stated “As a Yorkshireman the show gave me the perfect opportunity to show off my home county. Filming in stunningly beautiful landscapes and working with such friendly, welcoming people across the Yorkshire Dales was an absolute joy.”

The new TV series is timed to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the original publication of the Herriot books which have already sold over 60 million copies internationally. Jim Wight the son of Alf Wight when asked about the new series has said that he feels that his father would approve.

Both Jim and his sister Rosie Page have expressed their excitement with the new series. But they were very clear that viewers should NOT regards it as competition to the original series. They ask people to view it as a thoroughly enjoyable family entertainment which sits comfortably and respectfully alongside a fantastic old series. Having seen the end result they promise wonderful acting and lovely Yorkshire Dales scenery.

Channel 5 also commented :

“This new adaptation will preserve the rich spirit, tone and values of Herriot’s iconic characters and stories and will bring to life his sharply observed, entertaining and incredibly funny tales of country life in the North of England for a modern audience, introducing a new generation to his life affirming stories,"

I am really looking forward to the new series having watched the original series on box set when my daughter was much younger. Let’s hope it lives up to expectations and helps promote the Yorkshire Dales as a tourism destination and opens up my tours to a whole new generation of Herriot fans.

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