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Series / All Creatures Great and Small (1978)

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They're rather fond of animals.

All Creatures Great and Small is a British TV series, based on James Herriot's books about his life as a veterinarian in North Yorkshire in the 1930s and beyond. Produced by The BBC, the show ran from 1978 to 1980, had two Christmas Episodes in 1983 and 1985, and came back to run from 1988 to 1990, concluding with another Christmas Episode.

The show followed the lives of unassuming newly-fledged vet James Herriot (Christopher Timothy); his temperamental but good-natured boss, Siegfried Farnon (Robert Hardy); Siegfried's laddish younger brother, Tristan (Peter Davison); and James' eventual wife, Helen. The Revival added Calum Buchanan, a back-to-nature Scottish vet. Other recurring characters included Mrs. Hall, the invaluable housekeeper, and Mrs Pumphrey, the eccentric owner of a spoiled Pekinese.

In 2011 a three part prequel miniseries written by original script editor Johnny Byrne, Young James Herriot, aired covering his early years at veterinary college, but Byrne's death effectively ruled out any chance of a full series.

Not to be confused with the 2020 adaptation of the same name.

This show provides examples of:

  • All for Nothing: In ‘If Wishes Were Horses’, Wesley Binks’ efforts to save his pet dog Duke from canine distemper ultimately fail, and James has to put him down. Having been a Delinquent who has previously started to clean up his act and work two jobs to afford the medicine, he goes back to his old ways and turns even worse. The book mentions that he quickly graduated to arson and theft (auto and otherwise), was sent to a reform school, and eventually disappeared from the district.
  • The Alleged Car: Pervasive throughout the books: small, mass-produced 1930s British cars were woefully underpowered, lacked the bodily integrity to keep winter drafts out (let alone heaters!) and generally weren't up to the duties called for by a quasi-emergency service in mountainous territory.
  • All-Natural Snake Oil: Farmers sometimes try natural home remedies on their animals before calling the vet. These can range from the mildly useful to the downright sadistic.
    Siegfried: [regarding a "home treated" horse] It's hardly worth saying, I know, but if I'd pushed eighteen raw onions up your [rectum] the chances are you'd be unsteady on your feet too.
    • Routinely lampshaded in the books when Herriot mentions that he doesn't doubt that the modern vet student will look at his descriptions of their treatments of the time and consider them to be unbelievably barbaric (lungworm, for example, was treated with turpentine squirted into the lungs). He usually mentions, in the same breath, that the technology and attitudes of the time just didn't allow for better practices — either the science wasn't there yet, or no one had realized that there were better ways. And in the story about the first time he ever got to use sulfonamide on some seriously ill calves, which was spectacularly successful curing them, he notes that he still considers it to be a godsend, even for all the problems that have resulted from over-prescription.
  • Bad Boss: James once had to work for Angus Grier, a rage-prone drunken vet who makes Siegfried look like a saint.
  • Benevolent Boss: Siegfried is a genuinely good guy, despite his faults. For instance, when James, on his very first professional case, is forced to put down a valuable horse because it was too far gone with an incurably agonizing twisted bowel (because the estate manager couldn't be bothered to call a vet until it was too late), Siegfried backs him up on pure faith even before he goes out personally to confirm the diagnosis and chew out said manager.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Siegfried toward Tristan. The instant aplomb with which he responds to Tristan's tetanus scare being one example, his patience when he (mistakenly) thought Tristan might have gotten someone pregnant another.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mild-mannered 'widow woman' Mrs. Beck, who is always polite, gentle, and soft-spoken...and is a manipulative miser who is always trying to cheat the vets out of their fee.
  • Busman's Holiday: James has to do tuberculin testing on his honeymoon.
  • Butt-Monkey; Life enjoys screwing with Tristan. Unlike James, Tristan remains a Butt Monkey because he usually reacts with the wounded dignity of a petulant 10-year-old.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: James, at least compared to heavyweights like the Farnon brothers.
  • The Casanova: Tristan fancies himself a bit of a ladies' man, spending a lot of his time chasing after girls with varying degrees of success.
  • Cats Are Mean: Boris. Tristan's duel with the evil thing is here. The book's version is arguably funnier, as Herriot was under no obligation to bowdlerise Tristan's language.
    • In a later episode, Siegfried is quite happy about going to Mrs Bond's because Boris is dead. He then panics on encountering what turns out to be the identical, and even worse-tempered, son of Boris.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Tristan. When one of his dates gets locked out of her building for missing curfew, he gives her his bed and sleeps on the couch. Of course, Siegfried ends up barging into his room in the middle of the night to wake him for a call out, and finding a woman wearing a slip in his bed he assumes the worst and ransacks the room looking for a Tristan to thrash. Eventually, the truth comes out, but Siegfried doesn't apologise.
  • Christmas Episode: Three movie-length ones.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Occasionally James finds himself having to provide the odd bit of first-aid to members of his own species, or himself. Justified, as he's usually working a long way from the nearest hospital in an era before home telephones were universal.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Mrs. Bond, the owner of Boris, believes that he's a reincarnated gladiator. She owns at least a dozen other cats.
  • Cutting Corners:
    • Many of the farmers over the course of the series, trying to dodge the cost of paying for the vets' visits, engage in this with home remedies or cheap alternatives and cheap feed. The books note that one family only calls the vet after trying these, when it's invariably too late to do anything, and thus think of James as little better than a con-man.
    • Siegfried also is particularly prone to this when it comes to spending money on the practice, although he is more than generous with his money on gifts for others so is not a true Miser by any means, refusing to buy a new vacuum cleaner long after the old one has broken down and putting off servicing or replacing the practice's vehicles. It usually comes back to bite him in some way though.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Dr. Raczinska, the Polish veterinarian who comes to Skeldale as a prospective stand-in while James and Siegfried are preparing to join the RAF during the war, is a woman. The men are surprised to see a female vet, though to their credit, their reactions are not negative. (This may have been culturally bound, as Dr. Raczinska questioned if there were not female vets in Britain and seems surprised when Siegfried tells her there were three female students total in his graduating class in vet school.) Today, and possibly by the time the series came out in the 1970s, the veterinary line, and indeed biology as a whole, is dominated by women, so if anything our protagonists are in the minority as male vets.
    • There is also the copious consumption of alcohol and tobacco shown onscreen; perfectly normal and acceptable in the time that the show was set, less so when it was being broadcast, as the negative effects of smoking and binge drinking were more widely known by then. Peter Davison remarked on this in a 2017 interview:
    Peter Davison: Looking back at those early episodes, it's interesting to see what was accepted—or, rather, what isn't now. Every living-room scene involved glass after glass of whisky being poured and knocked back, and I was barely ever without a cigarette. Of course, the whisky was really only water with drops of burnt sugar, and I never inhaled the Woodbines. The beer, for some reason, was real, which in the drunken pub scenes caused problems.
  • The Determinator: Siegfried in particular. Sometimes, Tristan or James come across animals they're terrified of and shirk the responsibility onto him. He comes back, mysteriously bloodied, and nonchalantly comments that he got the job done with very little trouble.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The farmer who feeds James diseased turkey just because James insisted on the man paying his long-overdue vet bill.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: Quite a few of these turn up.
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    • A tricky diagnosis is eventually solved when James is reminded that the cow looked like it was wearing spectacles.
    • A later episode involves a terminally ill owner and a cat which repeatedly goes into a coma-like state. James is stumped until he speaks with the owner's nurse and realizes that the cat has been getting into the man's medicine.
  • Even Bad Bulls Love Their Mamas: An angry bull once chased the vets up a tree. Unwilling to risk approaching the animal himself, the farmer brought an elderly cow — the bull's mother — to the enclosure, and the bull quickly calmed down and followed her back to the barn.
  • Everybody Smokes: The show is set in the late 1930s and 1940s, so Tristan chain-smokes cigarettes and Siegfried smokes a pipe.
  • Fan Disservice: James and Tristan often get shirtless, and then promptly get covered in cow shit.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Calum Buchanan. He starts out with a pet badger that rides on his shoulder nearly everywhere he goes, and he steadily brings more and more exotic animals into Skeldale House, driving Siegfried crazy. He also loves to explore the countryside and is fascinated by wildlife.
  • Frontier Vet: Rural Yorkshire in the 1930s isn't far short of a straight example as it is, but Calum eventually leaves the practice to find somewhere even more wild and rugged to ply his trade: First in Nova Scotia, then later in Papua New Guinea.
  • Girl of the Week: Tristan ping-pongs between girlfriends with astonishing speed, such that it's notable for one to appear in more than a couple of episodes.
  • Got Volunteered: Siegfried to Tristan. Frequently.
    Siegfried: Let me know when you're ready to move furniture. I'll make sure little brother is available!
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Siegfried, especially where his brother is concerned.
  • Hands-On Approach: With a guitar Here.
  • Happily Married: James and Helen.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • If you hear someone say "bitch," they're talking about a female dog.
    • "Queer" gets used quite a bit too, in the sense of "strange, unusual".
  • Hospital Hottie: Tristan is very fond of nurses.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Siegfried's trademark. He often patronizingly lectures James and Tristan for exhibiting the same faults as himself or for following advice he gave them last week and has now changed his mind about.
    James: You know the one thing I can't stand about your brother, Tris? It's when he gets patient with you. He gets this saintly look on his face and you know that any moment now he's going to forgive you. For something he's just done.
    • Also a frequent case of Broken Aesop, on his part.
    • In one case in the books, he did this over the course of a single conversation; telling James he needs to stop pussyfooting around and propose to Helen, then when he agrees, instantly asking him why he's rushing into marriage.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • Helen's father responds to James asking his consent to their marriage by pouring himself a full glass of whisky.
    • It's also a common reaction from the vets whenever they've had a hard day or gotten bad news: straight to the sideboard for a stiff whisky. Even Helen pours herself a glass when one of James' friends commits suicide after his dog had to be put to sleep.
  • Impossible Insurance: Cattle are insured against lightning strikes, but an actual pay-out requires the vet to sign a certificate confirming it as the cause of death. There are signs that the vet can use (burn marks, for example), but they can be faked by careful use of a candle. One farmer is admonished for an almost perfect example... except for the one place where he let a little wax drip on to the skin.
  • Innocent Innuendo: A nurse-friend of Tristan's sleeps in his room and is woken up in the middle of the night by Siegfried. The resulting conversation must be heard to be believed, and Mrs. Hall ends up fleeing the room in horror.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Johnny Pearson's "Piano Parchment". It is particularly lovely.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Tristan's girlfriend breaks up with him because she overheard him planning to give up on veterinary medicine in order to move to Scotland and marry her, and she doesn't want him to throw away his future in a career he loves just for her.
  • Kick the Dog: Quite literally. The practice occasionally runs into some bad cases of animal abuse.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: More than a few. Tristan himself is "absolutely potty about cats".
  • Kindly Vet: Almost goes without saying, though their patience — Tristan's in particular — is not infinite.
  • Life Embellished: The books on which the series is based. Precisely how embellished is not terribly clear.
    • Herriot's son has stated that a lot of the stories are actually based on cases that his father handled in the 1960s and 1970s. Herriot invented names and locations to keep the people he wrote about from recognizing themselves and being embarrassed.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Occasional joke-flirting courtesy of not actually being related, but Helen and Tristan are very close in a way that exudes this.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title comes from "All Things Bright and Beautiful", an Anglican hymn by Cecil Frances Alexander. The title was originally used for an omnibus edition of the first two books, establishing a Theme Naming which continued with further omnibus volumes "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and "All Things Wise And Wonderful". Once the TV series was established, the sequence was completed with the standalone book "The Lord God Made Them All".
  • Long-Runners: Sort of. The show ran for twelve years but only had seven series.
  • Male Gaze: In the book, shortly after meeting her for the first time, James follows Helen up a hill and thinks that there is a lot to be said for the revolutionary practice of women wearing slacks.
  • Mama Bear: At one point James is called in to attend to a Great Dane who has just had puppies. When the owner leaves the room to get something, the dog leaps to the conclusion that this stranger left in the room is after her children. James narrowly escapes in one piece.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Adorable blond scamp Tristan, ably played by not-yet-a-Doctor Peter Davison. According to the books, Siegfried is an even more literal example — Tristan chases girls, but Siegfried is chased by girls.
  • Mister Muffykins: Mrs Pumphrey's Pekingese, Tricki Woo. She treats him like her adopted son, claims that he's reincarnated from Chinese royalty, and can discuss with all seriousness what the dog said the other day. (The vets put up with this because Mrs Pumphrey is very rich, and "Tricki Woo" is very generous. Both are also genuinely likeable personalities, in an eccentric way.)
    • It goes a step farther in the first book when Mrs Pumphrey acquires a pet pig, which she names Nugent. "He" turns out to be quite generous as well.
    • Ruffles and Muffles Whithorn (found in the fourth book, The Lord God Made Them All) are a more classic example. Very over-indulged, very nasty dispositions.
  • My Local: The local pub is probably the second most used set in the show, right after Skeldale House itself.
  • National Stereotypes: Siegfried will sometimes rib James about his Scottish background.
  • Never Gets Drunk: Granville Bennett, a highly-skilled small animal surgeon in a nearby town. Every time James takes an animal to him, Granville insists on a few drinks afterwards. Granville puts down the alcohol and rich foods so fast that when James tries to keep up with him, he's drunk and nauseous within minutes.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The fictional Darrowby is a composite of four real-life North Yorkshire market towns: Thirsk (where James Herriot worked for Donald Sinclair, on whom Siegfried Farnon was based), Leyburn, Middleham, and Richmond.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Christopher Timothy, who plays James Herriot, never even once attempts doing Herriot's real Glaswegian accent, nor anything aside from his own, except for saying "Aye" in something that sounded vaguely Scottish once while in the pilot. Timothy met Herriot before filming the show and actually wanted to adopt the accent but the producers said no.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: A few clients end up mistaking the practice at Skeldale House for a regular doctor's office. In the revival series, Tristan is mistaken for an expert on human fertility by a young couple who are having trouble conceiving.
  • Old Retainer: Mrs. Hall. She's an invaluable housekeeper and cook and everyone knows it. Offending Mrs. Hall is considered a crime of the highest order.
  • One-Note Cook: Tristan can make excellent bangers and mash, and that's it.
  • Oop North: The show is set in North Yorkshire, so thickly accented farmers in flat caps are the norm.
  • Pet the Dog: Most characters, even the complete bastards, adore their animals.
  • Prequel: Young James Herriot was a three part miniseries charting his misadventures at veterinary college and first job as a qualified vet. Sadly, screenwriter Johnny Byrne's death during production effectively ended any chance of a returning series.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Siegfried is a master of delivering lacerating speeches to parsimonious or obstinate farmers who've left off treating their animals until it's too late to save them, or nearly so. James manages to slip one in here and there as well.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Several examples. James was confined to the surgery after Christopher Timothy hurt his leg and could only do studio work; conveniently enough, James did actually spend several months hors de combat in the books after a particularly uncooperative horse punted him some distance, so there was no need to stray too far from the source material. Mrs. Greenlaw replaced Mrs. Hall after Mary Hignett died and Lynda Bellingham became Helen after Carol Drinkwater's real life relationship with Christopher Timothy ended. In Series 5 Helen was confined to bed with a slipped disk for several episodes to conceal Lynda Bellingham's pregnancy.
  • Regional Speciality: James Herriot recounted an unusual way of eating Christmas cake in the Yorkshire Dales; with crumbly Wensleydale cheese and a draught of raw whisky.
  • Replacement Flat Character: Inverted. Instead of becoming less uptight, Tristan becomes less rambunctious over the years and Calum is brought in partially to provide the necessary level of wacky hijinks. He's less of a Niles and more of a Chachi. People unfamiliar with the source material might be surprised to learn that he was not invented for the TV adaptation; he appears in the original books, complete with badger.
    • The guy who replaced him, incidentally, was one of the most stable and level-headed men who ever worked at the vets. He eventually became the head of the Royal Vets Society.
  • Road-Sign Reversal: The 'removing road signs to confuse invading troops' version happens in one of the episodes set in World War II. A local tells the soldier who is removing a sign that, if he wants to confuse the Germans, he should leave that particular sign up as it has been pointing the wrong way for years.
  • Romantic False Lead: James' rival for Helen's affection, Richard Edmundson. This overlaps with Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor as Richard is landed gentry.
  • Saved by Canon: The original run ended with James and Siegfried wondering whether they're doing the right thing by signing up at the start of World War II. Don't worry, they'll be fine.
  • Scenery Porn: The English countryside gets a lot of screentime. And it's very pretty.
  • Second Episode Introduction: For Tristan Farnon, in both the original series and the 2020 remake.
  • Serious Business: The local agricultural fair is not to be taken lightly.
    • There's also the small matter of the local pub quiz that pits men against women and drains all color from Siegfried's face at the mere mention.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Literally with poor Amber, who was doomed from the start. She was in the clear for the span of a montage in the middle of the 1985 special; otherwise, she was continually pulled back from the brink of death only to end up right back there.
  • Shipper on Deck: Tristan for James and Helen. He's almost as involved in their courtship as they are.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: Meta example. The author of the original novels fictionalized some things, including most people's names. He was also a fan of the opera. Is it any wonder that his coworkers ended up with the names Siegfried and Tristan? This was lampshaded inadvertently when Siegfried claims his father was a great fan of Wagner upon meeting James, which leads to the humorous observation that their names could have been worse-Wotan or Pogner, for instance. Herriot itself was a pen name derived from a footballer, his real name being Wight.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Siegfried and Tristan are constantly trying to get one over the other. Siegfried tends to use his position of power as the head of the practice to stick Tristan with the worst jobs, always claiming that it's either a complete coincidence or for Tristan's own good. Tristan has to resort to sneakier plans that can range from a Batman Gambit to a Zany Scheme. He rarely succeeds.
  • The Slacker: It takes Tristan a long time to pass his exams. Part of why he can get do this is because his memory and smarts are good enough to easily make up for it later.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the Israeli children’s play based on Wesley Binks’ B-plot in ‘If Wishes Were Horses’, the dog gets a Disney Death instead of a traumatic Hope Spot.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Tricki-Woo, as described above, is a dog example: absolutely spoiled by his owner, but the friendliest and most affectionate little dog you could hope to meet.
  • Stealth Insult: James is teasing Tristan about the new student.
    James: Anyway, Helen likes him.
    Tristan: With the greatest of respect, what would Helen know about it? After all, look at who she married!
  • Sweet Tooth: "The compliment is not undeserved, I am an excellent judge of cakes." Siegfried.
  • Those Two Guys: Tristan and James, especially when they team up to react to Siegfried's moodswings. They're the two young ones of the house, after all.
  • Titled After the Song: From the Anglican hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" (1848) by Cecil Francis Alexander.
    All things bright and beautiful,
    All creatures great and small,
    All things wise and wonderful,
    The Lord God made them all.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: The dictatorial secretary Miss Harbottle, who lectures anyone who doesn't follow her system for keeping track of the receipts and hands out nagging little notes about it. When Siegfried finally snaps, he gives her a creepy, intense stare and dramatically rips up the note in her face. She is absolutely terrified and quits the next day. When Siegfried hears the news he drives around the countryside singing 'Hallelujah' at the top of his voice. You can see Siegfried desperately trying not to punch the old woman in the face here at 6:10 in.
  • Unexplained Accent: Helen Alderson, born and brought oop on the Darrowby moors, and Glaswegian James both speak with a Standard English accent. No explanation is given.
    • The "explanation" is that the TV series is following the example of the books. All the farmers and tradesmen speak with Funetik Aksents but all the professional characters and their Love Interests speak standard English — even those who are specifically described as having a heavy accent.
      • Calum in the later series is an exception, having a Scottish accent, even though the book specifically says that he doesn't have one, despite his Scottish name. (The real-life "Calum" had the not-especially-Scottish name "Brian Nettleton").
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Some of the farmers are rude and ungrateful toward James and Siegfried even after they've pulled off a miracle cure or complicated surgery to save a valuable animal.
  • Unwanted Assistance: Tristan's well-meant relationship advice while James is courting Helen almost always proves spectacularly wrong-headed (including such things as bathing in flower-scented bath salts before asking her gruff and unsympathetic father's consent).
  • Unwanted Harem: In Siegfried's case it's more of an unnoticed harem.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: James and Tristan. They go from meeting to pranking each other and telling each other off (or, rather, James telling Tristan off) rather quickly.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Tristan isn't above playing up his injuries to gain sympathy from a young lady, or to score a free drink.
    • Given an entire chapter of one of the books, in which Tristan's great rapport with the notoriously crusty local farmers is revealed to be thanks to his shamelessly exaggerating his suffering while treating their animals, grunting and gasping with even the smallest effort. The farmers are so impressed by how hard Tristan is apparently working for them they insist James not blame t'poor lad for mistakes.