Today I’d like to share with you a television show I discovered about a year ago. It’s one I’ve grown quite fond of these past several months and has brought more than a little joy into our lives. “All Creatures Great and Small” is a BBC series that doubtless thousands of admiring fans have enjoyed for decades. With the advent of broadband internet and digital distribution classics like this are poised to be discovered anew by a generation of viewers completely unfamiliar with a show our parents are more likely to know…Especially those of us from across ‘The Pond’ here in America. Not being avid ‘TV watchers’ it’s always a pleasant surprise to run across a show that actually becomes something we look forward to. In this case we’ve been tuning in via Netflix; though I’m sure there are other ways to gain access, even if only via DVD. What’s so special you ask? So many things. But let’s go back to the beginning for a brief moment.
Back in 1978 Bill Sellars was tasked with producing a new television series based on a popular book by author (and former veterinarian) James Herriot. The story is set in late 1930s England and recounts the love life and misadventures of a young veterinarian who has just arrived in a rural farming community. Taken in by the established and wily Siegfried Farnon, joined later by Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan, James and company do their best to make do with a small veterinary practice as they deal with all manner of animals and interesting characters. James soon meets young and beautiful Helen who, not surprisingly, is already being courted by one of the richest, most handsome gentlemen in the county. Meanwhile Tristan, a young auspicious and quite lively chap, can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble – especially as it concerns his more responsible (and sometimes bull-headed) older brother. Poor James often finds himself caught in the middle, while also having to contend with townsfolk whose trust and confidence he is determined to win over.
It’s an endearing cast of characters who are expertly portrayed in situations that are often humorous & heartwarming, yet never seem too outrageous or overblown (as is often the case with so much modern programming). Each episode runs approximately 50 minutes with one especially charming aspect being the manner in which story elements carry over from segment to segment.
In all honesty I don’t know if one can put into words or properly pin down what it is that makes this series so special. It’s almost the equivalent of trying to figure out what gives “I Love Lucy” the appeal it maintains nearly sixty years after its debut. There’s just something about it, some timeless quality one has to experience for themselves. Hopefully I’m not building it up too much. Certainly there’s a kind of niche audience in mind, most likely those who can appreciate a slower pacing with more emphasis on character development and good old-fashioned storytelling. That being said I must caution new viewers about judging it too quickly. This is important since (and please trust me on this) the first few episodes are really about setting up the characters. With that in mind, realize that it doesn’t truly begin to shine until around about the third to fourth episode. It’s a slow start that eases into its stride and becomes something one can appreciate with a much greater sense of who the characters are, where they’re coming from, and what’s behind the superb dynamic found in the bustling household of 385 Daraby Road. Even the Bit Actors do an excellent job of bringing new elements into each well-written story. In a testament to quality programming one easily forgets that the first few series were produced in the late seventies (aside from perhaps the picture and sound quality if one is particularly critical). Somehow I suspect book readers will find more to appreciate here, though not necessarily only they.
Well, I’ll leave it at that for now. If you’re finding, as we have, that modern television programming has very little to offer, and enjoy a good classic, be it movie, book or other period piece, then look no further. “All Creatures Great and Small” has much to offer and will almost surely leave you with a warm feeling each time the credits roll.
My personal thanks go out to all involved in this outstanding series: Bill Sellars, the many Writers & Directors, Robert Hardy, Mary Hignett, Christopher Timothy, Peter Davison, Carol Drinkwater, Lynda Bellingham, all the production crew, guest actors, and of course Mr. James Herriot. Your hard work and wonderful talent are all greatly admired.