The PBS series “Masterpiece Theatre” turns 50 in 2021, and in January the program began airing a new British series that is well worth your time. In fact, it just may be the salve we need in these troubled times.
Dr. James Herriot (a pen name for Alf Wight) wrote his first memoir of adventures as a young veterinarian in his original book, “If Only They Could Talk,” in 1970. This series of books continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Herriot began his career in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s. The dales are comprised of gently rolling hills and valleys, so picturesque that they are as identified with England as the more familiar scenes of London. The dales are generally an agricultural area. Most of the people who live there are farmers.
In the books and in the television series, Dr. Herriot leaves his home in Glasgow for the prospect of a job working under an eccentric veterinary surgeon named Dr. Siegfried Farnon, who is also the proprietor of Skeldale House. Farnon is one of those characters whose bark is worse than his bite, so to speak. Dr. Farnon is portrayed by Samuel West, an experienced character actor, while newcomer Nicholas Ralph plays Dr. Herriot.
Dr. Farnon has a live-in housekeeper in the series named Mrs. Hall, played by Anna Madeley. Callum Woodhouse plays Dr. Farnon’s younger brother Tristan, who has recently flunked out of veterinary school again and has come back home in an apprentice role, one he shares with Dr. Herriot. Other characters rounding out the cast include Rachel Shenton as farmer Helen Alderson, and Matthew Lewis (known to “Harry Potter” fans as Neville Longbottom) in the role of the wealthy Hugh Hulton.
The series is directed by Brian Percival, who also served in that role on the successful TV program “Downton Abbey” several years ago.
The good nature of the main characters is very refreshing. In the first episode, Herriot treats an abcess on a horse’s hoof and delivers a calf, but after a night of drunkenness mixes up cats on their way to being neutered – realizing his mistake just in time!
Later episodes have had Dr. Herriot misdiagnosing a cow with milk fever, and later getting into some trouble for euthanizing a racehorse with twisted bowels - which causes Dr. Farnon to have his application to become the official vet of the racecourse be declined.
The plots are like the books – quiet. Yet there is something incredibly comforting about the adventures of a kind rural veterinarian in 1930s England that we need now more than ever.
“All Creatures Great and Small” airs Sunday evenings at 8:00 p.m. on Alabama Public Television.