All Creatures Great and Small
Cows, Christopher Timothy and the fifth Doctor Who. All Creatures Great and Small had it all, and from the late 70s all the way to 1990 it was firmly established as one of Britain's telly treasures. But just who was James Herriot? And did you know Christopher Timothy wasn't the first actor to portray him on screen...?
The real James HerriotDevoted to his job as a country vet, Wight had long toyed with the idea about putting his daily adventures on paper. He would often tell his wife about the animals he treated, and the idea of him writing a book became a long-running joke between them. Eventually she said "I don't want to offend you, but you've been saying that for 25 years. If you were going to write a book, you'd have done it by now."
And that was what spurred him to buy paper that very day and start writing his first book, All Creatures Great and Small.
Testing friendshipsWight decided to take the pen name James Herriot after Scotland goalkeeper Jim Herriot. He was also careful to rename his two close friends Donald and Brian Sinclair, who became the famous Siegfried and Tristan Farnon in the books.
However, when his tales became a sensation in the early 70s, it did cause a bit of friction between him and Donald (aka Siegfried), who disliked his portrayal as an eccentric, and even declared to Wight that it was a "real test of our friendship." Yet friends they remained, and his brother Brian (aka Tristan) rather relished the fame – and was rather flattered by Peter Davison filling his shoes in the TV series.
Adapting the storiesChristopher Timothy may have made the part of James Herriot his own, but the first actor to play the vet was actually Simon Ward (nowadays playing Monty Everard in Judge John Deed). This was for the movie version released in 1974, which also had Anthony Hopkins as Siegfried.
Then there was yet another movie made with John Alderton (Mr Pauline Collins) as Herriot, before the BBC decided to adapt the stories in 1978. They played with the idea of casting a Scottish actor as Herriot, but luckily they decided to give the relatively unknown Christopher Timothy a go instead. And so he became not the first, not the second, but the third man to bring Herriot to life.
Accidental accuracyThe TV adaptation of All Creatures was originally intended to focus strongly on the Herriot character (just like the two movies) and the first series did, in fact, follow this course.
But everything changed when, during the filming of series two, Timothy was injured in a car crash and his screen time had to be reduced, meaning more of the focus had to be on Robert Hardy and Peter Davison as the Farnon brothers. It helped open the show up and make it more of an ensemble piece – closer in line with the original stories, in fact.
All change, please!All Creatures ran for three series before breaking off temporarily in 1980. A few special episodes were broadcast after that, before huge public demand resulted in the series being properly revived in 1988.
However, because so much time had passed, the producers were faced with casting difficulties. Carol Drinkwater, who played Herriot's wife, refused to return (partly because of other work, and partly because of the tabloid frenzy over her real-life fling with Christopher Timothy). As the character couldn't be cut, the BBC was forced to have another star play Helen Herriot (choosing Lynda Bellingham, star of those old Oxo adverts).
There was also the question of how to replace Tristan Farnon, as Peter Davison was by this point a huge star thanks to his stint as Doctor Who and busy working on other projects like Campion. Although Davison did make return visits to All Creatures, his space was filled by a new character, Calum Buchanan, based on Wight's real-life assistant. And so the series continued to bewitch its millions of viewers until its ultimate end in 1990.