All Creatures Great and Small is a BBC series based upon the much-beloved series of books by late British veterinarian James Alfred Wight, who used the pseudonym James Herriot. He died of cancer in 1995, but his stories, both the written ones and those portrayed in the television show, continue to delight fans. Over the course of the series, young James started out in the practice of Siegfried Farnon, the name Wight used for his real-life partner, J. Donald Sinclair, and endured the harsh Yorkshire winters and the fun of bachelor life before settling down with wife Joan (called Helen in the series) and into the often unpredictable life of a country vet who treated both domestic and farm animals.
Herriot's stories, although they follow the progression of time, are actually colorful anecdotes about the residents and animals he encountered while working in the little village of Thirsk (called Darrowby in the books). The animals are just as much characters as their owners, as James confronts all sorts of personalities and situations in his practice as a vet.
This collection of episodes were some of the last to be broadcast, as the series covered the mid-30s to the early 1950s, and these episodes were set in the 1950s. By this time in the series, the original Helen, Carol Drinkwater, had been replaced by Lynda Bellingham, and the eccentric Calum Buchanan has joined the veterinary practice.
Some of the standout episodes from this season include:
The Course of True Love: Calum, the eccentric young vet hired by Siegfried and James, intensifies his relationship with the pretty young Dierdre by inviting her to dinner with hot-and-heavy romance on his mind. Dierdre is more interested in marriage, creating a huge misunderstanding that Siegfried, James, and Helen all try to remedy. A time of reflection occurs when the King of England dies and the members of the veterinary practice pause to consider what the future will hold. At the same time, James faces the death of a much-liked farmer and attempts to bring comfort to his widow. Be sure to stay tuned for the end of the episode for vintage footage of Queen Elizabeth II!
The Nelson Touch: Siegfried is just positive that the eccentric Mr. Hopps has manufactured a dog in order to mask his own questionable digestive problems. One of the best comic episodes of this series.
Where Sheep May Safely Graze: My favorite episode of the season, thanks to the presence of Mrs. Pumphrey and her aging Pekingese, Tricki Woo. The wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey assigns all sorts of human emotions and commentary to Tricki, often requiring that Hodgkin, her put-upon manservant, minister to Tricki as well. When James develops a cold and the feline companion of the owner of the local sweet shop falls ill, it's Mrs. Pumphrey and Tricki to the rescue.
In Whom We Trust: A mystery begins in Darrowby as sheep are found mutilated in the fields and James finds himself defending a local dog, Murphy, against accusations of being the culprit. Murphy belongs to an unkempt but good-hearted wanderer named Roddy, who is visiting Darrowby. When Roddy asks James to destroy the dog, it is up to the vets to find out what or who is really behind the sheep killings. Siegfried ultimately does, but the ending is quite sad.
The Rough and the Smooth: This episode showcases the wonderful Robert Hardy at his best as Siegfried. Siegfried always thinks he knows best and can teach James how to be more efficient, and in this episode, the topic is time management. Siegfried, ever the equestrian, also has a comic run-in with an anxious horse named "Bonkers".
Late in the show's run, All Creatures Great and Small had lost none of its charm. The stories are alternately funny, sad, touching, and dramatic, and the acting is just stellar. I have very happy memories of watching this show as a child with my parents each week on PBS, and to this day it remains a great family show, with absolutely nothing objectionable in its content. How rare that is these days.
I can remember as a child preferring Carol Drinkwater to Lynda Bellingham as Helen, but watching this show all these years later, I think Bellingham is equally as good. And although Christopher Timothy is wonderful as James, it is Robert Hardy as Siegfried who steals every episode with his kind but at times crusty demeanor.
All Creatures Great and Small is presented in 4:3 full screen, and it is a pleasantly surprising improvement over what one might expect when viewing it on television. The real beauty and wonder of this show is the many outdoor scenes that feature real farms and real animals, and it translates beautifully onto DVD. The green fields, the little pink piglets, and the rainy countryside look absolutely gorgeous; it is a real visual treat.
The sound quality of these discs is just okay. Normally this doesn't make much of a difference with a television series, however in this case, it does. The Yorkshire accent is difficult at times for the American ear to comprehend, so improved sound quality would have been helpful. The lovely theme song sounds wonderful as always, but the spoken words could be more audible.
The only extra of note is a "Who's Who" onscreen information section located on Disc 4. It presents the standard information about the regular characters of the series, and it will be of interest to anyone who would like to see the actors' other work, which is extensive.
Whether viewers are familiar with All Creatures Great and Small or not, this is a wonderful show for all ages. Although it is always helpful to view shows in order, viewers will have no problem jumping right into the storylines of Series 6 and enjoying all the fun. Better yet, start with Series 1 and savor this wonderful show from the beginning; it does not disappoint.