Back in the early to mid-1970s, I don't think there was a more beloved popular novelist in America (or perhaps the world) than James Herriot. Herriot, the Yorkshire vet who at 50, decided to write fictionalized accounts of his practice during the 1930s and 1940s, became an international bestseller once his first two short stories were gathered together in America under the new title, All Creatures Great and Small. His second compilation, All Things Bright and Beautiful, was even more popular, spawning a feature film version of his first success (All Creatures Great and Small, made in 1975, debuted on television here in the States and starring Simon Ward and Anthony Hopkins), and a television movie sequel. The success of those two feature films inspired the BBC to produce the long-running TV series (premiering in 1978), which is presented in its entirety in All Creatures Great & Small: The Complete Collection, a massive 28-disc collection of every TV episode and special produced under the series' name. The total running time is well over 80 hours worth of Herriot adventures (add another seven or so hours of extras, as well), which should be more than enough to please fans of vintage British TV (I loved every minute of it).
Growing up in the 1970s, it wasn't unusual to see a dog-eared paperback of one of Herriot's books lying around most people's homes; he sold millions and millions of editions, with Americans in particular warming to the slightly romanticized adventures of the young, naïve vet who comes to the wild, untamed Yorkshire dales during the Great Depression. I read all the books when I was young, and when the TV series came out on PBS back in the late 70s, early 80s, I was a fan, as well. While I found the books to be slightly more realistic about the hardships and unsentimental aspects of the hardscrabble farming community of Yorkshire, the TV series did an excellent job (more so in its early seasons) of balancing the sweet, life-affirming qualities of Herriot's short stories, and the rather indifferent, some may even say cruel, realities of farmers and farming life, and the life and death cycles of their beasts of burden.
As you may know, the stories concern James Herriot (Herriot used this pseudonym because of professional vet rules that prohibited him from writing under his real name, Alf Wight), a young doctor straight out of medical school who takes a job as an assistant to Siegfried Farnon, a Yorkshire vet who is trying to rebuild a practice he purchased from an older partner who had let the business go to pot. Eccentric and mercurial, Siegfried immediately warms to the naïve but talented Herriot, and takes him on as his assistant. Herriot, who is book-smart but woefully unprepared for the wily, cagy farmers who still cling to medieval superstitions about their animals, finds the going tough at first (as well as finding enormous personal satisfaction in his duties), but gradually gains the confidence of Siegfried and the local community.
Adding to the fun is the arrival of Siegfried's wayward, lazy younger brother Tristan, who is also studying (rather unsuccessfully) to be a vet. Siegfried's relationship with Tristan is one of constant outrage and yelled threats at Tristan's indolence, followed by immediate forgiveness and almost slight enjoyment of Tristan's high-spirits. Ever the romantic pursuer, Tristan's emotional entanglements with various local women make up quite a few stories in the series, while James enjoys a competitive, jocular tension with Tristan marked by practical jokes and compassionate understanding of their differences. James as well is given a romantic life, when he meets and marries the lovely farm girl Helen Alderson. As the series progresses, the couple have two children (Jimmy and Rosie), while the stories span the time period of the Great Depression, the emergence of World War II, and then later, the 1950s, with the emergence of the small-animal care industry, better vaccines, and the loss of the horse as the main engine of farm labor.
I would imagine that a good part of the enormous appeal of the novels and the series (which has also been a decades-long worldwide hit in syndication and reruns) is that distinctly "British" feeling we Anglophiles crave when reading our Christie armchair murder mysteries or watching our umpteenth BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Certainly the relative "quaintness" of Herriot's novels succeeded in America precisely because he was writing about a way of life that by the early 1970s had long passed on. In one of the extras included in this All Creatures Great & Small: The Complete Collection DVD set, Herriot is interviewed (back in 1976), and he discusses how completely changed the farming life had become since the dark days of the Depression. The influx of better and more specific vaccines, the increased mechanization and modernization of larger and more efficient farms, and the increase in communication technology, had brought the farmers Herriot wrote about, out of their almost total isolation into the modern world. That nostalgia, despite Herriot's skill at illustrating the pain as well as the beauty of the world of farm animals, is what fueled book sales and TV ratings for all the various incarnations of All Creatures Great & Small.
And of course, now you have the reflexive, strangely self-feeding "nostalgia for nostalgia" experience that can be had for fans of the series who watched it when first premiered, and loved that experience so much that they want to have it again on DVD (a "nostalgic longing for nostalgic TV shows" experience that I've written about before in a review of the very similar American TV series, The Waltons - please click here to read that review). And I must say, watching all of the episodes again after over twenty years, All Creatures Great & Small holds up surprisingly well. There's a quiet gentleness to the series that struck me first and foremost. If your TV viewing experience has spanned a couple of decades, it's immediately noticeable, once you go back and watch shows from about the 1970s and prior, that TV has changed drastically in tone and pace (not to mention, obviously, content). Stylistically, TV was so much more sedate, for lack of a better word, and All Creatures Great & Small is the perfect example of that stillness of execution. Episodes frequently allow plenty of time for individual scenes to properly develop, with the subsequent effect on the performances a favorable one.
There's an ensemble feel to All Creatures Great & Small's cast that grows with each episode. Of course it helps that each actor, from then-newcomer Christopher Timothy as James, to veteran character actor Robert Hardy as Siegfried, is almost perfectly cast. Timothy has the hardest role, that of the straight, somewhat square Herriot, who has to come off to the audience as competent in this vet duties, but naïve and appealing in his dealings with the farmers and Siegfried. Hardy has the easy role, with the eccentric, at times almost flamboyant Siegfried, and he runs with the part. Twisting his lines with bemused, comical "joy of life" muggings, Hardy is an absolute joy in the part, with it becoming the signature role in his long, illustrious career. Peter Davison (who no doubt is familiar to sci-fi fans the world over as one of the Dr. Who incarnations) has a relative small part at the beginning of the series (beefed up subsequently because of his immediate popularity in the role) which expands to include innumerable romantic conquests and layabout skiving - much to the delight of fans. Veteran Mary Hignett is perfect as the irascible, flinty housekeeper Mrs. Edna Hall, and author and actress Carol Drinkwater brings an earthy, believable sexiness and grace to the Helen character. Special mention must go out as well to the hilarious Margaretta Scott as the magnificently dotty Mrs. Pumphrey (she of the pampered Pekinese Tricky-Woo)
The stories themselves are neatly concise, flowing from episode to episode with the main internal story arc being James' gradual maturing into a competent country vet while he meets, woos and weds Helen. Witty without being laugh-out-loud funny, All Creatures Great & Small's low-level "quaintness" goes a long way towards establishing and maintaining its charm. Much of Herriot's grittiness (which, lets be honest, wasn't all that gritty to start with in his romanticized novels) is eliminated, with scenes of animal illness and death told in a straightforward, yet tasteful manner (the putting to sleep of "Old Bob" the dog, for instance, or the shooting of a horse with a tortured bowel, is kept off camera). Which isn't to say that we don't get seemingly endless shots of James with his arm up some cow's bum (the British love their toilet humor as much as we do). Certainly, All Creatures Great & Small has been modified and adapted to conform to mainstream serial TV standards, but that in no way lessens the tender, joyous qualities of Herriot's work.
The location work, frequently quite beautiful, is a huge bonus to the series. Filmed in Yorkshire (after actor Hardy threatened to walk out on the series when it was decided to film it cheaper, somewhere closer to London), the extensive use of location shooting (expensive at the time for British series) firmly establishes the evocative atmosphere of the piece (along with careful production design), providing that necessary "cozy" tone that lovers of British period pieces demand. Yes, there are the obligatory switches from 16mm film location shooting to interior sets shot on video (making, for those not accustomed to this typical British method of TV shooting back in the 1950s through the 1970s and even into the 80s, a wealth of jarring scene transitions), but, unlike many British TV shows at the time, the interiors are lit quite nicely, providing a smoother juxtaposition between the filmed exterior shots.
All Creatures Great & Small premiered in January of 1978 and ran for thirteen episodes. A second series ("season" in Brit-TV terms) premiered in September of 1978, for fourteen episodes. The third series premiered in December of 1979, for fourteen more episodes that ran until April of 1980. At this point, regular production of the series ended, with two Christmas specials being produced (after many viewer requests) in 1983 and 1985. Regular series production resumed after an eight year hiatus, with the fourth series premiering in January, 1988, for ten episodes. Three more series then followed in September of 1988, 1989, and 1990 (with 12 episodes apiece). Additional cast members were added during the second incarnation of the series, including Calum Buchannan as young vet John McGlynn. But the most notable change was the loss of Carole Drinkwater as Helen, to be replaced by Lynda Bellingham for the remainder of the show, as well as a new housekeeper, Mrs. Greenlaw, played by Judy Wilson (Mary Hignett had died at the end of series three).
For me, even though the later series were quite well done, the first three series with the original cast are still my favorites. That first immersion into the Herriot world that one felt when picking up All Creatures Great and Small for the first time, is palpable in those early episodes. Later series tried hard to capture that unique flavor, but the cast changes didn't help (with the Calum character an obvious attempt to recreate the young-vet-coming-to-the-Dales feel of their earlier James' stories), nor did the time shift (somehow, the 1950s just didn't seem as compelling to the central theme of the series - the shifting of the old guard in farming and veterinary practices - as those early Depression-era episodes). Eight years is a long time to stop-and-go a series, and somehow, the later episodes feel less "organic" and more calculated to just keep the series going on. They're still very entertaining, but I prefer the earlier ones. Luckily, you can see them all in the massive All Creatures Great & Small: The Complete Collection boxed set.
Here are the 13 episodes of All Creatures Great & Small: Series 1, as described on its insert:
Episode 1: Horse Sense
Life for a newly qualified vet like James Herriot is not at all easy. He travels all the way to Darrowby, Yorkshire to secure a job, but by the time his prospective employer, Siegfried Farnon, turns up for the interview, James has fallen asleep!
Episode 2: Dog Days
James finds that long hours and rough conditions can make veterinary work a dog's life, but some dogs, like Mrs. Pumphrey's Tricky-Wu, have it so well that they can afford to spread the wealth.
Episode 3: It Takes all Kinds
Siegfried declares that the business is in a shambles financially, and his solution is Miss Harbuncle, a meticulous secretary who rules the cash box with an iron hand. Amid a relentless succession of new faces - many gruff, some eccentric - James meets the lovely Helen Alderson.
Episode 4: Calf Love
Siegfried has a major victory, and his brother Tristan has to deal with pigs in more ways than one. James discovers he has a rival for Helen's affections.
Episode 5: Out of Practice
The veterinary practice goes from strength to strength, but James fears he has wrecked his chances with Helen after a disastrous first date. Tristan decides that a blind date is all James needs to hone his courtship skills.
Episode 6: Nothing Like Experience
James musters the courage to visit Helen after she's seen him at his worst. Siegfried resorts to sorcery to aid a gypsy's ailing pony, and a wild ghost chase solves the mystery of the shrouded figure haunting Raine Abbey.
Episode 7: Golden Lads and Girls
James' temper is fraying fast - what with two car accidents in the space of a week, an inauspicious meeting with Helen's family and his rival still lurking around Helen like a "big glossy spider."
Episode 8: Advice and Consent
The fortunes of the hard-working Dalby family look set to dwindle even further until almost by accident James discovers the cause of their herd's illness. However, James still needs a push start on other fronts, and Siegfried and Tristan decide to remedy matters with their own expert advice.
Episode 9: The Last Furlong
The sport of kings beckons James and Siegfried to the Broughton Races - James in search of a dead cert to raise forty pounds for a Mediterranean honeymoon, and Siegfried in pursuit of a dream job at the track.
Episode 10: Sleeping Partners
James and Helen's wedding day has finally arrived, though their honeymoon destination couldn't have been further from the Mediterranean. Finally, Siegfried bestows the best wedding present of all.
Episode 11: Bulldog Breed
As James struggles to save the dairy herd in which a friend has sunk all his savings, he discovers a colleague's guilty secret.
Episode 12: Practice Makes Perfect
Having failed his exams, Tristan fears his brother's wrath. In a desperate effort to reform, Tristan shuns cigarettes, alcohol and women and adopts a rigorous routine of dawn runs and hard work.
Episode 13: Breath of Life
Siegfried discovers that a gift given in good faith has brought the deadly foot-and-mouth disease to the dales, and James accidentally hits upon a "sleep cure" for Mrs. Flaxton's poodle.
Here are the 14 episodes of All Creatures Great & Small: Series 2, as described on its insert:
Episode 1: Cats and Dogs
The waiting room is packed at the Darrowby practice, but Siegfried seems more focused on catching his hard-drinking brother asleep on the job.
Episode 2: Attendant Problems
The return of the lambing season brings a boost to Siegfried's spirits, but James, laid up in the surgery, is reminded of the harsher realities of a vet's life.
Episode 3: Fair Means and Fowl
Nerves are frayed as Tristan's encounter with an "exploding" bullock leads to a lawsuit, and Siegfried's venture in guinea raising runs foul. Meanwhile, James is sent to assist "one of the biggest boozers in the business."
Episode 4: The Beauty of the Beast
As the tractor threatens to do away with a way of life in the Dales, James battles to save a dying shire horse.
Episode 5: Judgement Day
The Darrowby Show is a much-anticipated event for the whole community, except for the duty vet. This mixed honor falls to James this year.
Episode 6: Faint Hearts
While James struggles to cope with the procrastinations of the Bellerby family, Tristan succumbs to the charms of a millionaire shipbuilder's daughter with a penchant for lobster.
Episode 7: Tricks of the Trade
James gets a taste of the high life when he comes to the aid of a city vet, Granville Bennet, while Siegfried juggles the care of Mr. Wilkinson's awesome "colt" with the fine art of debt collecting.
Episode 8: Pride of Possession
The atmosphere is tense as James prepares to perform groundbreaking surgery. Meanwhile, Siegfried wrestles with a disinterested prize bull, and Tristan's hormones run riot over Darrowby's merry widow.
Episode 9: The Name of the Game
James becomes suspicious when the Farnon brothers - usually keen cricketers - "volunteer" him in their stead for the annual cricket match between Darrowby and Rainby.
Episode 10: Puppy Love
Tristan may have finally found the right girl in Alice McTavish. Meanwhile, James struggles to save a dog whose death could trigger the end of his owners' marriage.
Episode 11: Ways and Means
James concludes that the drawbacks of a vet's life - long hours, fierce dogs and a cunning sow named Prudence - pale in comparison to the rigors of making a speech to the Darrowby Youth Club.
Episode 12: Pups, Pigs and Pickle
Siegfried turns on the charm to teach Tristan a lesson, while James, busy with calving, finds one farmer's traditional Yorkshire hospitality a bit hard to swallow.
Episode 13: A Dog's Life
Despite Siegfried's insistence that he relax and "cultivate the inner man," James can't shrug off the irritations that often make his profession a dog's life. Siegfried's inner man is cramming for the annual quiz that pits the men of Darrowby against the fearsome Women's Institute.
Episode 14: Merry Gentlemen
Christmas at Skeldale House can be a formidable undertaking, what with sick foals, overfed dogs and a skeleton guarding Siegfried's secret hoard of goodies.
Here are the 14 episodes of All Creatures Great & Small: Series 3, as described on its insert:
Episode 1: Plenty to Grouse About
It's cattle-testing time, and James finds himself caught up with red tape at the Ministry of Agriculture. Can Helen's form-filling skills save the day? Siegfried, meanwhile, is faced with a far more serious problem: the resignation of Mrs. Hall.
Episode 2: Charity Begins at Home
With hard times upon the Darrowby surgery, Siegfried decrees an end to free treatment. But will he practice what he preaches? Meanwhile, Helen, now a working girl, finds a more challenging job playing nursemaid at home.
Episode 3: Every Dog His Day...
Chaos reigns at the Darrowby surgery. The bills are piling up, thanks to Helen's job, and Siegfried's new wonder drug is far from wonderful. However, James has a more pungent problem in the guise of Cedric, Mrs. Pumphrey's flatulent boxer.
Episode 4: Hair of the Dog
As Siegfried reflects upon the freedom of life on the open road, Tristan finds himself chained to the kitchen sink. Meanwhile, James' new resolve to turn teetotaler is shaken by a visit from Granville Bennett, renowned veterinarian and inveterate drinker.
Episode 5: If Wishes Were Horses
With the first boys leaving town to enlist, the Darrowby vets prepare to face whatever changes war will bring. However, amidst the turmoil, one thing looks certain to remain unaltered: the tangled web of Tristan's love life.
Episode 6: Pig in the Middle
It's romance all round at the Darrowby practice. As Siegfried gallops headlong into courtship, Tristan rejoices in his beloved Betty's return from holiday. Meanwhile, James is left to count the true cost of love.
Episode 7: Be Prepared
Siegfried is ecstatic: it's not every day that the Darrowby vets receive an invitation to the coming out party of the daughter of the Master of the Hounds. Meanwhile, Tristan, too, is planning an evening to remember - in the far less exalted company of the lovely Lydia from the Drover's Arms.
Episode 8: A Dying Breed
As Europe marches inexorably towards war, so progress in farming techniques continues unabated. But will all the changes be for the better? Meanwhile, Siegfried is left to discover the harsh truth that not even science can safeguard against death.
Episode 9: Brink of Disaster
With the ultimatum issued to Germany about to expire, Europe stands poised on the threshold of war. However, the Darrowby vets have a battle on their own to wage - against the dreaded foot and mouth disease.
Episode 10: Home and Away
With Mrs. Hall away, Siegfried is forced to rely on Tristan's culinary skills - or lack of them - for sustenance. Meanwhile James, enjoying a taste of locum life, has cause to wonder if his career may have finally gone to the dogs.
Episode 11: Alarms and Excursions
As Britain prepares to defend herself against a German invasion, the dog owners of Darrowby face a far more immediate threat. Can Siegfried discover the identity of the canine poisoner before he strikes again?
Episode 12: Matters of Life and Death
It's party time at the Darrowby practice as Siegfried and Tristan don their glad rags to attend a military function. Meanwhile James himself has a reason to celebrate - and grieve over - the extremes of civilian life.
Episode 13: Will to Live
With the inclement weather casting a gloom over the land, James discovers the full extent of a vet's healing powers. Meanwhile, Tristan wins a minor battle against Siegfried's "tyranny" - but who will win the war of minds?
Episode 14: Big Steps and Little 'Uns
Dramatic changes are afoot at the Darrowby surgery as Siegfried prepares to go to war, with James not far behind. However, Tristan, steeling himself to hold the fort in their absence, has a far more worrying problem: Mrs. Hall has a suitor.
Here are the 2 TV Specials from 1983 and 1985, that appear on their own disc in this collection:
James returns to Darrowby following his wartime service in the R.A.F.. Though little has changed in the Dales in the intervening six years, James finds it difficult to adjust to the peacetime routine and to friends and family who seem like strangers.
Siegfried waxes lyrical about the accelerating rate of scientific progress as James proceeds to plod along with tried and true remedies. How long can the practice and the surrounding countryside resist the oncoming tide of progress?
Here are the 10 episodes of All Creatures Great & Small: Series 4, as described on its insert:
Episode 1: One of Nature's Little Miracles
The years have passed, and money is tight for the Darrowby vets as Siegfried turns to a dynamic new recruit to swell the practice's profits. James perversely finds himself running with the "fat-wallet brigade" when he is invited to serve on the much-hallowed Milk Subcommittee.
Episode 2: Barks and Bites
There's change - and more than a hint of motorcycle exhaust fumes - in the air with the arrival of a badger-owning vet, Calum Buchanan, at the practice. Meanwhile, James and Tristan drink a toast to Tris' appointment as the "Man from the Ministry" in charge of artificial insemination.
Episode 3: The Bull with the Bowler Hat
Determined to spread the word of artificial insemination among the recalcitrant locals, Tristan encounters fierce opposition from both man and beast. Meanwhile, James has a problem much closer to home: will the Darrowby practice be sued for negligence?
Episode 4: The Pig Man Cometh
It's a heartbreaking time for the Darrowby vets when a farmer's private enterprise is rewarded with pestilence. Meanwhile, as the Herriots lament their impoverished state, Siegfried learns that wealth does not necessarily make one a saint among men.
Episode 5: Hail Caesar!
The church fete looms for the Darrowby vets, along with the dreaded Scottish country dancing display. Can Tristan brush up his steps in time to woo the fair Deirdre? Or will his colleague Calum's back-to-nature approach sweep her off her feet?
Episode 6: Only One Woof
With stray cats, a barkless sheep dog and a parsimonious old farmer all competing for his medical attention, James has cause to reflect on an animal's true worth. Meanwhile, Tristan's latest flirtation makes him value his own skin all the more highly.
Episode 7: Ace, King, Jack
As Siegfried steels himself to receive confirmation of suspected case of foot-and-mouth disease, James has stresses of his own to contend with. After all, as the judge of the dogs' section of the Darrowby show, how can he possibly remain impartial when his benefactor Tricki Woo is in the competition?
Episode 8: ...The Healing Touch
With a partnership in Granville Bennett's highly lucrative small animals' practice on offer, James is sorely tempted. But can his liver stand the strain? Meanwhile, the demon drink has its own part to play in Tristan's increasingly complicated love life.
Episode 9: City Slicker
The grass certainly looks greener for James and Helen as they consider swapping the hard life in the Dales for Granville Bennett's profitable small animals' practice nearer town. Meanwhile, an old friend of the Herriots, London bank manager Andrew Bruce, arrives in Darrowby in search of rural bliss.
Episode 10: For Richer, For Poorer
As Jimmy Herriot prepares to play in the local annual piano recital, Siegfried puts on a first rate performance of his own for his most troublesome clients. Finally, it is decision time for James: will he stay or will he go?
Here are the 12 episodes of All Creatures Great & Small: Series 5, as described on its insert:
Episode 1: Against the Odds
James Herriot finds himself skiing through snowy dales to save a litter of dying piglets. Helen is confined to bed having slipped a disc, and Tristan is hoping that Siegfried will give him a job as he has resigned from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Episode 2: Place of Honor
With Helen still bedridden, there is a dramatic increase in domestic chaos. While James struggles manfully with both chores and children, Siegfried and Tristan praise his noble efforts - and do precisely nothing. Tristan infuriates Mr. Busby, a redoubtable farmer, by treating a dog instead of Busby's cow, by sleeping in, and finally by treating a bull instead of Busby's dog!
Episode 3: Choose a Bright Morning
James receives a cry for help from the isolated Bramley family who last came to town in 1929.
Episode 4: The Playing Field
A typical Yorkshire farmer is transformed into a cowboy. With Siegfried in London, Tristan is left with the worst patients.
Episode 5: When Dreams Come True
Helen is finally up and about - only to face the morning after the chaos of Tristan's party the night before.
Episode 6: A New Chapter
The Herriots prepare to move to Rowangarth and Calum suffers the morning after an emergency call to Granville Bennett's surgery.
Episode 7: A Present from Dublin
Calum welcomes two new arrivals - one that bites and one that fits Siegfried's cooking and cleaning requirements.
Episode 8: The Salt of the Earth
Siegfried is saddened by the death of a young bull terrier - one of an inseparable pair of dogs.
Episode 9: Cheques and Balances
Siegfried is determined to make the errant farmers pay their bills.
Episode 10: Female of the Species
Siegfried gives a friend's offspring some experience in the surgery. Calum initially resents this, but bucks up when he sees the young student.
Episode 9: The Jackpot
James wears his shorts to a visit and is challenged to a race, while Jock, a former champion sheepdog, delights in chasing cars from the farm.
Episode 10: Two of a Kind
Siegfried buys a television set, and James has to deal with a man who has cancer.
Here are the 12 episodes of All Creatures Great & Small: Series 6, as described on its insert:
Episode 1: Here and There
James meets Basil Courtney, a cowhand for a local farmer. Basil has worked in a circus, been a teacher, has knowledge of art and a nose for good wine! James is impressed until he discovers that Basil has not been giving the farmer's calves their treatment and, as a result, they are showing no signs of improvement.
Episode 2: The Course of True Love
The romance between Calum and Deidre McEwan flourishes. Siegfried has been hoping that the love affair would quiet down but instead it seems to be going full blast. However, the course of true love never runs smoothly, and it is left to Siegfried to help solve the young couple's problems.
Episode 3: The Call of the Wild
Deidre and Calum are busy planning their wedding. Deidre discusses her future with Helen, who hopes the couple will stay in Darrowby. However, Calum gets offered a job in Nova Scotia. Siegfried, believing he has forced Calum into applying for the job, hopes he can now persuade him to reconsider.
Episode 4: The Nelson Touch
Siegfried visits a farm to treat a sick cat and pulls off a brilliant piece of human diagnosis at the same time. He also gets an unexpected visit from the puritan Mr. Hopps - who does not have an animal with him.
Episode 5: Blood and Water
James meets a pair of elderly twins. Oliver and Roland Strong, rabbit breeder and prize cabbage=grower respectively, have divided the cottage left to them by their mother and have not spoken to each other for 50 years. Now Oliver is convinced that Roland has poisoned one of his rabbits.
Episode 6: Where Sheep May Safely Graze
When James treats a sick cat, he finds himself in an awkward position with Mrs. Pumphrey and Mrs. Tibbett. These two formidable and mutually ferocious Darrowby matrons compete both in bringing presents for the invalid and in hounding James for information of the patient's progress.
Episode 7: The New World
When Lady Hulton's cat falls ill, Siegfried embarks, with typical zeal, on updating the practice to cater for such refined clients. Lady Hulton, however, catches him out at every turn. James' problems lie with an affable but lazy farmer, Vernon harker, whose plans to save himself from work even extend to marrying a tower of strength with a grown son to match.
Episode 8: Mending Fences
Jenny Gartson and David Rayner, individually charming farmer and horse-breeder, have been sworn enemies since their earliest school days. When a triple birthday is marred by tragedy, it falls to Siegfried to negotiate with the stony-faced neighbors.
Episode 9: Big Fish, Little Fish
James is persuaded to play for the "Gentlemen's" team in the annual village cricket match. The village players are to be captained by the young, and already legendary, Freddie Trueman. Siegfried persuades Freddie to bowl flat out at the pompous Colonel Jenkins, captain of the "Gentlemen's" side. He lives to regret this when James is injured fielding and Siegfried is himself forced to bat against "Fiery Fred."
Episode 10: In Whom We Trust
An old friend of James and Siegfried, an itinerant traveler called Roddy Travers, arrives in Darrowby. He appears to be stealing instruments from the practice, but Siegfried and James are relieved to discover that Roddy's recently acquired lurcher dog, Murphy, is the culprit. However, the situation turns serious when an elderly local farmer accuses Murphy of sheep killing.
Episode 9: The Rough and the Smooth
Siegfried insists on singing the praises of his new time-management system, a personal diary, much to the annoyance of James. James is particularly put out by Siegfried's successful demonstration to his bete-noir, the redoubtable Mr. Ripley. However, Siegfried's morning is spoiled when he has to deal with Humphrey, an exuberant Great Dane.
Episode 10: The Best Time
Siegfried is perplexed when the usually caring Grandma Clarke snubs his neighbor, Franco Pedrettie, who is the new shepherd on the estate where she is a tenant farmer. It soon becomes apparent that she blames Franco for the untimely death of her son in Italy during the war and the subsequent death of his wife in childbirth.
Here are the 12 episodes of All Creatures Great & Small: Series 7, as described on its insert:
Episode 1: The Prodigal Returns
Tristan has returned home, and is delighted to discover that Mrs. Alton, a new housekeeper recruited by Siegfried, is a rather attractive young widow.
Episode 2: Knowin' How to Do It
Planting a syringe full of anti-abortion vaccine into a farmer's backside creates something of a crisis for Tristan.
Episode 3: If Music Be the Food of Love
Tristan's heart is all aflutter because of the lovely Jane Mercer. When he discovers that she sings in the choral society, Tristan develops a fresh interest in matters musical.
Episode 4: A Friend for Life
As Bill Shadwell approaches retirement, his son is keen to move into more profitable Frisian dairy cattle - and James and Siegfried soon find themselves caught up in the family's battle of wills.
Episode 5: Spring Fever
The mysterious Mrs. Donovan is dismissed by Siegfried as "a warm-hearted woman who loves animals" - until she starts interfering with his patients.
Episode 6: Out with the New
Siegfried resorts to traditional cures when he tackles a sheep with liver fluke and is all too eager to pass on to James a rather smelly problem afflicting a dog called Wolfie.
Episode 7: Food For Thought
Buffoon Stewie Brannen, an old friend of Siegfried's, has invited the distinguished Professor Norton to a black-tie dinner, but disaster looms when Siegfried and Stewie are called out for a calving - in full evening dress.
Episode 8: A Cat in Hull's Chance
Twelve-year-old Rosie Herriot announces that she wants to become a vet against her father's wishes. But treating her best friend's pony may prove too much even for the determined Rosie.
Episode 9: A Grand Memory for Forgetting
James and Siegfried have little success in extracting payment from wily farmer Dennis Pratt - until they discover he may be sneaking his cows onto a neighboring farm to enjoy better grazing.
Episode 10: Old Dogs, New Tricks
Ewan Ross - "the best horse man north of the Humber" - has let his career slide gently into the whiskey bottle after the death of his wife. But Siegfried is determined to make use of his considerable skills.
Episode 11: Hampered
Tristan falls for the dark, sad-eyed beauty, Angela Mortimer, Mrs. Pumphrey's great-niece. Fortunately, the demanding dog Tricky-Woo provides an ideal excuse for Tristan to make a number of house calls.
Episode 12: Promises to Keep
Mrs. Clarke, a very determined old lady, is struggling to keep her farm running until she can hand it over to her young granddaughter, Mary. But she is reaching the stage when she can no longer handle the pressures....
1990 Christmas Special - Brotherly Love
It's 1953, and the holidays have arrived in the Yorkshire Dales. Apart from the festivities, James finds his hands full when he has to deal with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among the local animals while Tristan - ever the irrepressible romantic - gets involved with the church's bell ringing team in pursuit of the lovely new schoolteacher, Miss Marston.
As great as the series All Creatures Great & Small is, the video transfers for the All Creatures Great & Small: The Complete Collection DVD box set are not the best. Obviously, there has been zero remastering on these transfers; nobody went back to the original film and video elements. Looking often like bad video dupes (especially the first few series), PAL conversion issues are also frequently noticeable. Colors are frequently washed out and lifeless (although, to be honest, it looked like that when I first saw the series on PBS back in the 70s).
The Dolby Digital English mono soundtrack accurately reflects the original broadcast presentation. Thankfully, close-captioning is available for those sometimes thick Yorkshire accents.
There are some nice - if somewhat sparse - bonuses on the All Creatures Great & Small: The Complete Collection - bonuses, by the way, that already appeared on previous DVD releases. For Series One, there's a marvelous interview with Alf Wight ("James Herriot"), produced in 1976, for Melvyn Bragg's The Lively Arts. It runs 48 minutes, with Herriot giving some surprising assessments of his own writing (I love that he wrote while watching TV!). Series Two has a simple text feature of Who's Who in the cast. Series Three has audio commentaries by actors Robert Hardy, Peter Davison and Carol Drinkwater, and directors Christopher Barry and Michael Hayes for episodes Pig in the Middle, Be Prepared, and Will to Live. They're a fun bunch, and there are some good production tidbits thrown out. Also, there's a five minute segment from the BBC's Country File, from 1999, called The World of James Herriot that takes a brief look at the museum that was converted from Herriot's original house in Thirsk, Yorkshire. For The Specials disc, there's a brief On Location featurette that's fun to watch, along with the standard text Who's Who in the cast. On Series Four, there's a nine minute interview, from the BBC's Daytime Live in 1988, with Christopher Timothy (where he admits he rejoined the series for the work). There's also a 1988 interview with John McGlynn, by Rob Curling, for the BBC's Noticeboard. It lasts five minutes. Series Five and Six have the text Who's Who in the cast, while Series Seven has a 2003 episode of Stars Reunited, hosted by Dale Winton, that rejoins Christopher Timothy, Carol Drinkwater, Robert Hardy, and Lynda Bellingham. The cast has aged very nicely, and they have some interesting things to discuss about the production.
If you already have the individual DVD sets included in the All Creatures Great & Small: The Complete Collection, you needn't fear double-dipping: everything is the same, including the transfers, as on your sets. There are no additional bonuses. However, if you've always loved this series, the All Creatures Great & Small: The Complete Collection may just be for you. The subpar transfers do knock down my rating a notch, though: if you're going to gather together all the individual DVD sets you've already sold for years, into one definitive collection, you should at least try and get your hands on the original elements and either clean them up, or at least remaster them. I had a marvelous time revisiting the series, but I couldn't watch it on my big screen TV; the quality just wasn't there. So if that's important to you - beware. However, on my cozy little 28 inch, in my cozy office, the cozy All Creatures Great & Small: The Complete Collection played just fine. I recommend All Creatures Great & Small: The Complete Collection
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.