Friday, January 29, 2021

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

I've been a big fan of British/PBS television series for years, but somehow, I missed watching All Creatures Great and Small. I guess I was the wrong demographic when the original series came out in the 1980s -- it was something my grandparents watched, and definitely Not Cool Enough. I've shelved the series of memoirs at the library often enough to know them by sight, and I'm quite sure I'd have never got round to reading or watching it until the new series reboot started a couple of weeks ago. 

But I'm always looking for good audio books for my daily walks and I was able to download the first in the series a couple of weeks ago. If you're not familiar, it's the memoirs of a young country veterinarian in Yorkshire as he navigates his way in his first job as an assistant vet in a rural practice in the 1930s. Young James Herriot (the pseudonym of James Alfred Wight) is newly qualified and desperate for a job. He had always planned on working with small animals, but James jumps at the chance to work for the dashing yet slightly eccentric Sigfreid Farnon, who has recently purchased a practice in Yorkshire. 

The book is a series of short chapters, each detailing amusing, poignant, and sometimes sad stories of his work in his first year as a veterinarian, treating cows, horses, various livestock, and sometimes pets. The reader is introduced to some colorful local Yorkshire characters, farmers and gentry, including Mrs. Pumphrey and her spoiled but loveable Pekingese, Tricki-Woo; and also some possible love interests, including the beautiful Helen Alderson. 

The audiobook is beautifully narrated by Christopher Timothy, and I didn't realize until I was nearly finished that he played James Herriot in the original series! He does a great job with the accents different voices, and I liked it so much I listened to the entire book on audio instead of rushing through it and reading the print volume which I got from the library as a backup. I often have a print or e-book copy of an audio and alternate. Often, I get really caught up in a story and wind up reading the print copy instead of taking the time to finish the audio. But I liked the audio so much I forced myself to be patient and listen. I was a little surprised that he didn't use a Scottish accent for Herriot but maybe that was too much for an entire audio? In the new series Herriot is definitely using a Scottish accent, but it makes sense as the actor is in fact from the Highlands. 

Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot, with an adoring co-star.

And about the new series. . . well, it's beautifully filmed and I love seeing all the animals, but I already have some quibbles since I'd read most of the book before I started watching. We've only had three episodes air here in the U.S. but I'm already annoyed with some of the changes they've made, both with the plot and the characters. I'm sure I'll watch all eight episodes, but I'm already hoping that the original series didn't make as many changes. I did love the book and am already on the library waitlist for the next in the series. It's perfect reading for difficult times and I suspect I may finish all the books in the next few months.


  1. Thank you for this review. An oldie and a goodie!

  2. I did watch the original series, I had read the books prior to that so I was really disappointed that Christopher Timothy was chosen to play James who was obviously Scottish, whereas Christopher Timothy is so southern English. It just didn't make sense to me, especially when there were plenty of good Scottish actors around who would have been so much better in the part. Timothy would never be able to do a Scottish accent, so the new series has been much better to my mind, for the authentic accent alone.

  3. Loved reading this post--thank you.
    I have found this series to be much grittier and more realistic, more true-to-life than the first series, which had a much more light-hearted tone and glossed over the tough realities of a country vet. My veterinarian friends say the same, finding that an episode or two has been too reminiscent of the tragic parts of their jobs to be enjoyable.
    I have never read the original--and thank you so much for the review of the audio version, which I will get straightaway. I loved the original James Herriott, and to have him be the narrator would be great.

  4. The original series is near and dear to my heart. My husband and I watched it repeatedly almost every Saturday night for the first 20 or so years of our marriage, first on PBS and then on VHS and then on DVD. Watching the Xmas special was a Xmas Eve ritual for years. Then our TV got too big for the resolution to be watchable. I've read the books, and they are great, but the series really had its own story arc apart from the books.

    The new series is wonderful as well. More like the old series than like the books, so if you don't have the old series to compare it with, I can see how you would be annoyed at the liberties.

    Watching the first three episodes was like visiting old friends.

  5. I loved these books when I was little and the TV series when I was 9 or 10 and it was reaired here (I especially loved Carol Drinkwater as Helen). My brother grew up to become a vet but, ironically, I think he's the only member of our extended family who never read the books or saw the show!

  6. I am not sure how I missed the original PBS series either but about 8-10 years ago I was planning a drive to Montreal and grabbed the All Things audio for my drive, primarily because of its length but also because I assumed any Masterpiece Theatre would be good. I found it delightful and definitely made my drive pleasant. I don't remember it well enough to object to the current adaptation which I am also enjoying.

  7. I'm happy to hear the audio is good. I would love to revisit these books. I read the first book at least when I was a teen because I loved the '70s TV series so much. I had a crush on Peter Davidson as Tristan. I'm not sure if I continued with the books. I may have and have just forgotten. Old age!


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