All Creatures Great and Small is healing Britain’s Brexit divide with kindness, producers say
Its blissful escapism, glorious Yorkshire Dales locations and heartwarming animal rescue stories have captured the hearts of American viewers.
Now All Creatures Great and Small is set to heal Britain’s Brexit divide with “kindness”, producers say.
Channel 5’s adaptation of James Herriot’s novels about a trio of veterinary surgeons working in a 1930s Yorkshire village, has become a surprise global hit.
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Despite initial fears that the drama, starring Samuel West as the hard-to-please Siegfried Farnon would struggle to match the BBC’s previous adaptation, which ran from 1978 to 1990, the uplifting revival has charmed audiences in North America, Japan, Australia and the Philippines.
Airing on the PBS network in the US, the first series of Channel 5’s All Creatures was seen by 10 million viewers, numbers which match the UK’s previous biggest TV period drama export, Downton Abbey.
When the second season aired last Sunday, Rolling Stone magazine called it an “incredible balm” whilst the New York Times welcomed its “cheerful optimistic tone”.
With a further two series already commissioned, Sir Colin Callender, executive producer, said All Creatures Great and Small’s depiction of a community pulling together through acts of kindness is helping to ease Britain through Brexit.
“Coming out of Brexit, it was clear the country was divided between metropolitan cities and rural England,” he told i. “I thought James Heriot’s books embraced the qualities of community and friendship and celebrated acts of kindness.”
“We could bring audiences together and cross that divide which is at the core of our uncivil public life. The show is bringing families together across different generations.”
All Creatures’ success has illustrated the folly of the BBC’s decision to pass on the remake. “They were concerned it wouldn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the original and they thought it wouldn’t appeal to younger audiences,” Sir Colin reveals.
“As it happens it does very well with younger viewers and we’re delighted that the original audience, after some initial caution, has embraced it too.”
The producer says there was “rational logic” to the BBC’s decision and praises Channel 5 for taking a gamble and “rolling the dice” on a show, whose 2021 Christmas special beat rival offerings from the BBC and ITV in the ratings.
Another big winner from the series’ popularity is Grassington, the North Yorkshire market town which doubles for the fictional Darrowby.
An All Creatures tour now ferries fans to The Drovers Arms (The Devonshire Arms in real life) and the bustling cobbled market square where Darrowby Cycles, Higgins Bakers and Grocers GF Endleby are seen weekly in the show.
“When people are able to travel more freely, I think it’s going to have an enormous impact on tourism in Yorkshire,” Sir Colin predicted.
The producer credits drone camera technology for introducing the sweeping shots of the Dales countryside which have entranced international viewers. “The 1978 series didn’t access to those,” he said.
Speaking from Los Angeles after testing positive for Covid, Sir Colin said Omicron had boosted the US audience.
“Viewers want relief from the daily trauma and difficulties they are dealing with. Who knew season two would go out here at the height of this brutal surge?”
The most important decision the producers made was to give the books, published by veterinary surgeon Alf Wight, who wrote under the pseudonym James Herriot, a more contemporary feel.
“We placed centre-stage the female characters Helen (James’ love interest played by Rachel Shenton) and housekeeper Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley), which they aren’t in the books. We made them three-dimensional characters with a psychological underpinning.”
Sir Colin said there was a huge global appetite for “high quality British TV drama”.
But he urged the UK Government not to damage the “eco-system” that produces those programmes by selling off Channel 4 or making further cuts to the BBC licence fee.
Siegfried, younger brother Tristan and James will face new challenges as the next series heads into 1939, under the shadow of war.
“The horror of war brings the joys of Darrowby into sharper focus. It becomes more important for the characters to protect what they have.”
The BBC declined to commnent on its discussions over the series.
:: All Creatures Great and Small Series 2 is available for catch up on the My5 streaming platform
‘Too white’ All Creatures?
Channel 5’s Yorkshire heavy output – as well as All Creatures Great and Small, it has shown The Yorkshire Steam Railway, Our Yorkshire Farm, Made In Yorkshire and The Yorkshire Vet – has prompted fears of a lack of on screen diversity.
In 2020 the channel’s controller Ben Frow said: ‘Yorkshire is very white. We have to make much more effort.”
But this week Sir Colin Callender, executive producer of the James Herriot series, said that the lack of minority characters in All Creatures reflects the population at that time.
“As programme-makers we are conscious of our responsibility to embrace diversity where we can but we want to do it within the parameters of what was real at the time,” he said.
“We will do it in an organic and truthful way, predicated on the historical reality.”
Sir Colin added that diversity could be achieved through casting disabled actors as well as ethnic minority performers.
There was no need to introduce an American character to keep US viewers entertained as “they are already hooked on the show”, he said.
Netflix chose to adopt “colour-blind casting” for its Regency series Bridgerton, choosing black actors to play characters written as white people in its source novels.
The North York Moors National Park, and the quaint village of Goathland became famous as the fictional Aidensfield, the location for ITV’s 60s-set police drama, initially starring Nick Berry. First aired in 1992, the show hit a peak audience of 13 millions before being axed in 2010.
Last of the Summer Wine
Tourists still flock to Holmfirth, the quirky Kirklees market town, in search of Sid’s café and Norah Batty’s Cottage. The first UK comedy to move from a studio to an outside location, show ran from 1973 to 2010 – but the Wrinkled Stocking Tea Room still does a brisk trade.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Pennine Way stop-off Malhamdale earned a starring role in global franchise when Hermione and Harry camped on the top of Malham Cove. Other scenes features Malham village and Kirkby Malham.
The true story of the middle-aged Yorkshire women who posed for a nude calendar made Kettlewell famous when film-makers used it as the location for the village of Knapely.
All Creatures Great and Small (1978 to 1990)
For fans of the original BBC series, Herriot Country will always be Askrigg, the small village on the path to Swaledale which provided the Drovers’ (The Kings Arms pub). Skeldale House, which starred in the drama, now offers luxury lets featuring a Tricky Woo suite.
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