Beloved James Herriot saga gets fresh treatment on PBS
In marking 50 years, “Masterpiece” is reaching back to one of the most popular dramas in public television’s history.
A new version of the British series “All Creatures Great and Small” debuts on the PBS anthology’s exact 50th-anniversary date, Sunday, Jan. 10 (check local listings). Nicholas Ralph now plays real-life veterinarian James Herriot, whose beloved, same-named book detailed his 1930s dealings in England’s Yorkshire Dales (where the saga was filmed on location). The late Diana Rigg had one of her final roles as a Herriot client.
”We never for a second thought about setting it in the present day,” executive producer Colin Callender says of the “All Creatures” remake. “The whole point of revisiting the series was that we felt that there was an appetite for harking back to days gone by, a time when family and community were the core values at the heart of British life. My feeling was that we are living in such a sort of difficult and problematic time, this series would be re-embraced because of that.”
In succeeding the original drama’s Christopher Timothy as Herriot, newcomer Ralph has to deal with more than a few animals. He explains that England’s rules for using them in entertainment had changed a year earlier.
“You can’t do anything to an animal that it doesn’t require and that you’re not trained to do,” Ralph notes. “So, for anything like birthing a calf, we needed a prosthetic. What they came up with was the back end of a cow, so I could reach in and simulate. It doesn’t have much life in it, as it were, so we had one of the art department guys lying under this clump of hay. You can barely just see his eyes and his hands coming at us.”
“Poldark” and “Upstairs, Downstairs” also were remade for “Masterpiece,” and Suzanne Simpson — the successor to the series’ longtime executive producer, Rebecca Eaton — reasons that in doing such stories again, “It has been up to the writers to take the original material and try to work with it with a perspective from today.”