All Creatures Great and Small

I love All Creatures Great and Small so when PBS came out with a new series, I was curious how they could improve on the older one other than in video quality. They didn’t. That’s not to say the new version isn’t entertaining. It is. It isn’t AS entertaining. It is eclipsed by the realism, humor and acting of the 1978 version.

“So what’s wrong with it you curmudgeonly baby boomer?”

Actually, sweet cheeks, nothing’s wrong with it except for the anachronisms that most people won’t notice anyway, like Jim Herriot jogging to keep in shape (1935?), Siegfried wearing boots with Vibram soles, etc. But there is one really lovely improvement — Diana Rigg (RIP) as Mrs. Pumphrey. She’s beautiful, brilliant, wonderful. The thing is, the new version is absurdly sanitized, soap-operized and seriousized.


Yep. There is a lighter feel to the version from the late 1970s…

“More disco dancing?”

No. In the earlier version Jim Herriot actually sticks his arm up the cow’s butt for an exam and pulls it out, all covered with cow shit. If you’ve read the books, you know how much of the job that actually WAS for the REAL Dr. Herriot. In the new version, all we see is Jim’s toned torso behind a cow.

I’d rather see a toned torso than a cow’s butt etc.”

Everyone is a lot more serious and Siegfried Farnon has no sense of humor. In the older version there’s a great relationship between Herriot and Farnon with lots of natural, playful repartee. In the new version Siegfried is just kind of an asshole. Mrs. Hall in the earlier version is a dour older woman who plays her part masterfully — but definitely in the background. In the new version she’s much younger, has a reprobate son, and a major part. In the older version, Herriot’s wife, Helen, isn’t a village heart-throb, and while their romance and marriage is a big part of the story, it’s not a central theme. Herriot’s books are about being a country vet in the wilds of Yorkshire; they’re not about his family except in a very tangential way. In the new version, the Herriot/Helen romance has a central position. The villagers in the earlier version are a lot friendlier, too, and funnier. Simply stated, there’s just a lot more convincing ACTING and story-telling. There’s a scene in both where Herriot leaves a gate open. Anyone who’s ever hung around farming, ranching, cows KNOWS you close the gate. In BOTH shows there is that scene, but only in the older one do the cows get out. That pretty much sums up the difference between the two. Oh, except for that the older version has a LOT more dogs living at Siegfried’s house. 🙂

“So should I watch it or not?”

Yeah, it’s good. If you haven’t seen the earlier version, you won’t even know. But, best of all, read the books.

Someone “corrected” me about Vibram. Here’s the thing. I make mistakes (that isn’t one) and I actually LIKE being corrected, but I don’t think a correction needs to be rude. Correcting someone doesn’t mean trolling them.

Vibram soled shoes were not on the market during the 1930s. They were not patented until 1937. You would certainly not see “waffle-stompers with the bright, yellow Vibram logo like those Siegfried is wearing in the new version of ACG&S. As it happens, I researched this history of Vibram for another post. If you’re interested (and it is VERY interesting) here’s the story.

“Herriot” became a vet in 1939. Vibram was patented in 1937. It was available on the general market many years later. Would Siegfried have had Vibram soled workshoes in 1939? Only if he had been a mountaineer working with Vitale Bramani.

45 thoughts on “All Creatures Great and Small

  1. LOVED the book. Ironic you should mention this series, because I saw a fleeting glimpse of it after we watched a Nature series on PBS last night. Doesn’t sound like I would enjoy this updated version.

  2. I started reading the Herriot books before the original series aired and loved both them and the series. I wish they would show it again. Yes real things happened in the original! Like James getting bitten (really), in the surgery. I remember Christopher Timothy, who plays James, being involved in a car accident and it being touch and go if he could still play the role. I’m not sure what the author (can’t remember his name) would make of the new series, but there are enough soap operas on TV so I’m giving it a miss. By the way have you seen the Supervet with Noel Fitzpatrick? He does life saving surgery on animals including dogs xxx

  3. I was always thinking I’d be a veterinarian – it started with the Dr. Doolittle books and then I discovered James Herriot in HS. Couldn’t get enough! I think I read them all at least 4 times. I saw the PBS version while in college – all the vet and vet tech students were watching, sometimes together. Good times. I agree with your assessment of the new one. Good but not better.

  4. I read that book years ago and I was not that interested in the story. I did watch some of the old series and felt the same way. I’ve watched a couple of current version. The farmers seem to be a parody of themselves somehow. Siegfried is an asshat and I am waiting for him to change. Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which one fills first.

  5. We have been watching, but it is rather mundane in its presentation. Still, in comparison to other things being broadcast, it is still enjoyable.

  6. I loved those books too and I enjoyed the early series. I did not know a remake had been produced but probably would have avoided it on principle as I find remakes nearly always disappoint me. The original series and the books did have a lot of humour. Siegfried was eccentric, Tristan was hilarious and the Mrs Pumphrey stories were some of my favourites. I did see Diana Rigg in “Detectorists” where she worked with her daughter, Rachel Stirling.

    • Comparisons are awful, really, but it was impossible for me NOT to make one. The new series is good, but different in ways that just don’t work for me. But I think it will introduce more people to those wonderful books.

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