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.

Watch PBS/Masterpiece and Give them $5! Here’s Why…

“Have you read Justine?” asked Peter, my boyfriend, in 1979.

“The Marquis de Sade?” I ask, wide-eyed

“God no. Laurence Durrell. It’s about writing, becoming a writer. And, it’s very beautiful. It’s the first book of the Alexandrian Quartet.”

The next time I was in the bookstore near the pizza place down there on Speer Blvd. with my friend Anne, I found Justine and bought it. It went with me to visit my grandmother in Oregon, my first solo trip on a jet or any other plane, for that matter.

It is an amazing novel. At the time I read it (age 27) it seemed to be mostly about unrequited love and yes, writing. The most memorable line (and I won’t quote it exactly) happens between the protagonist and a character he’s talking with in a bar. The other character (impossible for me to remember at this point) “Wrestling with an insoluble problem grows a writer up.”

That (true) statement has echoed through the vacuous chambers of my mind for forty years. Anyhoo…

At At the time I was reading Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn) and it was cool to learn that Miller and Durrell had been good friends. (Photo below — Henry Miller is the guy in the glasses…)

Four years ago a friend of mine in Montana alerted me to a new series on PBS, so, knowing she and I are pretty similar beasts, I trusted her and signed up for PBS Passport and commenced watching The Durrells in Corfu . I was intrigued maybe especially, and naturally, by the Laurence (Larry) character seen through his brother’s eyes.

These past few days, amidst the political weirdness, my hurt foot and I have spent the last few evenings semi-binge watching the final season. We — well I as the foot has not always been hurt — have enjoyed the entire four years of this PBS/Masterpiece program based on the books written by Laurence Durrell’s naturalist brother, Gerald. It’s a visually beautiful show, set in the mid-1930s, about a very eccentric (real) British family led by a mom with the grace to allow her kids to be who they are. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. I watched it from the PBS/Masterpiece site, but it is also available on Amazon with one of their subscription deals. Even if you have to pay, it’s worth it. Here’s a little preview to whet your appetite.

The four books in the Alexandrian Quartet are Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea. If you research them on, say, Goodreads or some place you might learn more about them than I, in my late 20s, was able to fathom. Ultimately, my favorite was the final novel, Clea.

Vocabulary Building

“Well, he’s got charisma.”

“Charisma doesn’t make a good president.”

“No, but that goddamned, blacklisting bastard?”


“What’s charisma?”

“Charm, attraction, hell. Dammit, Helen! Kennedy could win just because he’s pretty. Goddamned Madison Avenue.”

I was sitting in an olive-drab barrel chair in front of the most boring TV show I’d ever been forced to watch.

“Watch, MAK. It’s the first time the presidential candidates have debated on TV.”

How would I know THAT? I hadn’t existed before TV. What was the big deal. There hadn’t even been a WORLD before me. I loved my dad, though, so I shrugged my little kid shoulders and took my place in this very uncomfortable chair, about which my mom said, “Year, no wonder your mom didn’t want them. You can’t SIT in them.” Our living room was decorated in my grandparent’s castoffs, but THAT’S another story, kind of funny one, though.

So these two men in suits sat yammering on stage. In the next debate they would stand and the TV “room” in which they debated would be a lot more elegant. I’d be compelled to watch that one, too. To me it didn’t look that different from the $64,000 Question.

“I do believe Kennedy is wearing makeup.”

“They always put makeup on people on TV.”

“Look at Nixon sweat.”

Try as I might, I didn’t see sweat. The screen was only a little over a foot across and the heads of the little people on the screen were barely an inch in diameter. I needed a new glasses prescription.

“Bill, do you think he can win?”

“I don’t know. I’ve held my nose and voted Democrat before.”

“Oh Bill, you wouldn’t!”

By the second debate, Nixon wore makeup, too.