All Creatures Great and Small - a chat with James & Helen

JAMES HERRIOT (NICHOLAS RALPH) & HELEN ALDERSON (RACHEL SHENTON)

James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) and Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) face relationship dilemmas in the new series of All Creatures Great and Small - Credit: Playground Entertainment

The story of Yorkshire’s rural vets, All Creatures Great and Small, has proved one of Channel 5’s most successful dramas ever.  

So it’s little wonder that actor Nicholas Ralph, who plays series lead James Herriot, is often stopped for a selfies, although it takes him by surprise every time.  

Discover Grassington - the town which doubles as Darrowby 

‘It really seems to have struck a chord,’ says Ralph who recalls that one of the most memorable moments during filming was stepping out of the Ritz Cinema in Thirsk with his co-star Rachel Shenton.  

Scenes were filmed at The Ritz in Thirsk

Scenes were filmed at The Ritz in Thirsk - Credit: Credit: David Ridley / Alamy Stock Photo

Not only is it the same cinema where Wight, who wrote about his life under the pen name James Herriot, took his wife Joan on their first date (Herriot’s love interest is called Helen in the series and played by Shenton), but a huge crowd had waited patiently to catch a glimpse of the action, and highlighted the already loyal following. 

Fans are thrilled with the series with familiar faces, such as Samuel West, who plays Herriot’s eccentric boss Siegfried, returning, and the addition of Patricia Hodge who replaces the late Diana Rigg as Mrs Pumphrey, the owner of pampered Pekingese Tricki Woo. 

Ralph hails from Scotland but now lives in London and hadn’t visited the Yorkshire Dales prior filming, ‘so it was very much life imitating art’. 

FRONT LEFT TO RIGHT: - SIEGFREID FARNON (SAMUEL WEST), JAMES HERRIOT (NICHOLAS RALPH) & TRISTAN FARN

The cast in Grassington, which stars in the role of Darrowby Front l-r, Siegfreid Farnon (Samuel West), James Herriot (Nicholas RalphI) and Tristan Farnon (Callum Woodhouse). Back: Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton)and Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley) - Credit: Playground Entertainment

‘When James graduates from vet school, his first job’s in the Dales, and it’s the first time he’d seen it, and it was the same for me. I graduated from drama school, and this was my first big TV job. It’s stunning, like a painting with the rolling landscape, the scattering of sheep and then the odd little croft, or standalone tree silhouetted,’ says the actor who’s understandably thrilled to be part of the project. 

Not that there haven’t been challenges. There are the vintage cars for one. ‘The little blue car I drive a lot is about 90-years-old. You just push the gear stick in a direction and hope something sticks, but it’s so much fun,’ reveals Ralph although he spends more time at ‘at the back end of these big animals’ than behind the wheel.  

He’s not the only one who has to get close to the animals.  

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Given Helen’s a farmer’s daughter, Shenton is required to be hands-on too. 

‘We had a bull this series who was quite lively at times, and a lovely new dog who’s a bit cheeky and going to be a real scene stealer,’ says Shenton. 

The appeal of the stories is obvious to her.  

‘Alf Wight’s stories are so rich in their simplicity, and it’s a show that at its very heart is about community, togetherness, and love, and that was something everybody connected with. Plus, three generations can watch it together, and that was happening across the country when people were locked down with relatives,’ remarks Shenton. 

She loves Helen’s‘ journey in the series. 

‘We see her emerge more as herself, without the ties to Hugh, although of course there’s the love story with James, which I think has been written so beautifully. It's tentative and careful, as it should be,’ says Shenton who spoke at length to Alf and Joan’s children, James and Rose, about their parents.  

‘Every time they shared things with me, I felt I was peeking behind the curtain of this love story, and what struck me was just how pure and delicate it was. These were two people utterly devoted to each other, so hopefully we do that justice.’