‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Star Takes Us Inside James


Get them to the church on time! The wedding of Yorkshire Dales veterinarian James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) and farmer’s daughter Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) opens Season 3 of the delightfully poignant PBS drama All Creatures Great and Small, adapted from the popular books and now set in 1939. Before the “I dos,” though, there are cows to test for tuberculosis, nerves to overcome and a wedding ring to locate. “I was reading the script and smiling cheek to cheek,” Ralph says. “It was touching, romantic. There was drama, but it was also very funny.”

James and Helen’s nuptials kick off another seven-episode season of the Masterpiece favorite, which was filmed on location in Yorkshire, England, from March to July of 2022. The wedding, Ralph reports, was shot at two separate churches — one for the interior, another for the exterior — and a pair of special guests were on set for the occasion: the children of the real-life James Herriot (aka Yorkshire vet and author Alf Wight), Jim and Rosie, who work closely with the show. “Rosie always starts off by saying to me, ‘Hello, Dad,’” Ralph says, “and then she’s like, ‘Sorry, Nick,’ I just had to say it one time.”

Ralph and Shenton are among those in the cast who welcome Jim’s and Rosie’s stories about the real-life people behind the characters. “Rachel is in contact with Rosie quite a bit,” the actor says. “She’ll ask one or two questions, and then Rosie will give her this massive email back.”

Samuel West as Siegfried Farnon and Anna Madeley as Mrs Hall in All Creatures Great and Small Season 3.

Samuel West and Anna Madeley (Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE)

So If you see James and Helen kissing before James goes out on a call, credit Rosie for providing that tidbit. “I asked Rach to ask if they had pet names for one another,” Ralph says. “Rosie said they didn’t, but whenever James was leaving to go out on call, they would always kiss before he left. So we can use this. It just helps for authenticity.”

As the rest of the season unfolds, James and Helen return from their honeymoon and squeeze into tight living accommodations at Skeldale House, where James is now a partner in the practice. But Britain is on the cusp of war with Germany, and he has to weigh his responsibilities to his wife, his colleagues, and his country. “He starts to see boys years younger than he is signing up, so there’s a bit of shame and guilt there,” Ralph notes. “It’s a challenge for him to figure out how to proceed.”

Other episodes offer moving looks at Siegfried’s (Samuel West) past as an army veterinarian during World War I and housekeeper Mrs. Hall’s (Anna Madeley) difficult reunion with her son. On a lighter note, Tristan (Callum Woodhouse), now a valid vet, finds a new love interest, while Siegfried acquires a pet rat (don’t worry, it’s cute), a favorite animal of actor West. “Sam used to have pet rats when he was younger,” Ralph says. “He’s been saying for a while, ‘I think there should be a rat in the show.’ So he finally got his way.”

And some things haven’t changed. The Skeldale House gang will still be congregating around the kitchen table for breakfast — scenes that Ralph enjoys shooting and that include real food for the sometimes hungry cast. “We had one of those midway through the afternoon and we were all kind of peckish by that point,” Ralph relates. “The scene finished and they were like, ‘You guys can shove off to your trailers, we’ve got a bit of a break.’ And we all just sat and had the breakfast. We’re like, ‘No, no, we’re fine.’”

Once again, a holiday special (airing in February) caps the season. Since it was filmed during a June heatwave, snow cannons were used to create the wintry atmosphere. “We were in three-piece suits, with jackets, hats, and scarves,” Ralph recalls. “You know you’re in trouble when you’re on set and they’re handing out ice packs just because it’s so hot.”

This time it’s a cross-cultural Christmas-Hanukkah affair when, with World War II now underway, a Jewish girl named Eva is evacuated from the city of Manchester to Darrowby. “We learn about each other’s traditions,” Ralph previews. “Everyone makes her very welcome, but James and Helen take a particular interest in her — maybe foreshadowing things to come.”

All Creatures Great and Small, Season 3 Premiere, Sunday, January 8, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)

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