Why rebooted All Creatures Great and Small is still a charming piece of TV

Like nicely plump heifers at a farm auction, they’re jostling for our attention. Programmes set in God’s own country, where all God’s creatures – humans too – are out-performed by the sumptuous scenery. Which of them will be best in show?

Helen Alderson (played by Rachel Shenton) and James Herriott (played by Nicholas Ralph)

Two fine examples of the new breed of reality TV have made their mark, inspiring staycations and permanent switches to a drystone way of life. These are The Yorkshire Vet and Our Yorkshire Farm, with the latter the 9pm slot’s most-watched, thanks in no small part to mini-skirted shepherdess Amanda Owen becoming the nation’s lockdown crush. We all want to be mothered by her, though with nine kids of her own and those 850 sheep, this is mere fantasy.

But, wait, what’s this coming over the hillside, trundling through the dales, an old banger with runner-boards – the year is 1937 – and apparently powered by Siegfried Farnon’s blustering and harrumphing? Of course it’s All Creatures Great and Small (Channel 5), the original advertisement for England’s biggest county, rebooted with a young James Herriot confusing the flatcapped locals with his Scottish accent.

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You’ll remember that Siegfreid is the boss of the veterinary practice – just about the bossiest boss there’s ever been – and James is his assistant. It’s virtually impossible to get Robert Hardy’s Siegfried out of your head and Samuel West therefore seems too young-looking for the role, though of course so much of TV is youthified now. Indeed, with his beard and slick-backed hair he more resembles a “latte artist” from some insufferably trendy coffee-house, but West does his best.

Nicholas Ralph is a convincing and personable Herriot, just down from Glasgow where he trained and potty about animals, though he hasn’t yet met that over-indulged mutt, Tricki Woo. Leaving behind soot and grime, he’s knocked out by the Yorkshire countryside. Then he’s almost knocked out by a horse, then a bull, and is packing his bags for a speedy return north, tail between legs, after his error results in the wrong cat being chloroformed, before he thrusts an arm up the back end of a groaning cow to save mother and calf, and his job. Of course on Our Yorkshire Farm one of the kids would do this, but All Creatures always was a charming drama and it still is.

When JK Rowling’s Strike (BBC1) appeared three years ago I couldn’t get a hoary old commercial out of my head. Every time Holliday Grainger walked down the street I shouted: “That girl’s wearing Harmony hairspray!”

In the ad, bewigged judges and bowler-hatted City gents would pretend to have scientific discussions about the magic properties of the fixative solution but this was simply a cover for their ogling. I was not ogling Grainger – it isn’t 1973 anymore – but I did wonder about the real point of Strike, beyond Holliday’s lustrous locks, always shot from a flattering angle, always bouncing behind her.

It seemed like just another detective series, with just another title-role sleuth – Cormoran Strike is played by Tom Burke – keen to be labelled “maverick”. Maverick a Strike was a hit album by Finley Quaye. Strike a maverick? A wooden leg, a pigsty of an office and a sweet assistant (Grainger) does not one make.

The series returns seemingly not able to trust Strike’s maverickness either. A story involving blackmail, anarchy and child murder is jarringly positioned next to what’s really the central theme: is there to be a Beauty and the Beast romance between the protagonists? While Grainger married another, Strike stewed in the background. But this isn’t over. Her hair on the big day, despite being professionally jooshed, was strangely flat. She was sending the brooding hulk a message.

Perhaps The Fast Show would have dreamed up a character called Inspector Maverick if there wasn’t already an Inspector Monkfish in its bonkers assortment of comic creations. Just a Load of Blooming Catchphrases (Gold) is a joyful celebration of one of the very last TV programmes to have its key moments mimicked in offices and schoolyards the next day. And as co-ringmasters Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson remind us, it was never cruel (unlike Little Britain, which mostly was).

The genesis of some of the characters are revealed, the Emerson Lake & Palmer too (pub bore Billy Bleach, always shouting instructions from the touchline to his footballing son, once changing them to ELP album titles).

None, though, had quite the trajectory of Whitehouse himself: uni dropout to Hackney Council cockroach controller to plasterer to the funniest man in Harry Enfield’s pub to his big chance. Simon Day, Mark Williams and John Thomson all sound like they miss The Fast Show terribly, as do I.

The most poignant of the recreated sketches is Thomson solo as the henpecked Roy and saying nothing, with a gap on the sofa where the late Caroline Aherne used to do all the talking.


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