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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Time out for a normality break

There's always plenty of bad news to report, but I've been out in the garden on my knees weeding, taking a normality break in fact, and it got me thinking about a series my husband and I have been watching, All Creatures Great and Small. It's adapted from the books by veterinary surgeon, James Herriot (real name Alf Wight), a resident of Yorkshire in England. The life of a large animal vet in farm country is no picnic as the books tell. I read them years ago and marveled at the sheer physical demand of turning a badly lying calf in utero during a difficult delivery or operating on a horse in a freezing barn in mid winter.

The TV show produced by the BBC ran for seven series beginning in 1978 with a break after the third year, two specials in '83 and '85 and a revival for four more series beginning in 1988. The first three years, which are closely based on the novels are, I think, the best. Helen, James girlfriend, then wife, was played by Carol Drinkwater who is both beautiful and charming. She was later replaced by Lynda Bellingham who improved with time, but spent one series almost entirely in bed with a bad back -- not the best episodes.

The other principals: James, played by Christopher Timothy, his senior partner Siegfied Farnon, played by Robert Hardy, and Siegried's younger brother, Tristan, played by Peter Davison are all perfectly cast. Mrs. Hall (Mary Hignett), the housekeeper is a jewel, but died after the first three series. She was irreplaceable and they didn't try for quite a few episodes, using the absence of a housekeeper as part of the plot. A later character, Calum Buchanan, a wild-beastie loving Scotsman based on Wight's real-life assistant Brian Nettleton, provided some delightful episodes rescuing wounded woodland creatures including a fox and an otter.

The show is politically incorrect with all the men smoking and Tristan is definitely not the role model for the young as he is a hard-drinking playboy with little taste for study. But his behavior is never condoned as good and often gets him into problems he well deserves.

The series is also a demonstration of why farm children have never needed lessons in sex ed. Birthing calves, lambs, and foals is just part of the normal lives of children who grow up in farm families.

I love this series that shows all the foibles of the Yorkshire folk who make up the little microcosm of James Herriot's world. If you're looking for an enjoyable break from the bad news in the daily paper, give it a look-see. Your reward will be some jolly laughs and a warm heart.

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