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Saturday, June 29, 2013

James Herriot Trivia II

As with the British TV show “Last of the Summer Wine,” Yorkshire’s notoriously changeable weather saddled the production of “All Creatures Great and Small” with numerous problems.  Michael Hayes filmed one scene under a cloudy sky, only to have the sun blaze down when it came time to shoot the next.  So he ordered crew members to gather around, and hold their umbrellas over the camera, the actors, and the horses while filming.

In the commentary track for the episode “Pig in the Middle,” available on the third season DVD set, we learn that director Michael Hayes was used to conditions on a working farm, as he owned his own (horse) stud farm, and thus took the weather in his stride.  Carol Drinkwater, who played Helen Herriot in the show, also grew up on a farm, and so she was used to bundling up and sipping a little brandy to keep warm during cold, blustery days spent filming on Yorkshire fields, fells, and moors. 

Robert Hardy poses for me outside the real Skeldale House,
"The World of James Herriot" in Thirsk.

Robert Hardy, who played Siegfried Farnon, grew up on a farm in Ireland, and nature was such a part of his life that he didn’t shrink from sewing actual stitches into real living animals, as the actors did during the first few years of the program.  When asked about the first time he had seen a sheep deliver a baby lamb, he racked his brain, but simply couldn’t remember the first time he had seen this happen.  To him, such events were woven into the tapestry of his life. 

Watching his younger self riding horses brought Hardy a little sadness, as riding had given him great joy throughout his life.  But with the relentless march of years, he had finally decided to give up, due to the stresses on the body and the legal liabilities of the acting profession. 

The real Siegfried Farnon:
Donald Sinclair

He also missed Donald Sinclair, the man whom Alf Wight (writing as James Herriot) immortalized as Siegfried Farnon.  After the premature death of his first wife, Donald remarried eight years later.  Hardy met the veterinarian while working on the program and maintained a friendship with him until Sinclair’s death.  Every time Hardy thought of Donald, he remembered the vet’s second wife Audrey, and how devoted the couple had been to each other.  Apparently, they had never wanted to be apart, and couldn’t cross a room without holding hands.

Carl Drinkwater also spares a moment for me,
and my camera.

Carol Drinkwater left the program after a few years to take on larger roles. In order to record her commentary, she had flown in from her farm in France, where she grew olives, wrote books, and still acted when the right part came along.  She remembered all the dogs that tore around the studio sets of Skeldale House.  Two had been owned by John Nathan Turner, who served as Production Unit Manager for the first three seasons of "All Creatures Great and Small."  Like Drinkwater, Turner would also leave the series, in his case to become the producer of another great British TV show, “Doctor Who.”  There he employed notable directors like Michael Hayes.  But sadly, not the venerable actors Carol Drinkwater, or Robert Hardy.

Dragon Dave   

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