TV reviews: All Creatures Great and Small

Benjie Goodhart / 27 August 2020

The country vet drama gets a new production on Channel 5, and a documentary series looks at how multi-generational households get on.

All Creatures Great and Small, Tuesday 1st September, 9pm, Channel 5

Regular readers of this column, one or two of whom may not even be blood relatives of mine, might have noticed that last week I had submitted an article about the top ten TV theme tunes of all time, rather than my usual blog. This was on account of the fact that I was on holiday. I just snuck off to the Maldives for a short break. Well, the East Anglian Maldives. Norfolk. I went to Norfolk.

Anyway, in last week’s column, I waxed lyrical about my love of All Creatures Great and Small, which not only had one of the greatest theme tunes ever written, but also boasted humour, warmth and bucolic charm. It was family viewing, a major feature of my childhood, and provided me with my first love, Carol Drinkwater as the original Helen. It would never have worked out between us. I was eight, she was 33.

As such, I was more than a little nervous about this new adaptation. I mean, a period drama on Channel 5? How could that possibly work? Whatever next? Alan Yentob presenting an arts documentary on Sky Sports? Darts on BBC News 24?

I had a grim foreboding that my childhood memories were about to be trampled upon in the most unseemly fashion. And it didn’t take long for me to be proved right. Pretty much the opening scene, in fact. They’ve gone and made – and there is no easy way to say this, so brace yourselves – they’ve made… they’ve made James Herriot Scottish. Scottish, I tell you.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing whatsoever against the Scots. Some of my favourite people are Scottish. David Tennant. Kenny Dalglish. Ewan McGregor. Oh, I should probably include my wife at some point as well. But James Herriot a Scot? What nonsense is this? Anyone who knows anything about James Herriot knows he speaks with a clipped English accent. Received Pronunciation and all that. Christopher Timothy had it to a tee.

Except that I broke with personal convention and actually did a bit of research, and blow me if they aren’t right. Herriot spent the first 23 years of his life in Glasgow. He was basically as Scottish as haggis, midges, and keeping a flipping knife in your sock in case anyone suggests your kilt is a skirt. So full marks for accuracy.

And, since we’re giving out marks, full marks, too for location. It’s beautiful. I mean, it’s set in the Yorkshire Dales, you’d have to be something of a twit to mess that up, but it really is visually lovely, from the brooding, rolling moors to the weathered stone farmhouses to the quaint village of Darrowby.

Full marks, too, for the casting. Nicholas Ralph makes his screen debut as James, and is the perfect blend of wide-eyed, naive ingenue and determined, capable vet. Anna Madeley plays redoubtable housekeeper Mrs Hall, James’ ally against the occasional hot-headedness of Siegfried. Siegfried – so brilliantly captured by Robert Hardy in the original series, is every bit as large as life here, played with marvellous charm and a distinct twinkle by Samuel West (son of the unutterably magnificent Timothy West and Prunella Scales). And so what if both Siegfried and Mrs Hall, and pretty much every other local we encounter, has a quiet warmth hiding underneath a gruff, no-nonsense exterior?

Anyway, suffice to say, the first episode is an absolute delight. It follows James as he travels from Glasgow to Darrowby for what he thinks is a job interview. Instead, he’s put to work on a trial basis. Siegfried isn’t keen to take on an assistant, and is itching for a reason to ditch him. There’s a good deal of ‘will he or won’t he get the job?’ which is only slightly offset by the sure and certain knowledge that, seeing as they’ve got a whole series to make, and we all know what happens because we’ve seen the original and read the books, he most definitively will get the job. And get it he does, for a princely four quid a week. He wants to work for Saga. They pay double that.

So, all in all, I loved it. This is a smasher of a series, a happy, simple, nostalgic pleasure. The theme tune isn’t up to the standard of the original, there’s no Carol Drinkwater, and we’ve yet to meet Siegfried’s irresponsible little brother Tristan, but I’m in this all the way, sleeves rolled up, arm plunged in right up to the shoulder. Actually, shall we just forget that analogy?

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Lodgers for Codgers (Episode 2), Friday 4th September, 8pm, Channel 4

As we have established, last week I took myself off to the glamorous climes of Norfolk. As such, I missed the first episode of this new series, so apologies for being slightly behind the curve.

The concept of the show is pretty straightforward. Over 4 million people over the age of 65 live alone. At the other end of the demographic, five million young adults will never be able to afford their own homes. This series seeks to try and solve the twin scourges of property exclusion and loneliness by pairing off young adults with older homeowners to see how they rub along together living in the same house. In a sense, it’s a bit like the marvellous series Old People’s Home for 5 Year Olds, which saw how both parties benefitted when toddlers spent time with those in care homes. Only in this series, there’s a bit more drinking, smoking and swearing. And also more tantrums. Ruddy millennials.

Right, first off, let’s address the title of the show. Lodgers for Codgers. You can just imagine the Eureka moment when some TV exec had the blinding realisation that lodgers and codgers rhyme. I bet they had an extra bottle of claret at lunch that day! At the other end of the scale from the back-slapping self-congratulation, there will be plenty of viewers clutching their pearls and going all weak-kneed at the outrage of being referred to as a ‘codger’. Well, we’ve all been called worse, and the title does have a certain ring to it. I think it could spawn a new genre. I might start a series offering male escort services to older ladies, and call it todg… actually, no, it’s not a good idea.

Anyway, the lodgers and codgers are matched up at a sort of speed-dating event. John, 68, and Lynne, 63, live in magnificent splendour in a glorious four-bedroom converted chapel in Glastonbury, complete with hot tub. They are giving a room to Marvel, an aspiring poet and part-time arts publicist from East London. He lives with his family, and sleeps on a mattress on the floor of a tiny bedroom. He’s looking forward to “no sirens blaring in the middle of the night, no news of people dying, peace and quiet.” It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Marvel arrives at the house, where John greets him with a friendly “Nice to meet you,” in spite of the fact that they met at the speed-dating event. Way to dispel those old-people stereotypes, John! Lynne and John are eager to help Marvel, but their attempts and enquiries are clumsy, and Marvel decides to eat his meal in a different room. It’s a rocky start.

Still, if things are looking ropey in Glastonbury, they’re likely to turn thermonuclear in Birmingham. Somehow 20-year-old good-time girl Sophie has ended up with Eunice, an 85-year-old devout Christian with a fondness for rules and a mistrust of alcohol. It’s like getting Nigel Farage and Stormzy to share a house. (Actually, I might pop that idea across to a production company after I’ve finished this). Eunice likes to get involved in community projects and do her bit. Sophie has ambitions of her own, most of which revolve around making a mess and getting drunk.

But Sophie isn’t allowed to drink if she’s living under Eunice’s roof. She goes out to meet her dad, and they head to a bar, where Sophie gets drunk. Later, she insists to Eunice that she has to be true to herself, and that sometimes involves going out and going for a boogie. Which is fair enough, but most of us don’t do that when we’re meeting a parent in the middle of the day.

So far, so predictable. The older people all look like terrible old squares who are out of touch and obsessed with rules, while the youngsters are all seemingly lazy good-for-nothings just out for themselves. But then something rather interesting begins to happen. As they spend time together, the different parties begin to talk, and as they do so, they discover that, behind the stereotypes, there are some interesting lessons to be learned from one another.

What emerges is a portrait of kind, well-intentioned people, keen to teach, and benefit from, each other. Marvel and Sophie, it emerges, don’t spend 16-hours-a-day on the internet, ordering pizza, and getting astonishingly stoned. Eunice, Lynne and John don’t spend their time all thin-lipped and disapproving, before watching Countryfile and heading to bed at 8pm. And all of them have something profound to say about their place in the world. In its way, this is really rather lovely.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 29th August

Jimmy’s Big Bee Rescue 1/2, 8pm, Channel 4: Just to be clear, this isn’t Jimmy Doherty rescuing one absolutely enormous bee. Instead, he wants to stem the decline of the British bee population. All power to him.

Edward and Sophie: The Reluctant Royals, 9pm, Channel 5: Feature-length documentary looking at the Wessexes, and how their desire to avoid the limelight may, paradoxically, have led to an increase in their popularity.

When Bob Marley Came to Britain, 9:45pm, BBC Two: Documentary recalling the reggae legend’s time in the UK, the effect he had on a generation of young black Britons, and also a look at where he lived and his beloved kickabouts in Battersea Park.

Sunday 30th August

Britain’s Favourite Detective, 8pm, ITV: Sheridan Smith presents this two-hour countdown of the top 25 TV detectives, featuring everyone from Magnum to Marple and Cracker to Columbo. Before, presumably, settling on Inspector Morse at Number One.

Strike 1/4, 9pm, BBC One: New series of the detective series written by Robert Galbraith who, as we all know, is actually J K Rowling. Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke) and Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger) look into the case of a strangled child.

Liverpool FC: The 30 Year Wait, 9pm, BBC Two: Documentary about Liverpool’s spectacular, if ultimately slightly odd, Premier League title win, including interviews with many of the key players.

Monday 31st August

Planet Earth: A Celebration, 8pm, BBC One: David Attenborough presents a selection of eight of the most extraordinary sequences from Planet Earth and Blue Planet II, including a new soundtrack featuring Hans Zimmer and rapper Dave, with whose work I have no doubt you are all familiar.

The Diagnosis Detectives 1/4, 9pm, BBC Two: Michael Moseley challenges 12 of the UK’s leading medical experts to diagnose patients whose debilitating symptoms have baffled other doctors. Their diagnoses have the potential to change the lives of the patients involved.

Ambulance: Code Red 1/10, 9pm, Channel 5: Hurrah, yet another addition to the emergency services genre of documentaries, this one following response teams in the West Midlands.

Me and My Penis, 10pm, Channel 4: Men talk about their winkles on camera. No. Just no.

Tuesday 1st September

Love Your Garden 1/6, 8pm, ITV: The world is undoubtedly a better place for having Alan Titchmarsh in it, and he returns to spread more horticultural joy, revealing the secrets behind some of his favourite garden designs, and looking back at some memorable assignments.

War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita, 9pm, BBC One: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani present this update in their laudable campaign to limit our dependence on single-use plastic.

Sheridan Smith: Becoming Mum, 9pm, ITV: Cameras follow the actress through pregnancy as she looks forward to the arrival of her first child, and reflects on her past mental health struggles.

Call the Cops, 9pm, Channel 4: More blue-light action, this time following the police in Devon and Cornwall. Move along please, nothing new to see here.

Wednesday 2nd September

24 Hours in A&E, 9pm, Channel 4: Series six squillion of the consistently touching programme that is as much about love as it is about medicine.

Thursday 3rd September

Council House Britain, 9pm, Channel 4: Documentary series following housing workers and residents in Southwark, one of the biggest housing associations in the country.

Friday 4th September

James Nesbitt: a Game of Two Halves, 8pm, ITV: The amiable actor and football fan sets out to see how the money raised by Soccer Aid for UNICEF is helping kids around the world.

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