James Herriot's tales of a country vet had first appeared on screen in a 1974 movie starring Simon Ward, followed by a sequel, It Shouldn't Happen To A Vet, starring John Alderton in 1976.
For the TV series the personable and talented Christopher Timothy was cast as Herriot, a novice vet who joins the practice of Siegfried Farnon and his easy-going brother Tristan (a pre- Doctor Who Peter Davison). Set in the fictional Yorkshire Dales town of Darrowby, initially in the 1930's, the immediate popularity of the programme was due in part to it's reflection of a much gentler time when life moved at a somewhat slower pace, following faithfully Herriot's written tales of all manner of agricultural and domestic animal ailments.
The show's run came to an end in 1980 after three series, with Herriot and Tristan Farnon heading off to World War 2. Two Christmas specials followed in 1983 and 1985, but absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder, and concerted public pressure succeeded in bringing about a return for the series in 1988. Acknowledging the passage of time, events in Darrowby had moved on to the post-war period. Siegfried, (the hugely experienced and powerful performer, Robert Hardy) was married and a new vet, Glaswegian, Calum Buchanan joined the practise to compensate for the almost complete departure of the Tristram character, since Peter Davison's appearances were down to a minimum due to other work commitments.
Other core cast changes saw Carol Drinkwater's Helen Herriot replaced by Lynda Bellingham. By this point all of Herriot's original stories had been adapted, although some unpublished memoirs were used for plots and writers were given the freedom to invent new situations.
The series finished with another highly rated Christmas special in 1990. The show spawned a lucrative James Herriot industry around Thirsk where the series was filmed, with it's warm and engagingly eccentric characters which became the standard template for a flood of nostalgia tinged, gentle country set dramas and comedies which continue to this day. Indeed, this part of the country in particular has been the setting for many successful series on British TV, including Last Of The Summer Wine, Open All Hours, and the not dissimilar Heartbeat.
Published on November 27th, 2018. Noel Onely.