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‘Something magical’: Actor relishes role of rural English vet in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’

Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot in Masterpiece’s “All Creatures Great and Small.” (Courtesy of Playground Television UK Ltd. & All3media International)

It’s a quiet night in London.

A second lockdown is about over, and Nicholas Ralph is enjoying a night at home.

“It’s been good to have some time to myself,” he says with a laugh. “I’m doing good, thankfully.”

Ralph’s life will soon kick into high gear when the Masterpiece series “All Creatures Great and Small” premieres Sunday, Jan. 10, on New Mexico PBS. A new episode will be broadcast each Sunday through Feb. 21. The first episode will premiere at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10.

“All Creatures Great and Small” is set in 1937, when James Herriot, played by Ralph, is fresh out of Glasgow Veterinary College and follows his dream to become a vet in the magnificent Yorkshire Dales, one of England’s most beloved and beautiful landscapes.

James Herriot, played by Nicholas Ralph, in a scene from “All Creatures Great and Small.” (Courtesy of Playground Television (UK) Ltd.)

He soon discovers that treating the animals is as much about treating their owners and that the Dales’ farmers are a tough crowd to please.

At Skeldale House, Herriot gets to know his newly formed dysfunctional family: his chaotic and erratic boss, Siegfried Farnon, his wayward brother, Tristan, and the shrewd Mrs. Hall, who is endlessly steering the ship.

Samuel West plays Siegfried Farnon, the wonderfully eccentric veterinary surgeon and proprietor of Skeldale House, who reluctantly hires the recently qualified Herriot into his rural practice. Mrs. Hall, the resident housekeeper and matriarch of Skeldale House, is played by Anna Madeley. Siegfried’s errant and charismatic younger brother, Tristan, is played by Callum Woodhouse.

Rachel Shenton as Helen Alderson and Jester as Clive the Bull in a scene from “All Creatures Great and Small.” (Courtesy of Playground Television (UK) Ltd.)

When local beauty Helen Alderson, played by Rachel Shenton, attracts Ralph’s attention, he finds another, more enduring reason to stay in the Dales.

Dame Diana Rigg plays Mrs. Pumphrey, the delightfully eccentric owner of the overly indulged Pekingese Tricki Woo, while Matthew Lewis plays Hugh Hulton, a wealthy landowner and rival to Herriot for Alderson’s affections.

The new series is based on the book series by James Alfred Wight, who published under the name of James Herriot.

A series was made in 1978, as well. The new series has already aired in England, and Ralph is humbled by the response.

Helen Alderson, played by Rachel Shenton, and James Herriot, played by Nicholas Ralph, in a scene from “All Creatures Great and Small.” (Courtesy of Playground Television (UK) Ltd.)

“It’s just so lovely,” he says. ” The messages that we’ve had, they’ve taken me by surprise. People have said they needed the series, and it’s like getting a big hug. Someone tweeted me that each episode is a lovely hour of escapism and comfort.”

Ralph says being able to portray Herriot was an excellent opportunity.

“I’m at a quite early stage in my career,” he says. “It’s rare that something like this would come through. It’s brilliant, because the characters are based on real people and they are so multifaceted. You know your lane and you are put in a bunch of different scenarios.”

Because the book series and the 1978 series are so beloved, Ralph says, there was a bit of intimidation going into the project.

“It has a huge fan base, so there were some nerves overall,” he says. “For me, the biggest source was research. The novels were, like, my gospel, and some of the stories in the series are picked directly from the books. James writes in such a way that it pulls you in. I had only watched the first episode of the original series, because I wanted to put my own mark on James.”

Ralph describes Herriot as a brilliant man who has a lot to prove.

“James is given this massive opportunity in working as a vet,” he says. “He’s going from the big city to a small town, all while trying to impress his boss, who has seen plenty of apprentices leave the area.”

Mrs Pumphrey, played by the late Dame Diana Rigg, and Tricki-Woo in “All Creatures Great and Small.” (Courtesy of Playground Television (UK) Ltd.)

Ralph connected with Herriot in that they both were given huge opportunities, which meant they had to work hard to succeed.

“When I read the books, I fell in love with James’ character,” Ralph says. “He’s trying his darnedest, yet he’s making mistakes. His heart is in the right place, and he studies hard. What I liked about James is that he stood up for himself and he’s not a pushover and he learns to be very patient.”

Ralph was also challenged with his first lead role in a production.

This meant that during the entire five-month shoot, Ralph was on set nearly daily.

“I only had a couple days off,” he says. “It was intense because I was pushing myself to do the best that I could do. We all worked together to create something magical.”

As the series premieres in the U.S., Ralph is excited about the series being picked up for a second season.

“We’re so happy that we’re coming back to continue the story,” Ralph says. “It’s been a blessing.”

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