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    All Creatures Great & Small - Series 1 Volume 1

    BBC/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 294 mins . G . PAL

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    There are some shows which are gruesomely addictive. You want to watch another episode, but you hate yourself for doing so. How could you waste time like this? How could you surrender to this wagon-load of mediocre suburban middle-class garbage?

    The show in question is All Creatures Great and Small, a programme based on the true-life tale of country vet James Herriott in pre-and post-War Britain, whose memoirs spanned 1936 to 1950. This was a time when vets used to stand around chatting to each other, keeping themselves warm on those blasted English heaths by plunging their arms to the armpit up a cow's steaming vagina.

    "EEH BY GUM, THIS ONE'S HOT!"

    We saw that in the very first episode - the show's creators liked that; they used it often.

    There were some very good things about this long-running British TV show. The series began in January 1978. By the time it came to a halt in December 1990, there had been seven series' of 87 episodes, and two specials.

    Resolutely setting aside the steaming cows' vaginas, the good things were the acting from two of the principal cast members - Robert Hardy as senior vet, the wonderfully named Siegfried Farnon, and Peter Davison (later a Doctor Who) as his hapless, daffy brother Tristan. No wonder the series ran to such a Wagnerian length, and featured such constantly recurring (ugh) leitmotivs.

    Those two actors, some good scripting and direction, and the well-photographed Yorkshire countryside, were the strong points. Now in comes my own personal, totally subjective, and perhaps totally unfair, taste. The blight upon this entire series came with the casting of Christopher Timothy as the show's lynch-pin, James Herriott.

    He arrives, freshly qualified from vet's school, as a junior staff member at Siegfried's Yorkshire practice. By the end of this first series of 13 episodes, he has been made a partner and has found a wife.

    But who cares? He comes across as a snivelling, class-conscious oaf. The weight of the massive chip on his shoulder even makes him start limping from the middle of the first series. We should feel sympathetic. But the sudden and unexplained limp just makes him seem additionally pathetic - this is one of the truly cringe-making characters of British television.

    This is a humourless portrayal which must have been totally at odds with the character of the real James Herriott. The little I've read by him suggests a person who could see the amusing side of a vet's life in rural England, even if he is spending most of his time standing around with his arm right up in it. But Christopher Timothy just doesn't seem to get the humour. He is, in a word (or a couple of words), a humourless clot.

    But time to put on the kettle, pull out the fresh-baked loaf of bread from the oven, check that the cow's OK, and watch another episode. Yes, it is addictive stuff, even with the Uriah Heep-ish performance by Christopher Timothy.

      Video
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    For a BBC television series dating back a quarter of a century (how time flies when you're having fun!), the quality here is remarkably good.

    This is no Lawrence of Arabia, or Superbit Starship Troopers. But it's a very sound transfer of what was obviously a well filmed television production of that time. We get everything, and probably more, than the original viewers would have experienced.

      Audio
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    Sound is likewise at a high quality level for a television series. The Dolby mono sound delivers this dialogue-driven audio as well as we could expect.

    Considering the weird things these vets do with the internal workings of cows, sheep, horses and other quadrupeds, we should be grateful that there's nothing on this soundtrack to really give our bass-extension a workout...

      Extras
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    None, although there is episode and scene selection if you're deperate for something.

      Overall  
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    It's definitely worth a rental on a cold and miserable winter weekend - which means right now in Melbourne, or next year everywhere else.

    But there are a lot of fans of this series out there, who will want to start collecting the series. There are 13 discs in this first series (Volumes One and Two). At that rate, that leaves about 39 more discs to be issued. I think I'd rather be collecting Doctor Who!


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      And I quote...
    "A quality issue of a good old television series. Pity, though, about the snivelling oaf who plays the lead character."
    - Anthony Clarke
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