Even casual viewers of All Creatures Great and Small can see the obvious head honcho in Skeldale House — the unshakeable Audrey Hall. Series star Anna Madeley relishes playing the role, and she joins the podcast to reveal a bit of the confident Mrs. Hall’s inner grit and grace.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
Siegfried Farnon might pretend to be the Lord of Skeldale House. But the real keeper of the castle is Mrs. Hall.
Mrs. Hall The next tour will be starting shortly. Please do help yourselves to tea.
Visitor Thank you! Thanks very much…
Jace Audrey Hall — whose first name is rarely heard — cooks a mean stew, keeps a tidy home, and helps the three overtaxed veterinarians under her roof keep the lights on and the bills paid.
Tristan You don’t mind if I pop out, do you? Might see how old James is getting on.
Mrs. Hall Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to. You leave him be.
Tristan Mrs Hall. I’m offended. A gentleman never interferes in a wager.
Jace But Mrs. Hall is a mother, too — and her estranged son is a quiet source of pain for the normally stoic housekeeper.
Siegfried When did that come back?
Mrs. Hall What did you call me? Patron Saint of Lost Causes?
Siegfried Among many other much more flattering things. I’ll drive you to Scarborough, we won’t stop until we find him.
Mrs. Hall I’ve chased Edward long enough. He knows where I am. Jace Anna Madeley plays the remarkable Audrey Hall — and I must say: every one of her All Creatures Great and Small castmates rightly singled her out for praise during their own interviews with me. Madeley joins us now to discuss Skeldale House, Utopia, and the charm of working with animals.
Jace And this week we are joined by All Creatures Great and Small star Anna Madeley. Welcome.
Anna Madeley Thank you. Lovely to be here.
Jace How familiar were you with the 1970s’ All Creatures Great and Small or the James Herriot books ahead of time?
Anna Not at all. Actually I I had a vague memory of the series having been on in the 70s and 80s, and I was very familiar with the theme tune, had a really wonderful theme tune, but I didn’t actually know the stories at all. So my first exposure to them was Ben Vanstone’s scripts in this adaptation. And I then went on to read the books. And of course Mrs. Hall doesn’t feature terribly heavily in the books. So it was really fascinating and exciting to see what Ben decided to do with the character and her relationship in that household.
Jace And I love the character of Mrs. Hall to no end. Siegfried calls her at one point the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. In his script for the first episode, Ben Vanstone describes her as, quote, ‘Formidable.’ What’s your read on Audrey Hall as a character? And do you see her as being perhaps the moral compass of All Creatures Great and Small?
Anna Yeah, I think that idea of her being quite formidable. I think she’s a woman with great emotional courage. I think as you learn through the series, you learn a little bit more about her backstory. And I think you come to know that this is a woman who’s had to make some difficult decisions in her life, who was estranged from her son, which is a cause of great pain to her. And so I think. You know, from seeing the woman who can go downstairs with a cricket bat to see who’s making a noise in the shed outside in the middle of the night, you also see a woman who’s not scared to take on the difficult emotional choices you make in life. So in that sense, I suppose she is a moral compass.
Jace It’s Audrey’s friend, Dorothy, who says of her, ‘Audrey has a big heart. She opens it up to everyone, even those that don’t always deserve it.’ I mean, is that ultimately Mrs. Hall’s strength or her weakness that she is so sort of emotionally open?
Anna I think it’s both I think it’s her strength in her relationships with other people. I think it connects the two of the people. I think it keeps the door open. But I suspect for herself, it leaves her slightly vulnerable if someone else isn’t in the same state of mind, I suppose. I think her relationship with her son might be a good example of that. We don’t know exactly what’s going on at this point, but the fact that it’s a cause of great pain, I think she’s open to keeping that relationship alive, but she’s waiting for him to come and we have to see whether or not he will. So I suspect I suspect both, but I think it would be one of the things that she’s loved for by other people.
Jace It’s Mrs. Hall who’s largely responsible not only for the running of Skeldale House, but also keeping this family together and intact. As you say, we don’t know the particulars yet of what happened with Edward, her son. But what is it that motivates her to care for this family now?
Anna I imagine coming to Skeldale House this series is set in 1937, and for a woman to have. Had to leave a situation and find herself having to be independent and find a job and live alone in a community at that time, I think she’s probably incredibly grateful that this position came up. At Skeldale House. It gives her a physical home. But I think over time and I think over the course of this series, you’ll see that it develops into a real home for her, that these, the people she, you know, Siegfried Farnon, who’s her employer, slowly becomes a very good friend. And the young men who come in as we meet James in episode one as the assistant and we meet Tristan in episode two that that love that she has inside her, that desire to nurture. has a home with them and they love her for it. So I think it’s it’s a situation that is a very happy evolution of coming from need to becoming something that’s, yeah, as I say, a real home.
Jace I want to talk about Siegfried, her dynamic with Siegfried crosses all sorts of boundaries, particularly that she’s a woman in the 1930s and in his employ. Their friendship, to me, is one of the most remarkable things about this show.
Siegfried Well James, I think we can safely say you’re one of us, now.
James I suppose so.
Mrs Hall I knew you could do it. Speaking of which. He’s made it to 6:15. So…
Siegfried Two bob wasn’t it?
Jace How would you describe their rapport?
Anna I think they have a very special rapport. It was one of the things I loved when I picked up Ben Vanstone’s was that Siegfried’s is perhaps sometimes you could say a difficult character. He’s quite quick tempered or. Yeah, he’s unpredictable sometimes, although predictable in his unpredictability, perhaps. But I think she just knows how to deal with that and look after him and they slowly open up, I think it’s that is, as you say, quite an extraordinary thing, you have two single people living in a house together as an employer-employee doing their jobs. But straight away, you also know that Mrs. Hall slightly crossed the line in making sure that James Herriot comes down for an interview. So while the line is there and I think, you know, the side of Mrs. Hall that has strong values and cares about her respectability, etcetera, I think she also will sort of push the boundaries of things when need be. I always love that delightful scene where they’re sitting having a cup of tea. And he he knows she’s sad about Edward and she opens up a little bit. And his response is just to could you pass the milk?
Siegfried It’s early days yet. But I must admit it feels like a weight’s been lifted.
Mrs. Hall What weight might that be?
Siegfried A son’s promise to his dying father.
Mrs. Hall You’re lucky to have him so close. Why is it the ones we love most, cause the most pain?
Siegfried Sorry, Mrs Hall, would you mind passing me the milk.
Anna That kind of the difficulty of actually getting beyond just an acknowledgment of, oh, this is a difficult situation and having a conversation about it. I think there’s some really lovely moments that. That illuminate that is it isn’t just a friendship, they say, you know, he pays her wages and her board and, you know, it’s it’s complex and that that needs to be protected, particularly from her side of things that is important to protect that relationship and look after it and keep it on a. Professional fitting in some degrees, but then, yeah, the lines always blur and I think. It’s one of the things that gets balanced out, you know, you’re constantly wondering, is this OK? Is that OK, as you would, I suppose, in that situation of what crosses the line and what doesn’t and how far can you you know, there are moments where Siegfried Farnon makes a decision and she has to accept his decision and. And so you see where the power dynamic lies in some ways, but yeah, it’s a real relationship I quite cherish as an actor playing it, that it has a really delightful evolution to it.
Jace Yes, so there are two more episodes. I mean, without giving anything away, does Mrs. Hall and Siegfried’s very platonic relationship deepened over the course of the final two episodes?
Anna I think it does. Yeah, I think. Let’s just say a greater degree of vulnerability, of openness, and that that once that’s happened, you know, the friendship is strong enough to take it that you can not be scared off by someone’s. Needing a moment’s comfort, say, I think I think it does develop and grows to a really beautiful friendship.
Jace You and Sam West both workrf together on MASTERPIECE’s Mr Selfridge. What does Sam bring to your scenes together in Skeldale House?
Anna Sam is, I think, perfect casting for Siegfried Farnon. Sam is ferociously bright, he’s got an amazing mind and he’s an incredibly kind-hearted person. And I think that warmth that’s, you know, deep down in secret somewhere, that care he has, that love of animals and and the respect he has for the people that work with them. I think all those things Sam brings really. Great sense of warmth. I think the character of Siegfried doesn’t always want to acknowledge about himself. I think Mrs. Hall can see that from the outside and you see that that’s a quality in Sam, that he can lean on and and he also is is brilliant to work with because he’s he directs as well and does a lot of audiobooks. And he’s brilliant at researching things. So when we’re worrying about anachronisms, is that something that we would say in 1937? Is that something we would do? He’s he’s really great for that. The sort of delightful intellectual you could have could have really come to the fore helping us with those things.
Jace It’s Mrs Hall who urges Siegfried to give James a chance and who engineers he’s coming down to Darrowby in the first place. Does she see something within James that she doesn’t within the other Mayflies?
Anna I think they have probably been lots of prospective candidates who would have done a good job but who didn’t quite have it in them to cope with Siegfried. And I think they’re all possibly at the end of their tether slightly in the sense that they really do need somebody for the practice to continue and to grow and to for life to have some quality to it. They need somebody and think she can really see that. I think this lovely young man comes down who is quite green, who doesn’t know what dealing with Siegfried is going to be like, but he makes this huge trip, so he clearly wants the work and she can see that he’s a great young guy who has the qualifications and if she can just get him through those first couple of days. And protect him against, you know, the pursuit of the locals, you know, they take him out for those drinks, I think she knows exactly what’s been going on. She knows the initiation ceremony that will go on in terms of inviting somebody new into the community. And so she’s there to just be a little support behind the scenes to make that happen. I think she takes to James as well. I think he is a very lovely young man and she can see that. And so she’s willing to go the extra mile to push for it.
Jace Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors…
Jace Mrs. Hall has this lovely bond with Tristan, who, despite his constant misbehaving, I think might be her favorite in Skeldale House. Is he a surrogate for Edward in a way? Has she transferred her maternal love onto Tris?
Anna To some degree, I would say yes. I think the energy of these smart, ambitious, exciting young men embarking on their careers, this is something that really thrills her, to be part of supporting that I think is something that she really values. And I think the fact that Tristan struggles to come out from under the shadow of his older brother, that they’ve had a difficult family situation themselves. I think she knows all that and can understand all of that. And I yes, I think she also just enjoys his mischief. Yes. He’s just he’s a delight to have around the house because he is perfectly intelligent enough to do it and he’s infuriating and that he can’t quite sit down and make it happen. And so I think it does bring out the the mother in her to to try to achieve him along that path at the same time as she’s willing to overlook and. Just enjoy his his nuttiness, you know, she understands it, but it’s also. Just wanting him to to fully grow up, I suppose, and embrace life in a good way. So I think he does absolutely bring out the nurturer in her.
Jace He’s a lovable scamp, but he’s still a scamp.
Anna Yes, absolutely.
Jace Most of the cast is filming on muddy farms with two ton bulls, but Mrs. Hall gets to be rather cozy in her housecoats back at Skeldale House a lot of the time where she’s cooking and cleaning and looking after animals and the Farnons. Were you relieved or jealous that you wouldn’t be shooting in the muck of the farmyards of the Dales?
Anna Oh a bit of both, to be honest, our set is absolutely beautiful, Jacqui Smith designed this really stunning house. So you walk into the set and you do feel like you want to sit down and have a cup of tea on the sofa. It’s just lovely. And in the fire’s on in there, it’s very cozy. I wasn’t that much warmer, to be honest, they built the studio up in in in Yorkshire for us and it’s an unheated building. So whilst I wasn’t out in the wind and rain, we were still wearing lots of thermals to go on to set. And yes, a bit of me would love to have it out with the animals more. I think that would be really exciting. And she does get to venture out. It’s so beautiful up in Yorkshire, it’s absolutely stunning. So in the sense of going to work and being out in these beautiful locations, I would love to do more of that. Absolutely. But was I protected from the wind and rain? Absolutely.
Jace Audrey Hall has a tragic past, but she never feels like a tragic character. Is that a difficult line to walk as an actor, to play a character who has been deeply traumatized in the past, but who attempts to rise above her traumas?
Anna I think she has had a difficult time and I think she still struggles with it. I think she still struggles with the decision that she made, and whether it was the right thing to do. And I think in her heart, she does know it was the right thing to do. But that doesn’t mean it was easy or that it’s easy to live with. I think she sees a sad situation that evolved in a difficult way and. I think she has a spirit that says to get on with it and I think she takes her role as a mother very seriously, that she still wants to be Edward’s mother and be there for him as a mother. But the ball is in his court to decide to let her be that despite the decisions she’s made. I think getting on with it and getting involved with people and living a full life is the best way for her to cope with that. And I think on some level, she’s, as I say, OK with the decision she’s made, even though it’s still a very difficult one and a difficult one to be public about, I think it’s something that is probably kept very private.
Jace In this week’s episode. Audrey’s friend Dorothy returns and we learn more about Mrs. Hall’s past, including their time together in the Wrens. I love the way that Dorothy salutes Audrey in episode two, which was such a great little moment. What has knitted these two women together as closely as they are?
Anna I think having that training together has probably bonded them. Are two young women who when they met and were doing those things. In my imagination, it was pre being married and. They were at the beginning of their journey as adults and it was an exciting time, they had a role to play, they were doing things that they might not otherwise have had the chance to do. It adds an aspect to their characters that you don’t necessarily know when you meet them, when they’re that much older, that they had those experiences, I think is. Is a great bond for them that they can remind each other of that and I think also their long term friends, they know each other, they know each other’s families and situations. And those sort of close friendships are really important. I think she’s she’s someone that. Knows Mrs. Hall inside out and. And Mrs Hall can absolutely rely on. And they can have that fun with one another, that they’ve seen each other do everything and and I think they just obviously got on really well, we imagine that Mrs. Hall was slightly ever so slightly higher ranking than Dorothy in the Wrens and that that was a fun thing for them to take the mick out of each other about rather than any any sort of real distinction, I think. Yeah, they know each other well. They can rub the corner off each other and take the mick.
Jace There’s a hint in this week’s episode that Audrey’s husband was abusive.
Mrs. Hall Am I to take it you’ve designs on our Mr Farnon?
Dorothy Oh, don’t think so. Reckon I’d scare the poor chap to death. Besides, he strikes me as a man who still thinks of himself as married.
Mrs. Hall Well, you can’t always change how you feel.
Dorothy Leaving that brute was the best and bravest thing you ever did.
Mrs. Hall Yes. Well.
Jace What does her decision to leave her husband in the north of England in the 1930s no less reveal about Audrey’s inner strength? And how difficult a decision was this for her?
Anna Incredibly difficult. I don’t want to say too much about the circumstances, because I think it’s something we will go on to explore, but you’re talking about a time where I think it’s only in ‘37, women can get divorced at this point, but they can’t if they’ve got to be able to prove I think it’s in ‘37, you know, you can get divorced if you can prove that they’ve abandoned you or that they’re drunk or something. But, you know, that’s only just we’re in 1937, so I don’t think it would have been easy to do that kind of separation. And I imagine the situation must have been pretty desperate for her to have to decide to go. And I don’t doubt that that would have had a. Really? Strong effect on her son. Imagine at that time, people just didn’t really leave, that they put up with whatever was going on. Being married was a form of protection. And I think it’s.It it puts it in a in a perspective when you think, well, if Mrs. Hall doesn’t have this job at Skeldale, what does she have if she’s not supported by a husband, that she’s not supported by her child and that’s her only child. She’s in very alone. She’s potentially very vulnerable. And so it. Will doubtless have been a really, really hard decision, and the fact that he’s moved away from her local area and moved to Darrowby, I think also. It says something about that ability to start again. She still wears her wedding ring, but. She has given herself space to be able to go somewhere and have a fresh start, and I don’t think anyone in Darrowby really knows her situation, so that makes her friendship with Dorothy all the more important to her.
Jace We come now to my favorite Mrs. Hall scene of the entire series, the shooting gallery scene at the fair, the stallholder is clearly running a con, and Audrey comes in, she adjusts the faulty sight, and she hits all of her targets, one after the other without even breaking a sweat.
Mrs. Hall Well, what was it you wanted, Jenny? Dog? Or the bear? I’d say we won both.
James Well done!
Siegfried Where on earth did you learn to shoot like that?
Mrs. Hall What did you think we did in the Wrens? Embroidery?
Jace Does this scene sum up the amazing contradiction that is Audrey Hall?
Anna Absolutely, I think so. What I loved about the scene as well was the quiet way in which she does it. She could see something was going on that she didn’t go in and hit it head on. She went in and played the game and worked out what the game was and played him at it better than he could play it himself, sort it turns it on its head, and I think also has the release of enjoying firing a gun a few times. I think it’s a really, really lovely moment where you just see another side to her where she’s allowed to. Be more than the housekeeper and the cleaner and surprise people and have a moment of being more fully expressed. I think it’s lovely, but I think I think, yes, that that side of it is able to quietly call someone out on their bad behavior, as it were, is beautifully expressed in that scene. It’s great.
Jace It’s Mrs. Hall who wins the sweepstake about how long James could last at the fair. How chuffed is she to have been proven right yet again?
Anna Oh, I think thrilled, you know, it’s another lovely example of, you know, betting’s technically bad, but she joins in and she’s got she’s got the winning card, as it were. I think she also knows James is a solid guy, that he’s got some real backbone to him, that he might be young and he might be naïve to the ways of the Skeldale farmers, but that he not a pushover. And I think she knows that he he could outdo them all. I think it’s very satisfying to win that bet and prove them all wrong.
Jace All Creatures Great and Small has been a massive hit for Channel Five. How surprised have you been to the reaction to the show in Britain?
Anna Well, both very surprised and thrilled and excited because it’s our project and we all love it and there are so many elements to it that I think have been done so well. And so it’s wonderful to hear that response. And also it’s you know, it’s always a privilege not to want to entertain. And the fact that people have loved is is is really wonderful and. I don’t think I quite understood. I mean, some people were saying, oh, we love the 70s, 80s version, and that was the one for us. And the fact that those people then embraced our series as well has just been just really exciting. And I hope we can continue to to to entertain those audiences. The books are so good. And the spirit and the love and the humor that’s in them is is just really wonderful. And I, I feel we’ve been able to translate that into the series and I hope we can continue to do that. And so, yeah, I’m really excited for audiences to see it. It’s yeah, it’s been a real thrill to hear that, that people have loved it and.
Jace You started your career as a child actor with roles such as the skeleton in The Merry Wives of Windsor at the RSC, and Claudia. Is it true that it was a speech class that propelled you into acting professionally at such a young age?
Jace It is. Yes, I am. I went to a lady called Stella Greenfield, she ran an agency for children. And I went to her just for little drama classes, really just speech, elocution drama. And we did the local drama festivals. We went to the poetry competition or monologues, dialogues, mime, all sorts of things. And I used to love doing that. And she then sent me up for a few auditions and it was really just fun. I mean, I don’t come from an acting background at all, so it’s completely alien to my family. And as you say, I got to the RSC as a skeleton, which is clearly a, you know, no, not the most central role in the show, but I actually loved it. And I mean, just being backstage at the Barbican when I was seven, doing that and eating chips in the green room and learning to play pool was part of the thrill. But yeah, so I did lots of bits and pieces as a child, but then carried on with normal school and took a break for it. Did youth theater and things. So yeah, I really have a lot to be grateful to Stella for. She really opened up that world to me, not just through love of poetry and drama, but also then being able to work in that world as well. So, yeah, that was was an interesting start. And then I went and did the conventional thing and went to drama school when I was 18.
Jace One of the earliest things that I saw you in was the cult drama Utopia where you played Anya on what was the experience shooting Utopia like? Was it as strange as the finished product itself?
Anna Probably not. It was a lot of fun playing a character who had that big reveal to her, who had those other sides, a character who was pretending to be somebody else was a really fun idea for an extra layer to to put on something, so in a way, no, it wasn’t as wacky as that’s what the series would have been, but it was a lot of fun to do.
Jace You played Clarissa Eden, the wife of Anthony Eden in Netflix’s The Crown. What was it like being part of a show that is such a global phenomenon? Was there a sense in that first season that it would be as tremendous a show as it has become?
Anna I think so I think there was a sense that it was. A really exciting project that would be a game changer for some people that it would have an enormous appeal, a huge audience, I think there was great hope for it from the get go. I remember when we did the readthrough, feeling that buzz and excitement and everyone slightly pinching themselves that they were in the room doing this job, yeah, definitely had that feel to it then, and it went on to prove itself to be that. I mean, it’s extraordinary, isn’t it?
Jace There is a second series of All Creatures Great and Small in the works. Congratulations.
Anna Thank you. Yes.
Jace What do you hope to have Mrs. Hall get the opportunity to do in the second series?
Anna Oh, gosh, that’s really difficult because we’re all full of ideas at the moment now that we’ve been greenlit. I think the one thing we can say is we’re hoping to film spring next year, so we’re going to go in March. So I think it opens up a host of summer stories, spring lambs. A whole different season because we were filming through — we started in September and went through January, so we were all going into the winter months when we were shooting last time. So I think being outdoors in the spring and summer is going to be really exciting. I think you might see a bit more of Mrs. Hall’s hobbies come out to play. Her relationships blossom. And yeah, just more of those wonderful stories, I mean, when you go into the books, there are so many good stories to tell that shine a light in the community in so many different ways, that’s the joy of doing the series, is that there’s the truth of these. The stories are based on true, true life events to start with. And so they have that truth and depth to them. That is an amazing resource to have. And so even though Mrs. Hall doesn’t feature terribly heavily in the books, you still get the community in the sense of what those roles would be to draw. And so, yeah, I’m really looking forward to see what Ben decides to write for us.
Jace Can’t wait. Anna Madeley, thank you so very much.
Anna Thank you. Lovely speaking with you.
Jace Next time, we’ll take a brief pause from the idyllic Yorkshire Dales as we turn towards foggy Victorian London and the gritty world of investigator Eliza Scarlett.
Duke I’m a police detective. Shoot me and you will have all of Scotland Yard hunting you day and night.
Eliza You’ll also have a bullet in your chest. I may not hit you with the first shot. But I will keep pulling this trigger until one of us is dead.Jace Miss Scarlet and the Duke star Kate Phillips, who plays the titular sleuth, joins us on the podcast February 14.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Susanne Simpson.
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