A Joyous Season Opening For Nicholas Ralph

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Related to: All Creatures Great and Small, Season 3

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It took two seasons of television — and a lot more besides — but Nicholas Ralph’s James Herriot has finally tied the knot with Rachel Shenton’s Helen Alderson. It’s a real highlight of the third season, and one Ralph and his castmates cherished all the more with the presence of real-life James Herriot’s children, Rosie and Jim.

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Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.

In the Yorkshire Dales, the rumbles of war still seem distant. And the loudest sound for veterinarian James Herriot are his own wedding bells.


Hannah There he is – my boy!

James Hello mum.

Hannah Oh, you’re too young to be getting married, you should still be at home with your mammy.

James, Senior He’d be an old man before he wed if it was up to you.

Jace Of course, it’s not a wedding without complications. The threat of tuberculosis draws James away from the church and up a farm to begin testing cattle for the dangerous disease.


William Henry You said you wanted to get started first thing this morning.

James I’m sorry, started on what?

William Henry Oh dear me – you were three sheets to the wind weren’t you lad? The testing. The TB testing.

James TB testing?

William Henry The cows? Me herd.

James I see – of course.

Jace But because this is Darrowby, James and Helen tie the knot — literally — with friends, family, and a piece of string.


Vicar Now – the ring – the ring?

James Triss?

Tristan Hmmm. Ah yes – the ring. You want the ring.

Vicar At this point in the service that is the tradition.

Tristan But how do we feel about tradition? In these modern –

Helen Triss.

Jace While viewers may have called for a Christmas special wedding last season, series lead Nicholas Ralph is glad to have waited until the third season premiere. He talks war, weddings and the season on the horizon for newlyweds James and Helen.

Jace And this week, we are joined by All Creatures Great and Small star Nicholas Ralph. Welcome.

Nicholas Ralph Hi Jace, thanks for having me.

Jace So Series two ended with James and Helen engaged to be married. I personally figured that we might gradually build to them exchanging their vows, but wedding bells ring out in this first episode back. Were you surprised that Ben Vanstone and the writers wanted to kick off the third season with them getting hitched?

Nicholas Yeah, I guess it did take me a little by surprise, but then I was just overcome with excitement. I just couldn’t wait to get started really, because we knew very little of the kind of plan for the future seasons until we’re nearly the filming the first block. And we get we will get the first episode or two episodes through maybe two, maybe three weeks before filming. But not much not much more than that. So it really is for us as well. We don’t know. So we get the episode as I say, a couple of weeks before. And then I was like, I was I was just smiling like a Cheshire cat the whole time. Like page to page, I was like, ‘This is brilliant.’ It was just such a celebration. It felt like fireworks. It felt like the perfect place, upon reading it, like you said, I was surprised it was episode one, but upon reading it, I thought it was it just seemed perfect off the back of season two. So yeah, with that I was very excited and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Jace I mean that’s what’s interesting to me because the, the, let’s say luxury of a year-long engagement wasn’t really possible in the 1930s. And Helen and James definitely seemed more than ready to embark on their married life together at this point. And from what you’re saying, it almost feels like the show was also ready at this point as well.

Nicholas Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we had a lot of people messaging and things like that, saying or tweeting that they were maybe not disappointed, but they expected a Christmas wedding. They expected a wedding at the Christmas episode, which would have been obviously an even quicker turnaround for them. But I think off the back of season one and what happened with Hugh and you know the wedding that never quite was…I don’t think it would have been within Helen’s character to have to wed again. And for James as well. You know, these things take a certain amount of time. And I think that would have it just wouldn’t have been right. So that never quite happened. But I think for the couple and yeah, it was it was a quicker turnaround. But as you say for the 1930s, probably quite right. And yeah and like I say, it was just so much fun to film.

Jace We’ll talk about that in a bit. Series three begins with James reminiscing at Alton Cross, where he and Helen met in series one, and his reverie is interrupted by the sound of an RAF plane overhead. The war is on the horizon, we know. But is there perhaps a romantic pull here for James as well, that the notion of the freedom of flying, that the life of a pilot, perhaps.

Nicholas Yeah, absolutely. I think for James, you’re quite right. It’s the kind of romanticism of flying and that really, really grabs him. And I think and, of course, then mixed in with everything that the war brings and everything that we see within Darrowby, the recruitment going up and the young men going off. And then there’s the shame and guilt that comes along with that and a lot of societal pressures. But I think ultimately the reason for the RAF and things is, is that kind of romance for flight that sort of freedom that you speak of.

Jace And the night before the wedding, James says goodbye to Helen at the bus stop.


James The first time I ever saw you, I was so distracted I got off the bus in the middle of nowhere.

Helen Alton Cross. I remember wondering what you were up to.

James I never imagined for a second this is where we’d end up.

Helen Yes, you did.

James Yes. Yes. I did.

Jace Given how their relationship began, is this perhaps the most perfect callback to their meet cute in series one?

Nicholas Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think there is I don’t know. I think there’s truth in that sometimes. I mean, like this job, for example, playing James Herriot, it was a long process of various auditions. There was one of the final auditions I couldn’t actually make it to because I was doing a play at the time and my agent said, ‘Will you guarantee to get Nick in another time?’ And, they came back to my agent and said, ‘No, if they find their man on this day, then that will be it.’ And I said, ‘It’s fine. I don’t think they’re going to,’ I just, I just had this funny feeling about this job from the, from the get go. From the minute I read the first audition sides to that first audition, I just had a really good feeling about it. And sometimes you get it, sometimes you get it about certain things. And I just I just said to myself, ‘They’re not going to find him. It’s fine. They’re not going to find him.’ And then and then next week, the next day after that audition, they said, ‘Right, can Nick come in next week?’ And I could, and I went in and that’s that, that worked out, you know, the audition. I then got the part so, so like that with James in this situation. I think he did. And, you know, and you know, and when he says, I never thought I’d be and Helen says, yeah you did, and I think he did.

Jace He did, it was fated, it was fated that way.

Nicholas And you just had a feeling about it somewhere in your in your bones tells you. I think there was a bit of that, yeah.

Jace I mean, he was so distracted when he met her that he got off at the wrong time, at the wrong place where they met. I do think he is telling the truth that maybe he did, as you say, sort of imagine this moment for the two of them, even with the complications that later ensued. Do you feel that this this is a sort of love at first sight story them for the for the two of them.

Nicholas Well, cer–, I mean, certainly for James, you know, I can speak for James, certainly, for him, it was it was love at first sight, I think. And then and then, you know, people have different arguments about what if love at first sight is even possible and things like that. But I would say that yes, it was. And then also getting to know Helen, he just falls in love with her more deeply and more and more the more he gets to know is he she kind of epitomizes everything that sums up what he loves about the Dales And they also balance each other so well. She challenges him and pushes him when he needs it and she’s always there for him. And likewise, James is there for Helen and any issues she’s got. So, yeah, love at first site and love just gets deeper and deeper the more we see the relationship blossom.

Jace Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors…

James ends up drinking a yard of ale and wakes up on William Henry’s farm on the morning of his wedding, which is perhaps the most James Herriot thing ever to then start TB testing on the cows. What goes through James’s head at this moment when he realizes he’s all the way up at Heskin Fell?

Nicholas I mean, this is this is this is even even when he’s drunk, you know, being drunk brings out certain things in people. And even when he’s drunk, he’s the one going to help out, you know, the guy up at Heskin Fell, the farmer up at Heskin Fell who’s had this trouble with, well, his son has passed away from TB and it really effects James, James really thinks about and and even blind drunk, that’s when he decides to accept, the night before his wedding. Not the smartest of moves but it’s very, very James to just want to help people.


James All good so far Mister Henry – no sign of TB in the half we’ve done.

William Henry Thank the good Lord for that.

James Let’s have the next one through then.

William Henry It is kind of you to come up so fast Mister Herriot.

James I was sorry to hear about your son.

William Henry You go over and over it don’t you. Wondering if you might have done something different. But there weren’t testing in the same way back then. Come on Wilfred

– get another through.

Jace I mean he goes to such lengths, even once Tristan shows up, he still goes through with the TB testing. I mean, is this a case of what I might call Herriot Syndrome, this fact that his duty and responsibility trumps even his own personal needs, even his own wedding?

Nicholas Yeah, absolutely. I think we see that with the character and, you know, throughout, and then we’ll see more of it with regards to the war and things like that. But yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. He’s just got such, such compassion and passion for what he does and, and the helping of people and the animals. And, you know, ‘You don’t just cure the animal. You, you know, you help out the people.’ It’s as much about the people as it is as it is the animals. But yeah, he’s he’s so dedicated that he’s, you know, he’s willing to to put these things in front of major life events in his own life. So but I think all the all the while as well, because he obviously this means a lot to Helen and it means a huge amount to him as well. If the end was never in sight, I think he you know, he would have to call it and get to the wedding. And he’s you know, he’s almost done. He’s almost done, there is just one more and we can still make it even if I’m even if I’m dressed in well I’ve done this testing and then at least I’ll I’ll be there, you know, I’ll be there to do it and I’ll have done and I’ve done my job as well and I’ve done my duty.

Jace So and I mean, I love he says, ‘Helen will have to take me as I am,’ meaning, you know, just covered in muck straight to the church once he’s done. James is about to leave for his wedding. They discover a cow with a broken metacarpal case, and James suggests a splint. Even though he knows the splint won’t work, he goes ahead with it anyway. What sort of guilt does he feel in this moment towards his bovine patient and towards William Henry?

Nicholas Yeah I think I think there’s a lot more going on within him at this stage because everything in his veterinary knowledge and experience tells him and he knows you know that there isn’t this would be a miraculous recovery a miraculous, miraculous recovery and, you know, close to being impossible. I think it’s more to do with William Henry and his son, Wilfred. And when Wilfred says, ‘Well, you know, if you haven’t done anything, what what are they even here for? What’s even the, you know, what’s even the point in you being here?’ and it’s not for for James, it’s that. It’s that kind of guilt in seeing this young man, this young boy is going to go off and fight and is prepared to and hasn’t given it a second thought. And and James is there and he can help this cow. I mean, the cows, the cow’s done for. So yeah, it’s the kind of the guilt and it’s starting to creep in already about the war I think. And these boys, because of their profession, are protected and and rightly so, you know, because they do a wonderful, wonderful, important job losing one cow we know for these families can be a catastrophe. But at the same time, that doesn’t help James with his guilt with it all as well. So and so yeah, I think it’s it’s a lot of the beginnings of what we then see kind of play out for the rest of the series as well.

Jace James manages to make it to the church on time, barely. But he doesn’t have his wedding shoes. There’s a vomiting dog in the back seat. Tristan has, of course, lost the rings, or so he believes. But then so too has James misplaced them in his other jacket pocket. You mentioned the wedding ceremony earlier, but what was it like filming the ceremony itself?

Nicholas Oh, it was so much fun. It was so good. I mean, they just. Just all of that. I felt like we were in a like some sort of Richard Curtis film, you know? Yeah. And, like, it was it was quite it was it was romantic. And it felt like fireworks, as I said. But it was and it was touching, but it was also tremendously funny. And it was almost far like, you know, farcical and in the very best of ways at times as well, leading up to the wedding and those days filming it were brilliant. We filmed outside of one church for the exteriors. And then the interiors was a different, a different church to the, to the grounds we filmed the exterior on. But they were both just gorgeous locations and it’s just always fun on those days as well. On the call sheet when you’ve got so many great cast in to to play with. So, you know, you had Tony Pitts, Mr. Alderson and Jenny, Imogene was there and my parents were there. Er, my screen parents, of course, were there. Those days are just really fun when you’ve got a big a big group together. And also along with that. So James Herriot, of course, is the pen name for Alf Wight and his son and daughter, real life son and daughter were there, Jim and Rosie, who work with us on the show very closely which is great. But they came along to see their screen parents’ marriage, which is just lovely. We had a picture., Rosie had a tear in her eye. It was very nice. And she always,  Rosie, always comes up to me and says, ‘Hello, Dad.’ And,then ”Sorry, Nick, I just always have to say it once!” And I’m like “Rosie, it’s fine.” It’s obviously all right. It was very it was a very sweet moment, and it was lovely.

Jace I was gonna ask about Rosie and Jim, because how strange is it for you to have James and Helen, or the real life Alf, to have their children present at the fictional wedding of characters representing their parents? I mean, do you get in your head at all in those moments?

Nicholas Erm. No, no, not really, purely because, as I say, they work closely on the show with us. You know, they’re part of the process. So. we have their blessing, as it were for the show as a whole. And they’re just so lovely as well to chat to. It was brilliant when they come down because they’ve got so many stories about their parents and about the real Siegfried and Tristan and all these wonderful characters. It’s just brilliant. You just have a little catch up and they’ll tell you some more stories that they haven’t told you before. So it’s brilliant. So having them there was it was just a lot– it was just really sweet, actually. And I really enjoyed having them there and I’m glad that they enjoyed being there as well, and I’m really glad that they’re enjoying the show this far as well. And because, of course, as an adaption, you know, we aren’t following the books chapter by chapter, but they’re really enjoying the show as well, which is brilliant. They are priceless to have. And and Jim, you know, Jim, he’s great with so many stories. And Rosie likewise because Helen, of course, doesn’t appear in the books as much. So I know Rachel and Rosie have this wonderful relationship. And Rachel, you know, sent her an email with a couple of questions and she’ll get this massive email back with so much good material in it, it’s brilliant.

Jace I love that so much. As you say, we that the lead up to the wedding is farcical. It does feel a little French farce-like and it veers towards the end to the poetic. To me, there’s something beautifully poetic about the fact that James and Helen’s rings aren’t bands of gold in the end, but simple strings tied with a knot. Does this somehow fit both James and Helen’s relationship and All Creatures Great and Small itself?

Nicholas Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s it’s all about simplicity and it’s a simpler time, the 1930. But they themselves. It’s about a simplicity and and and  a deep, deep love that doesn’t require, you know, much else. And and again and I think as well, it’s kind of in stark opposition to her previous wedding, you know, too, to Lord Hull. And it was, you know, lavish and three drinks all around and a giant ring and all this fanfare. Whereas for James and Helen, this wedding is simple, smaller, and it’s, at the core, at the heart of it is love. Love for one another and love for the people that are around them. Because it’s and this is true to life. It was a very small wedding. And in our you know, we’ve we followed that. So I think, you know, as my parents are they are Siegfried, Mrs. Hall, Jenny, Mr. Alderson, Tristan, and not many else. So it’s it’s very much about that, about love for each other and for for the few that are there.

Jace So no bridezilla moment for Helen, fortunately.

Nicholas No bridezilla moment. But if she knew James was up too only moments before the wedding. I’m sure she would have a thing or two to say about it, he’s up in the high Dells, hungover.

Jace She’s walking out in her wedding gown, though, in her wellies. So I think she might be a little more understanding perhaps than than many…she’s marrying a vet, after all.

Nicholas True.

Jace I was surprised that by the end of the episode they’d actually returned from their honeymoon already and discover there’s a plaque on Skeldale House with James’s name on it. It might not be made of bronze, but it does carry a message of a sort. What does James make of Siegfried’s wedding present of a partnership in the practice? And does James see that there are very clear strings attached to this present?


James I did notice the sign – but…why?

Siegfried Name above the door. Wedding present, well, not a present. You deserved it. Earned it. Commitment to the cause and whatnot.

James Sorry – deserved what…

Siegfried I’m…

Mrs. Hall He’s making you partner.

Siegfried Mrs Hall – I was really rather hoping to tell him that myself.

James Partnership? In the practice? Fifty-fifty split?

Siegfried Well – plenty of time to iron out all the details.

James Thank you, Siegfried. Really

Helen Yes, thank you!

Nicholas You know, I think James…If James was an animal, I think he’d be a deer. I mean, I’ve seen him grow from like, not quite, not Bambi, but, you know, a younger deer and then an adolescent. And we’ve seen them growing all the time. But he’s got this wide-eyed kind of innocence. He’s a bit naive, a bit wet behind the years, especially when you first meet him and he’s growing into himself all the time and becoming more of a stag. But I think in this moment, yeah, he’s, you know, he’s one is beside himself like he with with the present from Siegfried and the extra responsibility I mean partner in the practice it’s it’s you know it’s brilliant and it’s perfect just now because he’s obviously thinking about taking in more money for, you know, he’s not just supply him, you know, he’s got himself to look after now he’s got him and his wife. And we know around these times as well that the pitter patter of tiny feet wasn’t always long behind people getting married. So I think there’s a thought about that as well. But yes, I think there is still a naivete with James. And I think he’s just like, ‘Oh, yeah, partner in the practice. Brilliant. Let’s go. This is fantastic. What could possibly go wrong?’

Jace What could possibly go wrong?

Nicholas Yeah. Although he although he knows Siegfried very well, so I think, you know, he knows he’ll have as much work to do to battle against Siegfried and his, you know, ideas or him being stuck in his ways and as he did before, or even a little more so a bit, but certainly maybe not quite as much as what, what then transpired I’d say.

Jace You mentioned the bedsit. James and Helen move into the bedsit on the top floor of Skeldale House. The bed immediately breaks. The newly installed phone is already ringing. What can you tease about what married life might be like for these two under Siegfried’s roof?

Nicholas Yeah. A lot of a lot of firsts. So we’ve got Helen, you know, Helen in Skeldale House that she’s got to get used to not being, you know, the one that does all the cooking and cleaning and the what-not and looking after everybody. Because Mrs. Hall takes on a lot of that responsibility, if not all of that responsibility. And so a lot of firsts and getting used to Helen moving in, which James can help her with and then slowly piecing together. Yeah, this little world as I spoke about up in the bed set and it starts off quite shoddy. And bit by bit, they they make this kind of room, extended room. It’s got a little kitchenette into into a little home for themselves. Into a little nest. So. So, yes, I think. Well, we’ll see about that. But also what’s lovely about it and what we found in it for actors, which was great is and they, as I said before, a lot of their the relationship before was very public. It was in more in public places. And now we have this very private area so we can see what they’re like, what James and Helen are like together privately in their own domain, how tactile they are and how they are now a “we”. They’re very much a team. And this year, you know, it’s no longer I and I, it’s we. And so that’s really fun for us. And for us as actors. That was really fun as well because and because, yeah, you get to see these characters in a different in a different light than you might have seen in the first two seasons, which is, which is a lot of fun.

Jace Nicholas Ralph, thank you so very much.

Nicholas Thank you very much, Jace, cheers!

Jace Though Nicholas Ralph’s James Herriot handles all the on-screen animals in All Creatures Great and Small, it’s a much larger crew of animal experts who bring the flock to the set each and every episode.


James They’re clearly suffering from acute abdominal pain. What’ve you been feeding them?

Kate Billings Milk and a few nuts. Best there is. Nowt ‘ere that could hurt ‘em. I keep it well as can be.

Jace Coming up next on the podcast, we’ll speak with Jill Clark of First Choice Animals about her work behind the scenes with all of the creatures, great and small.

MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, produced by Nick Andersen and edited by Robyn Bissette. Elisheba Ittoop is our sound designer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Susanne Simpson.



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