The final episode of the second season of All Creatures Great and Small is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. That delicate balance is thanks to the work of series lead Nicholas Ralph, who feels right at home in the Yorkshire Dales. With two more seasons of the series on the way, Ralph looks ahead to the next chapter.
Two Seasons In, Nicholas Ralph Feels Even More At Home
Related to: All Creatures Great and Small, Season 2
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Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
If this final episode of the second season of All Creatures Great and Small left you close to tears, never fear — it did the same for me.
Mrs. Pumphrey It’s usually just us, isn’t it Tricki? He may be small but he fills every room of that house with such love and life. We have so much fun together.
Jace From Mrs. Pumphrey’s quiet almost-final moments with her beloved Tricki Woo to James Herriot’s gentle Christmas phone call with his parents, this was an episode packed with scenes bound to make you cry.
James Mum, I never said thank you…
Hannah For what?
James If it wasn’t for you, and dad paying for me to go to college — I wouldn’t be here, doing the job I love. I’ll always, always be so grateful for everything you did for me.
Hannah Don’t be daft. You’re our boy. What else were we going to do?
Jace In short, it’s a perfect finale to a perfect season of television — warm, thoughtful, and kind.
Diana Scrubs up rather well, he’s got that mysterious brooding thing down to a T.
Mrs. Hall There’s not much mystery about someone eating a sausage roll.
Diana Here. War paint. Audrey — you are allowed a moment to enjoy yourself. In fact, I insist upon it.
Jace Series star Nicholas Ralph is grateful for the chance to return to the Dales for another season — and yet again, for seasons three and four — and he returns to the podcast to take a look back at season two, and preview the stories still to come.
Jace This week we are joined by All Creatures Great and Small star, Nicholas Ralph. Welcome.
Nicholas Ralph Hi, Jace. Thanks for having me. How are you?
Jace I’m good. How are you doing?
Nicholas Very well. Thank you, yeah very well.
Jace So James begins series two back in Glasgow with his parents, with a job offer to remain in the city and he ends it in the Dales, engaged to Helen and committed to Siegfried’s vet practice. Do you feel like we’ve seen James finally find his place in the world and perhaps find a sense of self-confidence that maybe he was lacking when the series first began?
Nicholas Yeah, absolutely. I think this series, as you say, James really grows into himself, I think personally and professionally, you know, he starts to fill out his vet’s coat a little more, as it were. And we see him, we see in you know, stand up to Siegfried and and all and all the while, you know, with respect, and if it is time, he wants he best practice possible so that they can help out the patients and the people of Darrowby in the best possible way. And he being the new kid on the block, he can do that, while Siegfried might be a little more stuck in his ways. So they balance each other out really well with regards to that as well. And yeah, and now we see James and Helen have this slow burning romance. He kind of grows into himself a little bit in that way as well, because he can be quite tentative, and sometimes these needs to take that leap and we see again through the series, Siegfried, Tristan, kind of giving James little nudge here and there, when he needs it, and Helen, giving James a little nudge, here and there when he needs it. But by the end, yeah, like you say, he really feels like he’s found his place and I think he shows that, you know, you see that growth in him in confidence in everything else. Yeah. So we leave him in a very good place.
Jace You say he’s tentative and I want to sort of thread this needle a bit. There has been this notion that James Herriot is committed. He’s kind. He’s perhaps a little too practical. Though we, and Helen, discover that he is ultimately a romantic at heart. Is it that he sees catastrophe around every corner, as Helen and Siegfried believe? Or is James transformed, not only by everyone at Skeldale House, but by the Dales as well?
Nicholas Yeah, I think a bit of both. Certainly, the Dales and everyone around him’s had a huge impact on him. But at the same time, as you say, he’s just kind of finding his place in the world. You know, he had a very different idea of the vet he wanted to be and the man he wanted to be, working with small animals in a lovely practice, nice and warm, in Glasgow, you know, with state of the art equipment. And what he’s found himself in is working in a small practice where things are falling apart, out in the high Dales with the snow and the rain and horses and cows kicking him. So, you know, it’s very different. I think, yeah, he’s fallen in love with that, fully embraces that now. And yeah, and we see the embers of the man that James is going to be moving forward. But yeah, certainly, certainly everything contributes to that. The people around him, the place and just him within himself as well.
Jace I mean, when it comes time for James to declare his love for Helen, he actually is quite spontaneous. His unexpected proposal in front of the grandeur of the Dales to me, is the very definition of romantic. Has he redeemed himself or has he revealed his true self all along here in this scene?
Nicholas I think we were seeing the man that he is and was all the time deep down he just perhaps lacked the confidence. And yeah, just the execution in it to fully realize it, even in himself. But I think it was, yeah, it was always there. Definitely. You know, you see him, he falls in love with Helen the first time he sees her. And that just grows and grows. And you know that romantic within him, I think, is burning through all of that time and I think he would love nothing more than to take her out, you know, to date her, court her, and things. But yes, it does take, yeah, it does take him a minute to realize that. I think it was always there somewhere. It just needed to be ignited. And I think Helen as well ignites it in him. You know, she shows him so much of what he didn’t, even he, perhaps, maybe didn’t even realize he had within him. I think, yeah. And together, I think that they’re an unstoppable team.
Jace I mean, James, as we know, is a city lad. His beliefs and practices often run against the traditionalist bent of the Yorkshire farmers he’s helping. He fails to ask Richard Alderson for Helen’s hand before proposing, for example.
Richard You know I can’t picture her face like I used to – time passes. But I see it in them girls of mine I see it in our Jenny, she has that look when she gets cross. Our Helen has her smile – I see it sometimes when I catch her looking at you. Aye…
James Mister Alderson, I love Helen – I’ll take care of her –
Richard I doubt that, she’ll be the one taking care of you, lad.
James With your permission.
Richard What for? You’ve already asked her, haven’t you?
James I did. I have. How did you know?
Richard I told you – that smile, her mother’s smile. Listen, there is no point in asking me for my permission, lad. The lass does exactly as she chooses. Like her mother. Stubborn. That were Helen mother’s. Our Joan. Why don’t you use it?
James I’d be honored. Thank you.
Richard Aye. Good lad…
Jace What’s what’s riding on that scene between James and Richard when he finally does ask, and Richard already knows?
Nicholas Yeah. Well, I think there’s perhaps a lot more riding on it for James in his head. I think he probably, he would probably get a bit more wound up about it thinking and overthinking it, perhaps, than from what it actually is. Because I think Richard Alderson appreciates, you know, the man that James is and where he’s coming from and things like that. But I think before that conversation, I could imagine James being in his head and maybe having sleepless nights and, you know, before it really winding himself up and for him and maybe everything would be on the line. Yeah. Of course we see. And you know, we see that lovely scene between the pair of them. And yeah, and he knows that he knows the kind of man James is. Yeah.
Jace What what does Richard offering Helen’s mum’s ring to him mean to James?
Nicholas Yeah, it just means everything, really. Because there’s being accepted by the father and you know, your intentions and everything like that, and that is just that’s something else, you know, that’s the cherry on the cake. I mean, I think it is, you know, a really quite emotional moment for James and something, you know, he never expected, of course. But I mean, yeah, what a sentiment, what a signifier of just the kind of respect that they hold for one another as well. And yeah, I think James really, you know, can appreciate that more. And of course, it’s just perfect for Helen as well.
Jace Episode five keeps coming up in these interviews because of the big cricket match. This seems to be a very sort of cricket mad cast. I was very surprised to find out that Patricia Hodge is a sort of cricket fanatic. James isn’t exactly a cricket pro here. He does pretty well. But how much fun were the cricket scenes to film for you?
Nicholas Yeah, it was great fun, and we did that, that was the final week of shooting in July and it was lovely all week, you know the sun was there and it was great and all the extras were there. Everybody was done up. A lot of the farmers that we hadn’t seen, some of the farmers we hadn’t seen from season one returned, you know, for that episode. So it was great. It was such a laugh. And James, of course, is not very good at cricket, and I have never played cricket, so that was fine. True to character. But yeah, no, it was a very fun week and some of the guys you could see, some of the guys were obviously thriving on it, I think. Sam West who plays Siegfried, of course, he he’s a big cricketer, so he was loving it, as was Matthew Lewis, Hugh Hulton, you know, he helped, and some of the other guys. So yeah, they had a lot of fun. I would have preferred a game of football.
Jace So you weren’t downplaying your skills, then?
Nicholas Ever so slightly. I guess I could still, if I made contact, I could still, you know, rip that ball quite far, but I’m nowhere near, you know, Matthew Lewis, or these guys.
Jace Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors…
Jace Though I do love the thought of James and Helen moving into his tiny bedroom at Skeldale House with Tristan in the cupboard — comedy ensues, but Siegfried does offer them a bedsit at the top of the house. I love James’s line.
James I really am sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed… it’s just because we’re going to be living here, after we marry, I mean.
Helen Oh right.
James That’s what…I know we should’ve spoken about it but I need to be at Skeldale House to do my job. I’m on call at nights, and there isn’t even a telephone up at Heston Grange. I can’t very well sleep in the phone box at the end of your lane.
Helen No. I understand that.
Jace I mean, do you think that they should have discussed this previously?
Nicholas Yes. Yes. Probably. I think this is just as an oversight from James. I think as well. There’s a lot going on for all the characters, of course., there always is. But yes, it’s one of those things that James hasn’t given very much thought to. Because as well, I think there’s a naiveté there, of course, at the root of it, perhaps is that he knows or certainly feels like as long as he’s with Helen, then everything will be alright. And that doesn’t matter, you know where they’re staying, where they’re at and their roles within one another, a little bit naively, just going, ‘As long as we’re together, everything will be alright,’ and that is the case. But at the same time, well, I believe that to be the case. But at the same time, there are practical things that you need to talk about. So, you know, like where you’re going to live, for example, is quite a useful thing to talk about. So, yeah, I think sometimes those things pass him by. But yeah, at the root of it, I think as long as they’re both together, whatever they may be, they’ll be absolutely grand.
Jace Despite this being set in 1938, there are palpable thematic overlaps with the world today families spending Christmas apart during a global pandemic, being far from home, et cetera. Despite his choice to remain in the Dales, James holds on to his roots and he carves that winter woman like his dad does. What did you make of that as a symbol for James here?
Nicholas Yes. Yes, you say this is holding on root, you know, home is where the heart is, after all, He’ll always, you know, I think even the man himself Alf Wight, he was known as ‘the Scotch vet,’ because he never lost his Scottish accent, even though he, you know, he lived in the Dales for as long as he did decades, upon leaving Glasgow. So, yes, he always had that, that Scottish heritage and also it’s just a nod back to home and to his mum and dad, to family because his dad would normally do it. Now James is doing it. It’s another signifier, I think of him growing into that man as we talked about before. You know, he’s finding his place in the world and what that means to him. And he’s, you know, he’s building that as well. He’s building that for himself. And so I think, yes, that’s another wee nod to that. In that he’s becoming his own man. And, you know, it says it’s his time to make the Cailleach and say the little bit of Robbie Burns by the fireplace. Yeah, another signifier of him growing up.
Jace There were quite a few emotional beats in this episode, but the one I have to say that truly just killed me was the phone call between James and his parents in that phone box in Glasgow. How did you get into the headspace to channel that level of emotion? And what was this scene like to shoot?
Nicholas Yeah, I suppose well, firstly, when we had when we got the script through and I read it, I just I loved, I thought the writing was just so good. I completely understood where the character was coming from at that moment. I just thought it was brilliant. And also, it’s very I have similar thoughts and feelings towards my parents. I was very lucky and very fortunate in that they supported me when I decided, you know, I wanted to pursue acting and everything like that. And, you know, they set me up for life in a great way, as well. So, there were sentiments there that I could latch onto and, you know, kind of use or certainly explore when working on doing the scene. And that’s kind of what I was focusing on in the build up to it. And then of course, you just you put it all out of your mind and then you’re just in the scene doing it. So I think, you know, that was kind of the work I was doing beforehand. And yeah, and then doing it was grand, you’re on this lovely set with wonderful, supportive people. So and then also just as far as acting is concerned and being an actor, I love things like that. I love, you know, getting my hands dirty in the challenges of working with horses and cows. And I also love the challenges of having a scene that’s a little bit more emotional and you have to show a bit of vulnerability and things like that. And again, it’s just a wonderful challenge. And that’s the great thing about these wonderful writers that we have, and Ben Vanstone, our lead writer, he gives you these opportunities and you just want to grab it with both hands and really, you know, really find the truth of it. And hopefully you say, people will maybe watch it and glean something from it and maybe recognize it. And yes, if that happens, then and then that’s wonderful.
Jace Yeah, I mean, reduced me to tears, Nicholas. It was just such a beautiful, emotional scene. There’s no doubt. I love the little details in this scene. I love that Helen is sitting on the stairs just by James as he talks to his parents. This episode seems to have a huge leveling up for these two. We talked about this a little bit, but she is sort of prematurely thrust into the role of Mrs. Herriot, but she also runs with it. As we said, she sort of bridges the gap between the farmers and the vets and finds her place, perhaps for what will become their married life. How would you describe where James and Helen are sort of emotionally at this point as series two comes to an end?
Nicholas Yeah, I think I think through it we’ve had this is a very, very slow, tentative kind of stepping in towards one another and reacquainting under these new circumstances and what is a very slow burn, you know, romance, love story to the point that they’re engaged by the end of this of the series. Now, of course, a lot of people, a lot of people were asking me and I noticed on social media, you know, screaming out for a Christmas wedding. Of course, Helen, you know, previous Christmas just had the wedding that never was. And you know, there would be no, no way that she would want to be, you know, getting married the next Christmas. And that wouldn’t be an interest to James, either. So, yes, I think we see them, we see them kind of closer than ever and stronger as a couple and now also, as you say, moving through some of the practicalities of it and things because you’re, you know, full of love and it’s all and that’s wonderful and it’s great. But then there is the practical side of it and where we’re going to live and what our roles are going to be, how are we going to balance out one another as a couple, as a team? So, yeah, I think we see a solidifying of that. And the old addendum, communication is key. So we see a good bit of a good bit of that going on where there could have been a little bit more before. So and I think we see them in a really a really good place by the end of the episode.
Jace James initially declines Mrs. P’s offer of a fireside glass of Sherry, but then thinks the better of it before organizing an entire Christmas lunch at Pumphrey Manor so that Mrs. P isn’t alone on Christmas. What triggers this impromptu solution to his and Helen’s Christmas lunch dilemma?
Nicholas Yeah, I think it all comes from the glass of sherry! He’s about to rush off and then, ‘No I’ve got time for a quick glass of sherry,’ nips in and we’ll see Pumphrey Manor in the state that it that it was, you know, covered in sheets and perhaps a bit cold. And it’s just Mrs. Pumphrey in there, and Tricki, of course. So I think it’s in that time in there that he they maybe comes up with the plan of how best to best go about the Christmas, the Christmas luncheon. And yet turns out for the best.
Jace The Christmas lunch seen at Pumphrey Manor unites all, or I should say nearly all with the absence of Diana Brompton of All Creatures cast. The Farnons, are there Mrs Hall, Mrs P, the Aldersos, even Gerald. Considering the COVID protocols of this season of production, what was it like to get to film these scenes together as a united cast?
Nicholas Oh, just fantastic, absolutely brilliant, and of course, we filmed the Christmas episode in June. I think also it was, you know, it was sweltering and I was lugging that Christmas tree in a three-piece suit with a hat on. I was suffering from heat stroke, but it was a lot of fun. And by that point, the restrictions had, you know, they were lessening throughout shooting. So I think by that point, I can’t remember where we were, exactly, but they were definitely less than they were when we started. So yeah, it was an absolute joy. I mean, even on the first week of rehearsals back in February, when we were all you know, we were all in masks. Windows were open in this very cold church that we were doing rehearsals in. And but it was crazy because I’d just been in a flat with one other person, my flatmate, for months. And then all of a sudden I was in this rehearsal room with 15 other people sometimes. You know, and all these people that you know, we got on so well and I loved from the previous season, it was just so good and it took it took a minute to, you know, to you can, you know, like take a minute to get used to that again and then you go on set and you know, the crew that you worked with before that it all be have masks on and then they come up and say, ‘Oh, hi, Nick, you didn’t get to see you again,’ And you’d be like, ‘Oh, hey…mate,’ they need took his mask, off ‘It’s me, Steve!’ ‘Oh God!’ So there was all that sort of stuff. But yeah, certainly to everybody you. It’s like when you when I read that, as well as another one when you read in the script, the Mrs. Pumphrey scene, and you have all these characters that you say as an actor, again, that’s just something that you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s going to be so much fun to do.’ And then. And it was that it was that and again, like the cricket scene that we were talking about, you know, you you see the cast list and you have all these farmers from season one and we’ve got Matthew Lewis back in and and everybody, you know, again, everybody that you mentioned there before as well, it’s it’s so much fun. You just have such a great time and we’re very fortunate in that as well that we do get along.
Jace Patricia Hodge took over playing the delightfully centric Mrs P in Series two following the death of Dame Diana Rigg. How is it adjusting to Patricia’s take on the character of Mrs Pumphrey? Did the dynamic between James and Mrs Pumphrey shift at all, with Patricia stepping into the role?
Nicholas I think the change that it would be would be natural and that James is now in a different place and knows Mrs Pumphrey much better. So. So yeah, they have a slightly more, Mrs Pumphrey comes more and more like a part of the family, she’s almost like the grandmother, now. Yeah, it’s just lovely. And Patricia was just fantastic from day one. She came in and really put a stamp on Mrs Pumphrey, you know, doing it completely her own way. So I thought it was fantastic, and really funny. One of the first scenes I had with Patricia was with her and Tricki, and she’s almost using Derek, who plays Tricki-Woo, almost using Derek like a ventriloquist dummy, it was so funny. You know, I was struggling to keep it together. It was brilliant. Yeah, she’s just fantastic. And then even just off set, you know, having being able to sit down and chat with her, it was a real joy as well.
Jace We see how the Dales have changed James Herriot. But how do you feel James has changed the Dales? Is there a sense that his presence here in these people’s lives, his innate kindness and care have changed things for the better?
Nicholas You know, I’d love to hope that and think that, certainly. I think you’re right in as far as we meet a lot of these kind of hardened, maybe embittered or slightly pessimistic, shall we say, Yorkshire farmers and James even manages to soften some of them with his, you know, care and attention for the animals and and always doing what’s right. And we see that in season one as well with regards to people cheating at the fair in the fair episode, episode five. You know, he even wins the respect of some of Mr Dinsdale. So, you know, ‘Cheaters never prosper. Well done, lad,’ and he’s giving him a really hard time up until that point throughout the series. So yeah, I think I think exactly that. I think he’s managing to soften some of these hardened Yorkshire farmers through his personality, through his kindness and compassion, and also through his work, for his care for the animals and bringing in some of these new kind of ideas and more forward thinking ways of practicing and of practicing them.
Jace As we look over the horizon to series three, where do you feel James’s story might be heading?
Nicholas Yes. So we will see, there may be marriage and certainly more of the same, more kind of bedding in, grounding in and growing those roots, kind of expanding out even further in the Dales and this kind of family that he has, and the building as well of his life there. I think a continuation of that. And we’ll see. I’m really excited to also find out.
Jace As All Creatures was picked up for a third series and a fourth at the same time. Does that give you sort of the opportunity to sort of exhale, to know that this is sort of a two-series plan that you can kind of see this telescoping out as an actor in a way that allows you to play it without thinking, ‘Will it go on after this next year?’
Nicholas Oh yeah, it’s I mean, it’s absolutely fantastic. I’m absolutely buzzing. You know, I’m so, so thrilled that we’ve been commissioned for another two. And as you say, as an actor, it’s a fantastic place to be, that we’ll be with this character, that I’ll be with this character, certainly moving forward for a little while longer. So yeah, it’s a brilliant place to be in and I’m just looking forward. And like I said before, it’s more of these wonderful challenges. You know, the wonderful operations and procedures that we’ll have to do. I’m sure the complexity of those will grow and change and some more wonderful scenes that are maybe slightly poignant and funny. And that’s one of the great things about the show as well, you get to you get to do scenes that are funny sometimes and you get these scenes and a little bit heartfelt and emotional and you get to do scenes are really challenging and the deals and it’s freezing and you’ve got you’re lying Superman at the back of a horse, you know, so you just, every day is very different. And this is why I also love the show and and and I love playing the character of James.
Jace So laughter, tears and animatronic cows.
Nicholas Yeah, exactly. Bring them on.
Jace I cannot wait for more. Nicholas Ralph, thank you so very much.
Nicholas Thanks, Jace. Cheers.
Jace From one beloved returning series to another — the long-awaited second season of Sanditon is just over the horizon.
Allison It was so kind of the Parkers to lend us their carriage. When I am married, I shall have one just like this. And four footmen!
Charlotte Only the four?
Allison I cannot decide who I am most excited to meet. They were all so vivid in your letters! I know Miss Lambe and I are destined to be the greatest of friends. Look! Charlotte! The sea! Are you not excited to be returning?
Jace Head writer and executive producer Justin Young catches us all up with Charlotte, Georgiana, and all their friends here on the podcast March 20. While you wait for the premiere, be sure to check out our special Making Sanditon preview podcasts at pbs.org/masterpiecestudio.
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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