The All Creatures Great and Small cast sadly had to say goodbye to the remarkable Dame Diana Rigg after the first season of the series. Luckily for them — and for all of us — the phenomenal Patricia Hodge slips into the elegant role of Mrs. Pumphrey with a practiced ease. Hodge explores Darrowby, theatre and Derek in a new interview.
As The New Mrs. Pumphrey, Patricia Hodge Feels Just As Familiar
Related to: All Creatures Great and Small, Season 2
Download and subscribe on: iTunes | Stitcher| RadioPublic
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
Recasting any role on a beloved returning series is difficult, especially when the role was originally played by an actor as iconic as Dame Diana Rigg.
Mrs. Pumphrey It’s a pleasure to meet you. It’s true what I’ve been hearing. You are a handsome devil.
James And you must be Tricki-Woo.
Mrs. Pumphrey That’s no way to greet Mister Herriot. Paw? Honestly. You’d think he’d been dragged up.
Jace Dame Diana passed away just as All Creatures Great and Small came to British screens in late 2020, but her frothy take on the quirky Mrs. Pumphrey was a highlight of the first season of the show.
Mrs. Pumphrey He’s going to die.
James He’s not going to die.
Mrs. Pumphrey But he’s been so listless, Mr Herriot. I thought he must be suffering from malnutrition, so I, I’ve been giving him a little extra between meals, just to build him up.
James Dare I ask?
Mrs. Pumphrey A little calf’s foot jelly, err, err cod liver oil. Beef Wellington. And erm, a bowl of Horlicks at night, to, to help him sleep.
Jace Fans can be assured that the new Mrs. Pumphrey, the distinctive Patricia Hodge, is just as remarkable, while remaining uniquely separate from the earlier performance.
Mrs. Pumphrey Oh look, Tricki, your favourite. He does love a home-made biscuit.
Mrs. Hall They’re actually for you, Mrs Pumphrey.
Mrs. Pumphrey Oh, I only eat a Fortnum myself but Tricki’s a little less fussy.
Jace I can’t pretend to be anything but a super fan of the generous, gifted Hodge, and she kindly joined us on the podcast to talk Pumphrey, working with a pampered Pekingese, and the special frisson of a live stage audience.
Jace And this week we are joined by All Creatures Great and Small star, Patricia Hodge. Welcome.
Patricia Hello. Hello. Good afternoon from here.
Jace You were awarded an OBE in 2017. How comfortably do you think of yourself as Dame Patricia?
Patricia Hahaha, I don’t. I don’t. I don’t think of it. I’ve got the odd person who sends me, who sends me mail, who will write Dame at the front, and that’s their joke, really. No, no. That’s very sweet of you. But I was so stunned. I put the letter in the drawer and I didn’t tell anybody, not even my sons, actually. So I have no expectation of anything higher.
Jace Recasting is never an easy process, but you make it look effortless here. Stepping into the role of Mrs Pumphrey after the untimely death of Dame Diana Rigg and imbuing the role with your unique energy. Was there any hesitation on your part about taking this role?
Patricia Well, I think there always is when you’re stepping into someone else’s shoes, but I think if you got really worried about that, you would never play Hamlet, would you, or Rosalind or Hedda Gabbler or anything? I mean, there are very long shadows that are cast by previous incumbents. And I suppose in this instance, it was just because it was so recent. I had a talk with the producer and I said, ‘What are you looking for? Do you want a replication of the way Diana did it?’ And he said, ‘No, no, no, no, no. We just want you to come in as the Mrs. Pumphrey that you see in your mind.’ And that reassured me, really, because I wouldn’t have wanted to try and, you know, to be her, to be Diana, who I knew a little and respected enormously. And fortunately, I’d only seen a couple of the episodes of season one that she did, and didn’t take it in too much. So I could almost wipe the slate clean in my head and just be led by what I saw on the page in the scripts. I did go back to the books to see if there were any descriptions that Herriot gave of her, and he doesn’t, actually, he doesn’t define her physically or in terms of character. He just lets the character speak for itself through her behavior. And that’s what I was led to, and I just felt innately that she’s one of those classic English eccentrics.
Jace You say you knew Dame Diana a little bit. You never worked with her, but I believe you did cross paths, including once when she came backstage after a play you were starring in. What do you recall of that experience?
Patricia I was so surprised to see her because we, I had actually given her an award. I presented her with an award at some ceremony or other. But you see somebody so fleetingly then, and I think I think we’d had the odd chat at events, but nothing more than that. So I was very surprised to see her standing there at my dressing room door, and she was so sweet and generous. And it really meant a lot. It really meant a lot. And it’s so nice to have that abiding memory of her generosity.
Jace Take me back a little bit to your first day on set as Mrs. Pumphrey. What was the atmosphere like with the rest of the cast, including with Sam West, who you’ve known for for many years?
Patricia Yes, well, that was the easy part, because Sam and I go back a long way. I have to say that they were halfway through season two. They were working very hard. For them, it was just another day at the office, as it were. And I thought, really, the best thing is, just to do it. Don’t let’s cloud this with any sense of apprehension. And I jumped in with both feet, and the wonderful thing was that they did the same. It was almost as if I’d always been there, and that was down to them. I have to say, they did not bat an eyelid about the fact they were playing with a different actor in the same character, and they just adapted accordingly.
Mrs. Pumphrey Oh Tricki! Mummy’s here! Oh, my darling, dearest boy! How have you been?
Mrs. Hall Mrs. Pumphrey, do come in.
Mrs. Pumphrey Thank you… Forgive my early arrival, our separation became far too unbearable.
Siegfried Quite all right.
Mrs. Hall I’ll fetch some tea.
Jace You are no stranger to All Creatures — I find this fascinating: I believe you worked with every member of the original All Creatures cast over the years, including Margareta Scott, who played Mrs Pumphrey in the original. Is that true?
Patricia I did. Yeah, absolutely, I did. Margareta Scott not only did I play with, but actually she was on the board of my drama school, so I remember her coming to, being a sort of very imperious, wonderful, shining example of the greatness of the British theatrical tradition, occasionally coming to the drama school when there were board meetings and then her son and her daughter I know well, and so certainly Margareta Scott, and we did a radio version of a Terrance Rattigan play together. Christopher Timothy and I were in The Big Season at Chichester Festival Theater together. Peter Davison, who became famous for playing Tristan in the 1970s series as a result of that, was cast with me in a comedy series, and wWe did three seasons of that in the late 1970s. Well, Carol Drinkwater, I knew because she introduced me to Sam Spiegel, the film producer who put me into his film of Betrayal. Lynda Bellingham, I knew from over many years, and then we worked together on the stage version of Calendar Girls. So Robert Hardy, I worked with several times in television. So yes.
Jace Between this role, and Penny, and Phyllida Erskine Brown to name but a few of your posh roles, why do you think you’re continually cast as a posho?
Patricia Well, it’s quite funny, isn’t it, that, because it may be just something that I slide into and people believe suits me and I like I like playing the eccentric end of poshos, if one wants to use the umbrella term, because there’s a very particular way of behaving among all these people, that is innately sort of funny. And I enjoy that. It’s not really what I came from. I mean, I was brought up in Lincolnshire in a very layered society, really from a very ordinary family. But my parents were hoteliers, so I suppose the advantage I had was that I saw all of human life within the hotel. There were, it was right by the Grimsby Docks, which at the time was the busiest fishing port in the world. And so we would have all the dockers in their clogs coming straight from the docks and into one of the bars, which was a, you know, people used to get beaten up in it. And then there was another level of the bar where people would come and play dominoes and cards and drink port and lemon. And then there was the top level bar, which was the cocktail bar where all the poshos went. So I saw, I saw all of human life.
Jace Literally stratified. I mean, that’s amazing.
Patricia Yeah, as things were then. Yeah.
Jace We touched on the character of Mrs Pumphrey a bit, but she is eccentric. She is wealthy. She is utterly obsessed with her dog, who exists at the very center of her universe. I’m curious how you view her character and what you feel ultimately makes her tick.
Patricia You know, I don’t sit and write an elaborate back story, but innately I felt that this is Pumphrey and she’s not Lady Pumphrey, she’s not the Duchess of Pumphrey. She is just Mrs Pumphrey, but she lives in in a very, very distinguished house, a very important house. And she has a very lavish lifestyle, but she’s on her own. So I rather projected that she was the wife of maybe a wealthy industrialist, self-made but done very well in life, and they had lived accordingly. There is certainly some evidence that she was part of the script that we lost a bit because we decided not to go into it at this point. But there’s some reference actually in the Christmas episode when she says she has no children to lavish gifts on. That there was a loss, L-O-double-S, of children along the way and could well have been in the War. And she makes it, so, in other words, she knows she has a very fortunate lifestyle, but she never loses the fact that she is fortunate and she very much loves being part of the community and being a pillar of the community, of which the veterinary surgery is a very vital part to her. But she is full of largesse and full of wanting to extend her good fortune to others. And I think that beyond that, it’s not worth complicating because I don’t think she complicates her life. I think she makes the best of it and finds a lot of joy in this, you know, simple attachment to this beloved dog. And that is the way she lives and she gives back.
Jace When I interviewed Ben Vanstone earlier for this podcast, he offered up a rather genius take on the characters that he attributed to you — that Mrs. Hall and Siegfried are the parents, James and Tristan are the sons and Mrs Pumphrey is the grandmother. Do you see her as the mater familias of the sprawling brood in a metaphorical way?
Patricia Certainly, Ben hadn’t defined that to me, but I can understand why. I think that’s a lovely way of expressing the family tree, if you like. I’d be thrilled to think I’d be the grandmother. I didn’t put myself in quite that exalted a position. I thought I was maybe a distant aunt, but I’d much rather be more fundamental than that.
Jace You’ve got a diva in a co-star in Derek, who plays Mrs Pumphrey’s spoiled Pekinese, Tricky Woo. What is Derek like as a scene partner? How demanding is he?
Patricia Well, that’s the point that he’s the most undemanding dog I’ve ever come across in my life. And I love dogs. I don’t have one because I’m not allowed to have animals where I live, but I have worked quite a lot with dogs on screen. And it can be very difficult if they’re not properly trained, because they suffer from attachment problems and they will never, ever give, they will never nestle into you or allow themselves to appear to belong to you. But Tricki has none of those neuroses. He really is extraordinary. He has the most placid nature I’ve ever come across, and therefore he’s a complete delight because he just does. He just behaves as if he belongs to me. He would do that to anybody, I’m not saying he makes an exception for me at all. But it does give it a wonderful authenticity.
Jace Your Mrs Pumphrey makes her first appearance in episode three, where Tricki Woo is left with Uncle Herriot and gets pecked by a chicken.
Siegfried Truth be told, there was a slight incident. I took temporary charge of Tricki Woo while James…while Uncle Herriot was on a call, turned my back for a second and err, Tricki did receive a tiny peck from one of our hens. I take full responsibility. I’m terribly sorry…
Mr.s Pumphrey Oh, Tricki always goes completely cracker-dog when there’s a chicken in sight. ‘Tricki Woo Lally’ I call it! I couldn’t tell you what he has against them, but that will be the fifth peck he’s had this year.
Siegfried Oh, right.
Mrs. Pumphrey Perhaps it’s because he is an only dog. I do think that an only develops more prejudices than one from a large family. Wouldn’t you agree?
Jace How important is it that a character like Mrs Humphrey can continue to surprise us?
Patricia Oh, I think all characters should surprise you. They should never be so predictable that you know what’s coming. And with her, I think Ben Vanstone and the other writers did a wonderful job because even within that first series that I did, even within those three episodes, there’s a lot of surprises which are shown. I think her passion for cricket, I think, is interesting. Her ability to shake off what one would have imagined would be neurosis where the dog was concerned and latterly the fact that she opened herself up to her loneliness. So let’s hope it’s more.
Jace You mentioned cricket. Episode five features a cricket match. Ben Vanstone told me that you were rather surprisingly, a very keen cricket enthusiast. Is it true that you’re often at Lord’s?
Patricia Well, not as often as I’d like, but it’s perfectly true that I am there whenever, ever I get an opportunity. I was introduced when I was growing up. I thought it was the most boring game in the world, and then I was introduced to it when my older son started to play it at the age of eight and came home eulogizing about it. And because he was learning it from the ground up, I learned it with him. And then it becomes, you know, becomes a whole different experience. And I really, really think it’s one of the greatest games ever invented. And again, it’s full of surprises. You can never rest your case with it. You never know which way it’s going to go. So yes, Ben and I, he was on the phone to me, sort of picking my brains a bit to see where he could take the scripts and things, and this came out of the conversation. And so he very sweetly wrote it up in terms of Mrs Pumphrey.
Jace Mrs. P, as we say, with the cricket episode is back in fine form, that’s episode five. And then she appears in the final episode of the series, which aired in the UK as the Christmas special. What can you tease about these next few episodes for Mrs. Pumphrey?
Patricia I think that there is a degree of denial in Mrs. Pumphrey about the natural instincts of a dog because he so often is treated like a child like Little Lord Fauntleroy, sitting on a velvet cushion or constantly in her arms, and she feeds him food that she would, very few, very fortunate humans consume, let alone a dog. So suddenly, when Tricki demonstrates matters of a slightly different nature, I think it rather takes her back because it’s something she can’t control, and she doesn’t quite know what to do about it. She has to be tutored into that by the vets, which I think they do very well. I would say yes, and then, well, the first episode that I appear in is that, yes, the chicken peck, that sort of thing doesn’t bother her because she laughs about Tricki’s little idiosyncrasies, but they’re all within what she feels she what she can cope with. The Christmas episode I think shows something a bit different. I think it goes much into deeper territory in terms of her relationship with Tricki.
Jace Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors…
Jace You starred in four series of Miranda as the titular character’s mum, Penny. How often do people come up to you in the street to shout, ‘Such fun!’?
Patricia Quite a lot. Of course, less these appearances on television have. They have an immediate life, but it drops off fairly quickly. So if it’s been on television the night before, then you’ll be at a supermarket. Somebody’ll come up and say, ‘Oh, please say, say it, just say it,’ which is always difficult because saying it out of context is not quite the same. But I hope I don’t…I don’t disappoint them. But we know it was really quite extraordinary, that series, because I think Miranda thought it would be watched by 16 of her best friends and their dog, you know? And it took off like a rocket.
Jace I mean, it has become a beloved touchstone in the British comedy world, and across the pond as well. Recently, an American version began airing here in the U.S. I mean, from what you’re sayings, are you surprised at the show’s enduring popularity and love that viewers have for that show?
Patricia I’m not so surprised, so much as reassured, because I think it touched on something that, of course, all comedy goes through through fashions and waves of different styles and so on. I mean, it develops, doesn’t it, all the time? But what Miranda wanted to do was to do a nod to her heritage, her comedy heritage, which you know, she’s very, very distinctly said, belonged a lot with Morecambe and Wise, and so on. And that old fashioned physical comedy, as well as just plain daftness, you know. It was thrilling to see how much it was still there in people’s psyches and how much people enjoyed it. And therefore, I think the only thing that I would say my generation finds is the endurance because we are now in, we have now the technology to keep showing these things, to stream things to, to keep them alive for much longer. You don’t have to go back to a dusty old archive and blow them off and somehow remaster them. You know that they’re there for everyone.
Jace You originally trained, I believe, as a teacher. What do you think your life would be like today if you hadn’t attended LAMDA?
Patricia Yeah, that’s interesting, isn’t it? You know what, I have never really projected into that alternative, into the road not taken. I did a three-year training and then I taught for a year and I enjoyed it hugely. I was with some lovely people and I loved working with children, but this was what I wanted to do more. And really, my focus from the moment I went to drama school was entirely on that, and I don’t think I haven’t looked backwards. Having said that, I don’t think you ever lose being a teacher. It’s stays within you. And so there have been times when I’ve been asked to give, you know, a master class or a talk to young people or give a prize and give a little speech when I give the prize or something, and people have often said to me, ‘Gosh, you’re a teacher, you’re a teacher,’ and I haven’t recognized it in myself as much as it’s probably stayed there with me. But look, I was lucky because I went, you know, I went on the road I wanted to go on.
Jace You mentioned your parents were hoteliers in Grimsby. You described growing up in Lincolnshire as a sort of cultural desert. How did you make the leap to actor, given that no one around you had a clue about how to manage it?
Patricia Well, I think again, we go back to the hotel that we did have, anybody that came to the town, who was a visiting dignitary, if you like who was going to, somebody famous, you know about Coronation Street, the ongoing, the longest running soap that we have, you know, I saw the very first episode, for example. You know, Violet Carson, who played a character called Ina Sharples, who was a really stunning, stunning performance. And she came and stayed at the hotel. We had lots of high profile people who would stay when they were going to make an appearance in Grimsby or open a supermarket or do some kind of civic duty. And so I saw this other world, this shining technicolor world called Show Business, and it absolutely just drew me. It just, it was it was, you know, like going to the Emerald City, really? And I think, well, Lincolnshire does not have any professional theater company and hasn’t done for, what, for 60 years or something. But there are very good amateurs. So I did see performances on the stage, but it was always by amateur theater companies, until I was 10 and I was taken to London and I saw a professional show, and there was no going back from that because, you know, somebody had opened a door, as I say to this other world. So I was self-driven, I think. And I then created, at school, we had one school play a year, I think. And in order to make myself noticed, so they’d asked me to go and audition for it, myself and a couple of girls created a revue and invited some of the staff and some of the other pupils to this revue that we wrote and performed. And indeed, it did the desired thing because then I got asked to audition for the school play. And so it was built, it was built up in little, little building blocks, if you like.
Jace So you end up going to LAMDA. About a year and a half after leaving LAMDA, you are now working with the legendary Bob Fosse on Pippin.
Jace What was Fosse like?
Patricia Well, he was. Oh, gosh, what an amazing. Unfortunately, we didn’t get as much of Fosse as we should have had because he was directing the film of Lenny with Dustin Hoffman. He was supposed to have finished that and come over and direct us for five weeks or whatever it was to put Pippin on in London. In fact, inevitably filming of Lenny overran. So Stewart Oster, who was the producer of Pippin, came over with the dance captains, and they rehearsed us for the first three weeks. And then Fosse joined us for the last week, week and a half. But it was, you know, it’s something one will never forget for the rest of your life. He was lovely. He was so, he was so easy to get on with and very, very demanding. But he only had a week and a half to sharpen the show up, so one understands that and of course, there was no there wasn’t any creating in the moment because that had all been done. We were the blueprint we had to fit into the shoes of the New York production. So there was an iron discipline, which is the way they like. They like to do musicals that you absolutely tread in those footprints. ;That’s what we’ve worked on. That’s what we made a success with. Now you do the same.’
Jace I am curious which you find more challenging performing on stage or performing in a studio in front of a live audience, which is the more high wire act?
Patricia Now it’s interesting you bring that up because I very particularly have said throughout my career that I think performing in a studio in front of a live audience recording, should I say in front of a live audience is probably the most difficult thing an actor will ever be asked to do. Theater is extremely demanding, but it is just you and the live audience and you are the master of whatever is coming across to the audience. But when you have cameras on you, there’s a recording of something which is going to go on a screen in people’s homes. That is the most important God that you have to bow to. That’s the one where your performance is going to be seen. But what you’re doing is getting the benefit of the joy of a live audience and what they’re there for, which is essentially to give you a response to the comedy. And you have to allow for it, but you have to keep the reality in front of the camera. And it’s a very difficult juggling act. It’s very rewarding, but it is, I think it’s very difficult. And for years, people would, it was it was terrible, snobbish attitude to doing situation comedy because people thought it was on the lower end of the dramatic remits. And actually, I, you know, I would exalt it to the top because if you can do comedy, you can do almost anything. And if you can do comedy with, as I say, with a live audience that you want to respond to, but you, you have to keep the reality to the camera, then I don’t think it gets much, much better than that.
Jace You’re currently starring in a touring production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives opposite All Creatures, series one, guest starring Nigel Havers, a production that was delayed by a year because of the COVID pandemic. What has the experience of finally getting back on on stage been like?
Patricia I really, really have to say — and we’re about to, we’ve had a break over Christmas, more about to restart next week — I agreed to do this particular production of Private Lives because it was going to the provinces. It’s a play that’s very rarely seen in the provinces. It’s seen much more often in the West End, and it’s one of the great comedies of the 20th century. And I love provincial audiences. I love the challenge of a different space that you play to every week, a different kind of audience and actually the immense joy that it brings to people when you reach out to them. But what I hadn’t been ready for, and I certainly wouldn’t have anticipated, we couldn’t, I couldn’t possibly have anticipated this when I agreed to do it. But in that year, in fact, it turned out to be about 14 months’ delay before we started, of course, everything had changed seismically. And what we therefore got was this whole extra layer. It wasn’t just that we were going out to the provinces, it’s that we were standing on the stage, at all. That we were at, we were somehow, and I really was I mean, honestly, this was not anticipated, but we became an example — ‘Okay, guys, we’re up here. We’ve got into the theater. We’re allowing ourselves to feel safe.’ So they followed suit and they came in vast numbers and they came with their masks on. And there were coachloads that came and people with zimmer frames and, you know, all manner of effort that people went to, to come to see us. Not the least because they said, ‘We haven’t been in a theater for nearly two years,’ and they wanted to come to a play that would take them out of themselves. And so the joy was double. It was twofold.
Jace I mean, I was going to say it must be symbolic of this joy of returning to the theater for so many people who haven’t been for so long that not just as an actor, but as a theatergoer, you are stepping over this threshold once again into something that hasn’t been possible for a very, very long time. Did it feel monumental, that first performance?
Patricia Well, I didn’t, we didn’t allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the thought, but I think sometimes you know you, you, you make things as simple as possible. And the simplicity when we first started was, ‘Let’s just get through this show,’ because we’d been, I’d caught COVID while we were in rehearsals. So we lost an entire week of rehearsals when I wasn’t allowed to go in. And then we had a big catch-up to do and we would just just about on top of it by the time we did the first performance. So I think what was going on out in the auditorium was probably more than we were thinking ourselves. It was just, ‘Let’s get on and just let’s get through this first first performance and see how it goes.’ And then, of course, we were overwhelmed by the reaction.
Jace And finally, what’s next for you once Private Lives wraps up its run?
Patricia It’s series three of All Creatures Great and Small.
Jace I can’t wait for that. Patricia Hodge, thank you so very much. This has been, and I’ll say it, — such fun.
Patricia Oh, thank you. It’s been such fun for me, too, thank you for a lovely chat.
Jace Thank you, Patricia.
Jace The Brothers Farnon have an uneasy relationship at this point in their lives — and their challenges aren’t helped by the not so-white lies they tell each other.
Siegfried What is wrong with you? For God’s sake after that fiasco with the chickens, I thought you’d finally come to your senses.
Tristan And I have – absolutely –
Siegfried I thought you’d finally started to take responsibility for your actions –
Tristan Complete responsibility, totally, but fair’s fair, old chap, you’re hardly averse to putting on a show yourself.
Siegfried I would never resort to play-acting and tomfoolery –
Tristan Oh come off it. You and your purple powder, blinding the great unwashed with the magic of science –
Siegfried That is entirely different –
Tristan I don’t see how –
Siegfried Because I know what I’m doing –
Tristan Yes well, so do I –
Siegfried I seriously doubt that.
Tristan Well, I’ve the qualification to prove it.
Siegfried Or so you think.
Jace Samuel West and Callum Woodhouse return to the podcast, to tell the truth together, on January 30.
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.
Sign up to get the latest news on your favorite dramas and mysteries, as well as exclusive content, video, sweepstakes and more.