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TV Quickfire: Actor Nicholas Ralph on new series of All Creatures Great And Small

A new adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small, the much-loved memoir of vet Alf Wight, writing under the pen name James Herriot, is coming to Channel 5. We quizzed Scottish star Nicholas Ralph (30) about it

Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot, a vet in rural Yorkshire in the 1930s, in All Creatures Great and Small

HOW DID YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE CHARACTER OF JAMES HERRIOT?

Even physically we were quite similar. He talks about having a wiry strength from the long walks around the Yorkshire Dales… And I was very sporty as well, just like Alf was.

He's got a lot of passion and commitment to his field and that was like me. Once I found acting, I was completely enveloped in it – and haven't looked back. He has little intricacies; sometimes he can be a little socially awkward… Little quirks that I could identify with. I had fun with them as well.

HOW DAUNTING WAS YOUR FIRST DAY OF FILMING?

I thought I'd be more nervous or apprehensive; I really wasn't, and it was a fortunate revelation. My first day was with [fellow actor] Samuel West – obviously a veteran of the industry. I was so excited to work with him and then, on top of that, he was just so lovely. Any questions I had, he was there for me. He just put me at ease straight away and, it's maybe a bit corny, but I genuinely did feel at home on that first day.

HOW DO YOU THINK FANS OF THE ORIGINAL TV ADAPTATION, WHICH RAN FROM 1978-1990 WILL REACT?

The original is obviously loved the world over – and in a lot of people's eyes, it's perfect. But I've never thought of it as a competition in any way, because it's a completely new adaptation. The storyline will not be the exact same.

That series was the late 70s, 80s, and the technology in film-making has come on leaps and bounds. You're going to see the Dales in stunning HD, with drone shots and crane shots. I think the Dales are really realised in this; it is like another character.

WHO WAS YOUR FAVOURITE ANIMAL TO FILM WITH?

They've got these Jersey cows who were just lovely. When you're working with these bigger animals, a whole new focus comes into it. There's an atmosphere on set; you have to be really calm. So it was nice to do those scenes.

But also the little dog who plays Tricky Woo, which people will remember well from the series and the books, is a little Pomeranian… tail waggles in the air as he walks along, you can't see his legs and it's kind of like he glides. But the dog actor is actually called Derek.

He was a consummate professional and his character journey over the series is very strong. He's going to be a star.

WERE YOU BROUGHT UP AROUND ANIMALS?

I was raised in the north of Scotland, in a little town. It was my back garden, then a fence and then a field; the field always had cows and sheep in it.

When we were really small, there was one cow who we named Friendly because the farmer would lift us onto her back and let us ride on this cow for the length of the garden and take us off again.

THIS SERIES SHOWS THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY. IT FEELS VERY TIMELY…

It's certainly that thing about helping your neighbour, and community, and coming together… [after schools shut because of Covid-19] I remember a teacher going out with his backpack on full of school meals and he was doing kilometres a day to get meals to the kids. Brilliant stuff.

I think it [All Creatures Great and Small] is simpler times and something many people yearn for, especially now, when times are a bit more complex. It will be a lovely bit of escapism.

:: All Creatures Great and Small starts on Channel 5 tomorrow.

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