All Memories Great and Small by Oliver Crocker – Review
by Karl Hornsey
Almost 40 years since All Creatures Great and Small first hit the TV screens, Oliver Crocker has finally filled a void in the literary world with his new release, All Memories Great and Small, an episode-by-episode guide to one of Britain’s best-loved programmes.
Crocker, whose past works include promotional films for other classic shows such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars, has timed his release to mark the 100th birthday celebrations for Alf Wight, the real James Herriot, whose transformation from humble North Yorkshire vet to world-renowned author first brought ‘All Creatures’ to an audience of millions.
The use of ‘All Memories’ in the title is a well-chosen one as, remarkably, the book features exclusive interviews with 60 of the cast and crew, most importantly including wide-ranging ones with surviving stars Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Peter Davison and Carol Drinkwater. Painstaking hours of research, clearly well spent.
From his time spent with the cast, Crocker has nothing but praise for those most associated with the show: “Peter (Davison) is a lovely man and has been very supportive, and Chris Timothy is a perfectionist who cares a great deal about what he does. His career needs a reassessment by casting directors as he’s very underrated, and as for Carol (Drinkwater), she is an addictive lady and simply delightful company”.
“Genuine affection those involved have for the show”
The book is pitched perfectly to appeal to a whole spectrum of readers, from the die-hard fans looking for snippets of information that have only come to light here, especially from those working behind the scenes on the more technical aspects of the series, to those who might have only just found the programme this year as it is shown once again on UKTV channel Drama.
The later chapters predominantly feature interviews with the likes of the writers, directors, make-up artists and location managers and, given that it is 26-years since the last of the 90 episodes went to air, it is remarkable how many people still have crystal clear memories of what went into the production.
The inspiration for the book came only a couple of years ago, as Crocker himself says: “My wife and I stayed twice in Skeldale House in Askrigg (the location for the vets’ practice in All Creatures) and fell in love with the area – it was on the second trip that we visited the World of James Herriot museum in Thirsk and I had the ‘lightbulb’ moment back at Skeldale, then chatted it over in the King’s Arms (The pub used as The Drovers in the series). The area deserves to be enjoyed by new people”.
Accompanied by a selection of beautiful photographs from the archives, what seeps through in every page is the genuine affection that all of those involved have for the show. This is helped admirably by Crocker’s own adoration for a programme that brought millions of tourists to the Yorkshire Dales and the beautiful village of Askrigg.
“The first book to really get under the skin of the show”
Despite that affection, this is by no means a rose-tinted affair, with all of the leading lights giving their honest opinions of those, albeit rare, moments when things could have been done better, especially heading into the series’ latter years as the stories from the books dried up and viewing figures gradually fell.
Even as a huge fan myself there is a large amount of knowledge to be gained from reading this accompaniment to the show, especially as I was a little too young to be aware of its impact of the time. As a regular visitor to the Dales, including several stays at the wonderful B&B now located in Skeldale House, I am well aware of the importance of the programmes to Dales folk, and the combination of this, the first book to really get under the skin of ‘All Creatures’, along with the recent centenary celebrations, the continuing success of museum in Thirsk and the prospect of an American remake in the future, will ensure All Creatures Great and Small maintains its rightful place in the pantheon of great British TV.
‘All Memories Great and Small’ is published by MIWK, £14.99