All Creatures Great and Small's Darrowby Show is a big deal in the community, with everyone out to enjoy themselves and show off their pets and livestock. Bizarrely, it’s held within the town of Darrowby itself, rather than in a field as agricultural shows usually are. (Think about it. A lot of excited animals and serious beer tent patrons require drainage). But for the dramatic purposes of the episode, it keeps everything nicely central.
James, bless him, has volunteered to be the veterinarian on duty at the show. As well as attending to any medical matters, he will also be a judge and is as yet innocent of the indignities heaped upon his predecessors in previous years. He strides out, measuring stick in hand, which becomes something of a lethal weapon as the day progresses. He meets the officious micromanaging Mr. Foyle (Steven Blakely) who is in charge of the day’s events and intends to run a tight schedule.
Siegfried, ever aware of the practice’s reputation, has arranged for tours of the surgery, to the disappointment of Mrs. Hall and Tristan who want to have fun with the rest of the town. Once James is safely out of the way, they place two-shilling bets on how long he will last: Siegfried (lunchtime), Tristan (3:30 pm), and Mrs. Hall, who doesn’t believe in gambling but does believe in James’s steadfastness, puts in her two shillings for 6:00 pm. She’s very annoyed when Tristan makes an escape, suspecting quite rightly that he’ll try to undermine James.
James meets Helen and her younger sister Jenny who’s upset that her ferret is injured. The ferret promptly bites James, and they retire to the surgery, where he patches up the ferret and Tristan patches up James. The Aldersons are planning to show their prize bull Clive, and, if he wins first prize in his class, they hope to catch the attention of an important buyer who’s attending. As you probably remember, there’s been some doubt about Clive’s potency, ever since he needed a shot of testosterone to perform last time. Fortunately, Mr. Dobson, the owner of those cows, is at the show and can report on Clive’s success at impregnating the herd.
Tristan, not on his best behavior today, insinuates that James is compromising himself because of his interest in Helen; he, and we viewers, have seen the lingering glances James and Helen exchange over ferrets, bandages, and the backs of large bovines. Hugh is at the show too, and he holds a rather shifty conversation with Mr. Dobson as James and a farmer client, Mr. Rudd, discuss the merits of buying a beautiful short-horn heifer. Just one really good animal, Mr. Rudd says, is what it will take to improve and expand his herd, and James, inspecting the cow, advises him to go ahead.
Tristan invites James to the pub, and James quickly realizes that he is being used as a reason to avoid Maggie the barmaid; isn’t it about time, he asks Tristan, that he’s invited to tea with the parents? Tristan is appalled at the suggestion that she might be expecting him to become serious. He doesn’t consider Maggie to be the sort of girl you marry, and has this to say about James’s aspirations with Helen, which is not only sexist but extraordinarily demeaning:
You do know you’re wasting your time … You can’t compete, old chap. [Hugh]’s got the land, the house, the pots of cash. Helen’s no gold digger, but a girl has to be practical.
James has his first encounter of the day with the miserable Mr. Happy whose dog is not well enough to show. He advises him to take the dog home. He also makes his first attempt to ask Mr. Dobson if his cows are pregnant, and the day deteriorates as his doubts grow about Clive. Mr. Foyle becomes a menace, addressing him through the megaphone, sometimes to James’s face. And it gets worse.
Meanwhile, inside Skeldale House, it’s a little more peaceful. After a slow start, more people come to the surgery tours, including the glamorous Dorothy, wearing a very nice red hat. She’d hoped to take Mrs. Hall out to lunch but instead offers to stay in the house while Mrs. Hall goes outside to enjoy the show.
It becomes fairly clear that Dorothy is tempted by the chance to get to know Siegfried better and their conversation becomes intimate and emotional. But after Dorothy and the visitors leave, an argument between the brothers escalates into a shouting match. Tristan made uncomfortable by the seriousness—or lack of it—of his relationship with Maggie, tells Siegfried he should have asked Dorothy out. It’s time he was back in circulation, and taking her out to dinner would just be a bit of fun, not an intention of anything more. “Must you be so tediously adolescent?” Siegfried snaps back. Mrs. Hall tells Tristan that no man under her roof will mess a girl around.
A group of pet owners gathered in Skeldale House for their judge to arrive, listen enthralled to the brothers’ drama. The judge, James, meanwhile, is having problems with entrants to the Pony Class. Every single pony is too tall. And every single owner has a reason why James should let their pony enter; it passed the test for another show, or, they’ll set their dad on him, they have a certificate, it’s the horseshoes. And it goes on. The slippery Mr. Dobson appears and disappears, and Mr. Happy claims his dog is better (it’s not).
If James thinks judging the pet show will be a welcome bit of peace, he’s mistaken. After being greeted with silent hostility, he decides to ask each child about their pet: some are tongue-tied, but only one is willing to speak, the eloquent young owner of a goldfish. Impressed, James awards him first prize, and the owners and their parents leave, audibly grumbling. Hugh, who'd introduced his god-daughter and her pet to James earlier, is clearly disappointed that he did not take the hint.
Dorothy catches up with Mrs. Hall and we learn that Siegfried was widowed four years ago but has not moved on. Mrs. Hall, it appears, had left an abusive husband to become housekeeper at Skeldale House.
Mrs. Hall meets Jenny, Helen’s younger sister, who on her own initiative has fed the animals at Skeldale House, and gives her sixpence as a reward. They meet up again after Jenny has spent her sixpence at the shooting range, but wasn’t able to make her rifle work. The range owner won’t give her a refund. Seeing her disappointment, Mrs. Hall, who you may remember has had military training, hands over another sixpence, adjusts the rifle, and proceeds to shoot every target, much to the owner’s disgust and Jenny’s joy.
No agricultural show is complete without a display of huge vegetables, but disaster strikes: a pumpkin falls on Mr. Happy’s dachshund which was tied to the table. Mrs. Hall scoops the injured animal up and takes it to the surgery. There, Siegfried, in a gesture of reconciliation, allows Tristan to take the lead in setting the dog’s broken leg. Mr. Happy tells Siegfried that the dog used to belong to his late wife, and Siegfried waives the fee, this scene providing a brief respite from the horror that is the Darrowby Show.
James, concerned about the aging bull, examines Clive briefly and finds a spot on his spine, that when pressed, makes him bellow with pain. The injury means that his stud career is over, and now James cannot possibly recommend that he should be sold. James consults briefly with Tristan who suggests, first, that James should lie (of course); and then, that there’s a possibility Clive may not win his class, and the potential buyer will no longer be interested.
Back at the pub, James meets up with Hugh, the Alderson family, and the buyer. Clive won, but now the truth now comes out: Dobson’s cows are not pregnant, and Hugh paid him to keep quiet about it so that the Aldersons could sell Clive for a top price. Helen is furious at his deception and Tristan and James watch as she and Hugh quarrel outside the pub.
Hugh’s meddling has damaged her father’s reputation and he claims he did it because it’s been so hard watching her worry about money and not be allowed to do anything to help. She is furious:
So you thought you’d go behind my back? Because having money means you can interfere in other people’s lives? Because I’m too stupid to make my own decisions, because you’re a man and you know best?
And then—then—he says he loves her. Too late, but he’s “so hopeless at these things.” She agrees and starts to walk away, only pausing to make a gesture to him to follow her. And after this mind-boggling apparent change of heart, we’re left wondering what on earth is going on. Is Helen really prepared to marry him to save her family’s farm? After all, as Mr. Rudd said earlier, you need only one good animal to increase a herd, and now the Aldersons will lose the one animal that keeps their farm afloat.
If you’ve been wondering about Maggie, Tristan finally confronts her and starts making excuses about how he has to study hard for his exams, and he’s sorry but … She looks at him with mingled scorn and amusement, and says she knew their affair was short term, and it’s been fun. Tristan looks lost; possibly he has never been dumped before, and certainly not with such flair.
James, surrounded by a seething mob of discontented animal owners, has had enough, and lets rip.
I’ll have you know, all I have done all day, in the face of endless abuse and insult, I might add, is try to make fair and just decisions. And I have to say, I have never in my life witnessed such an appalling display of unsportsmanlike and downright criminal behavior. If anyone should be ashamed it’s you lot.
Siegfried deftly disarms James of the infamous measuring stick, which he’s waving around like a weapon, and Mr. Alderson buys him a pint, commenting that cheaters shouldn’t prosper; it’s a gesture of goodwill from this large, intimidating man who may or may not become his father-in-law. And yes, James is initially insulted, but then amused, that the inhabitants of Skeldale House placed bets on his staying power. As it’s well after six in the evening now, Mrs. Hall has won. Finally, the Darrowby Show is over.
If there was a class for bad human male behavior in the Darrowby Show, do you think Tristan or Hugh should win it? Is Siegfried ready for a relationship, and will it be with Dorothy? And what about James and Helen? There’s a lot to discuss this week.