"What a Ballsup!" Mishaps Abound in 'All Creatures Great & Small'

Picture shows: Tristan Farnon (Callum Woodhouse) and Florence Pandhi (Sophie Khan Levy) standing on either side of a 1930s car in a muddy yard

Tristan Farnon (Callum Woodhouse) and Florence Pandhi (Sophie Khan Levy).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE.

All Creatures Great & Small opens with the reveal Tristan and Florence Pandhi are no longer enemies, and as suspected, very attracted to each other. Tristan is coming into his own, revealing strength of character as well as easy charm, but Siegried has trouble dealing with change. He’s been waiting for Tristan to grow up, but the power in Skeldale is shifting, and he’s not used to his younger brother’s new assertiveness.

Charles: “But please, for the love of God, do not make a balls-up of any more forms."

Good news for those of us who appreciate the presence of a benign grunting, chirping mop: Pekinese Tricki Woo is visiting since Mrs. Pumphrey is in London. He’s lording it over Jessie, the resident dog, and becoming Siegfried’s best, if not only, ally in the house. Be warned, though, the highly repressed relationship between Mrs. Hall and Gerald stumbles, again.

James, meanwhile is on a visit to the imposing Ministry of Agriculture (MAG), summoned by Charles Harcourt (John Ringham), the official in charge of the TB program. James can hear him yelling on the phone as he’s waiting outside. Paperwork is not James’s strong suit, and the testing necessitates a dizzying amount of forms. The error that tipped Harcourt over the edge is a form that caused a MAG official to visit a farm where the cow died two years before.

Picture shows: Tom Chapman (Lamin Touray) and Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) chat as they work on mending a gate together. She has no idea he has enlisted to join the army and that he will be leaving very soon.

Tom Chapman (Lamin Touray) and Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE.

James assures Charles he’s serious about the TB testing program, begging for another chance. Grudgingly, Charles agrees, but if James can’t get his act together, MAG could close down the veterinary practice. Back at Skeldale House, Tristan has bought a car, which he proudly shows off to everyone, although it backfires nearly all the time. He’s planning to do calls that day, and while Siegfried turns down the offer of a ride, Helen happily accepts.

James goes to test Dick Rudd (Alexis Platt) ’s herd. All is well until a cow tests positive and sneezes copiously to emphasize the point. “A bit of a chill?” Dick offers as James scrapes up a mucus sample. Helen is busy painting the woodwork of the attic lovenest a garish pink. She’s realistic but supportive, seeing both the farmers’ complaints and the benefits of TB testing. Dick Rudd will be upset, but farmers aren’t happy without something to complain about.

Helen’s concerned about James’s tendency to keep quiet about his troubles with the MAG meeting. With her smarts and talent for organization, Helen figures out the forms and takes that on. Dick Rudd is resistant, though he will receive £5 compensation for the diseased cow. But the farm will be closed until MAG retests the herd. His children cluster sadly around him; he signs the forms and resigns himself to call Jeff Mallock, the local knacker yard owner.

Picture shows: Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) and Gerald Hammon (Will Thorp) walk across a green field, with drystone walls, rocks, and a tree in the background. Mrs. Hall carries a picnic basket and Geral carries a folded rug. They both look very happy.

Off on a picnic, Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) and Gerald Hammon  (Will Thorp).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE.

Gerald invites Mrs. Hall to a concert featuring her favorite piece of music, Elgar’s Salut d’amour. She denies it’s a date, even while donning a freshly ironed dress and her best hat. The concert venue is filled with couples greeting each other and exchanging kisses, and many, including Gerald, hold small bouquets. Mrs. Hall backs off when she sees his flowers, suggesting a walk, and explains she’s made peace with her unhappy marriage, but she isn’t ready for more. 

Siegfried tries to meddle with Tristan, insisting the car’s backfiring scares Tricki Woo. Siegfried says the former owner is willing to refund Tristan’s money. The household rounds on him; they’re happy about Tristan’s new purchase, and Mrs. Hall says he should be proud of Tristan’s independence. Tricki Woo is under a chair because he is annoyed by Siegfried, even going so far as to refuse a slice of cake.*

*(Skeldale House has an excellent cake supply, thanks to a clutch of women who enjoy Tristan’s charm and his expertise with their pets.)

Siegfried is also upset Tristan has a date with Florence Pandhi, who he’d visited to show off the car. She was duly impressed and agreed to go out for a drive. Siegfried grumbles that he’s dating the daughter of his business rival, as though they were warring Mafia families. For Tristan, this is a big deal. He’s even making sandwiches for the picnic himself.

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As James and Helen take the MAG forms to the post office, they cross the town square and spot young farmer Tom Chapman (Lamin Touray) lining up to board an army bus. James once again questions his choices, and Helen’s concerned enough to tell Siegfried she’s afraid James’ll sign up, though vets are a protected occupation. Keeping James safe is one reason Siegfried made him a partner. But this is a situation he can’t control; conscription has been introduced.

Meanwhile, Tristan and Florence’s picnic is in a lovely spot, and the sandwiches are a success. They’re also able to confide in each other. Florence, one of the few Asian people in the area, admits she’s become used to casual racism. Tristan confesses that half the time, he does what other people want him to, and the other half worries that he’s doing things wrong. Florence challenges him to figure out what he wants. He’s surprised but not offended by her candor.

James heads to Rudd’s farm only to find that Mallock took the wrong cow, Dick’s best milker. James sets off in pursuit and gets stuck behind Tristan and Florence. However, James’s car dies, and Tristan helps continue the chase. As they arrive, a carcass is being moved, but Jeff is behind and hasn’t had time to take Dick’s cow out of the truck. He offers his visitors some of his pie. They regret it when he puts the pie on the MAG form, leaving a bloody imprint.

Picture shows: James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) confronts Jeff Mallock (Jim Moir) about the cow. James is standing in front of Jeff's red truck, inside which the cow is still alive. Jeff, covered as usual in dried blood and other nasty substances, is eating a pork pie which he holds in his left hand.

Jeff Mallock (Jim Moir) holds a pork pie in his (probably filthy) hand while telling James (Nicholas Ralph) that the cow is still alive.

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE.

Tristan drives Florence home, apologetic about the unexpected, romance-killing visit to Jeff Mallock’s bacterium emporium. Florence won't hear of it; “Tristan Farnon, that was by far the best date I’ve ever been on!” She kisses him. He responds by telling her James' name is not Tim, as she’s been calling him throughout the ordeal. On the way home, James confesses this may be the last straw in the TB testing fiasco; he'll tell Siegfried they should back out.

Charles Harcourt is already there, having tea with Siegfried at Skeldale House. Naturally, James anticipates the worst. But Charles is affable and full of praise, impressed by the amount of testing James has done (and presumably also by the accuracy of his most recent forms): “Your work will already have saved lives. You’re a credit to your profession, lad.” He makes the offer of another district to test.

After the visit, Siegfried asks for a spin in Tristan’s car, and Mrs. Hall joins them. Left alone in the house, James and Helen enthusiastically rush upstairs to continue their painting project. Or so they claim.

Historical note: TB testing at this point was voluntary for farmers, with a long-term plan to make it compulsory, which finally happened over a decade later in 1950. Despite the incentive of farmers receiving a better price for milk from a tested herd, they could be reluctant to test, fearing government interference as much as the loss of stock and income. Read more at tbfreeengland.co.uk.

Janet Mullany

Writer Janet Mullany is from England, drinks a lot of tea, and likes Jane Austen, reading, and gasping in shock at costumes in historical TV dramas. Her household near Washington DC includes two badly-behaved cats about whom she frequently boasts on Facebook.

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