It's "Carpe Diem" Time in 'All Creatures Great & Small' Season 4

Picture shows: Efficiency expert Miss Harbottle (Neve McIntosh) arrives at Skeldale House

Miss Harbottle (Neve McIntosh).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE 

Everybody loves a goat unless it’s on the kitchen table or in the pantry, and as All Creatures Great & Small opens this week, Skeldale House is undergoing a caprine invasion by sisters Betty (sore leg) and Hilda (along for the ride). The other guilty party is Siegfried Farnon, who flung open the surgery door searching for his suture kit, letting chaos reign. He complains that he didn’t mean livestock when he advised James to encourage clients to bring in their animals. Mid-shout, Siegfried is diverted by finding another lost item, his hoof knife. Goat owner Mrs. Stokes (Susan Hilton) ignores the bluster and produces a couple of jars of rhubarb jam as payment.

But! Siegfried assures James and Mrs. Hall that the days of chaos, lost items, and inefficiency are numbered. Miss Harbottle (Neve McIntosh), whom Siegfried met at the Farmers Union dance last week, arrives to discuss the offer Siegfried made during a thrilling foxtrot. She is a skilled administrator who has just left her job at a feed merchant’s and is ready to take on the practice. Her specialty is to bring order from chaos – just what the practice needs! As Siegfried shows her around, the missing suture kit shows up. 

Miss Harbottle is mildly alarmed at the practice’s cash box, a pewter mug stuffed with money, and the messy appointment book buried beneath papers. She introduces a system of small pink notes for questions that Siegfried can answer at his leisure (which he’ll learn to hate and despise). As for James, he is furious that Miss Harbottle has been hired when the practice is in dire need of another veterinarian, not an administrator. (And shouldn’t James, as a partner, have a say in the matter?)

Picture shows: The goats in the kitchen of Skeldale House. One of them is on the table eating a loaf of bread. James Herriot is trying to capture her

James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) chases a goat in the kitchen.

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE

Siegfried escapes this unpleasantness by visiting a client, gloomy Mr. Dakin (James Bolan), and his aged cow Blossom. For the third time, her udder has been trodden on and torn, and it seems she’s coming to the end of her useful life. Siegfried offers to sew her up for free so she’s as comfortable as possible on the way to the knackers’ yard.

Helen leaves Skeldale House for the day to work at her family farm, and Gerald, fresh from his allotment and bringing flowers and vegetables, calls on Mrs. Hall to invite her to the movies. Upon meeting Gerald, Miss Harbottle leaps to the conclusion that he and Mrs. Hall are married. Mrs. Hall, made newly sensitive by Miss Harbottle’s assumption, later tells Helen that she has applied for a divorce. But it’s nothing to do with Gerald, she claims, adding that she doesn’t want to be seen setting her cap at him. 

That evening, James and Helen meet at the pub, where a cute toddler is at large. Helen smiles and sighs, and naturally, the conversation turns to their dilemma. Is it wise to wait? Maybe the war will be over soon. But James could be summoned to active duty at any moment, so they must decide quickly. Joe Coney (Paul Bazely) entertains the customers with a ferret roulette show, in which a ferret, hidden within a coat, has multiple exits to choose from. Joe, whose family originated from Europe, explains that his father brought a polecat to England, which was crossbred with native ferrets. The ferret has a lump, which Siegfried is anxious to diagnose, and invites him to the surgery.

Picture shows: Joe Coney (Paul Bazely) and his ferret, James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph), Helen Herriot (Rachel Shenton) chat at the bar in the pub.

Joe Coney (Paul Bazely) and his ferret, Helen Herriot (Rachel Shenton), James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE 

On day two of Miss Harbottle’s regime, Siegfried, the man who hates change, is alarmed that things have been moved. She requests that he hand over the fee from the visit to Blossom the previous day, and Siegfried, too embarrassed to admit he performed the task for free, pretends he was paid in cash and spent some of it. He hands over what cash he has and, with great embarrassment, has to borrow money from James. Altogether, Miss Harbottle is appalled by their billing system and the acceptance of in-kind payments (produce and homemade goods) and suggests that clients make a down payment for appointments. 

Miss Harbottle is also very uneasy about the presence of Siegfried’s beloved pet rat, Vonolel. Siegfried moves the cage with a flourish to the top of a cabinet, all the while maintaining that he’s happy with the new regime. However, when Joe Coney arrives at Skeldale House, he is taken aback when Miss Harbottle demands half a crown as a deposit for the appointment. As another cash-poor individual, he offers a dead rabbit instead. James is upset as well by this development – animals come first. Isn’t that what they always say? This way, animals are being put at risk. 

Anxious to avoid confrontation, Siegfried returns to Mr. Dakin’s farm to clean a recently calved cow and finds that poor old Blossom is about to be loaded into the knacker’s van. Mr. Dakin reminisces about Blossom, who’s been with him for years, a consistently good milker, and, he realizes, part of his history. Siegfried reminds him that she is still producing milk, and the problem is keeping her from other cows’ hooves. Mr. Dakin can use her milk for young calves, and he talks himself into keeping Blossom as a valued, senior herd member.

Picture shows: Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) does the ironing

Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE

Back at Skeldale House, there’s more drama when Mrs. Hall finds that Miss Harbottle took Vonolel’s cage outside into the yard, and she brings him straight back inside. She goes on her date with Gerald and apologizes for Miss Harbottle’s assumption that they were married. Siegfried finally admits Miss Harbottle just isn’t working out and asks for Mrs. Hall’s advice. She suggests he be kind and honest and speak to her as soon as possible; it isn’t fair to anyone to continue as they all have been. 

Meanwhile, Siegfried and James bring Joe and his ferret in after hours for surgery. As soon as Miss Harbottle leaves for the day and boards the bus home, James collects Joe and the ferret from the pub and discovers that all Joe’s friends want to come too. It’s a social occasion! Siegfried, hiding in a closet, is released and describes the process he is about to undertake to his captive audience. Joe faints. Siegfried and James discover the ferret’s lump is not benign, and they are relieved to have performed the surgery, which has saved its life. Joe’s friends at the pub had a whip round to pay Siegfried’s fee. 

Miss Harbottle, who had forgotten to take the outgoing mail with her, returns unexpectedly to find a surgery party taking place. Siegfried explains they put animals before profit, and Skeldale House is not the place for her, able as she is. She resigns with her dignity intact. As Siegfried says, he should have left it at the foxtrot. 

James and Helen meet up in the pub once more. They’ve reached a decision. Carpe Diem, or as Helen puts it, “Let’s get cracking!”

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All Creatures Great And Small

James Herriot’s adventures as a veterinarian in 1930’s Yorkshire get a new TV adaptation.
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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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