'All Creatures Great & Small' Reminds Us "By the Book" Isn't Always Best

Picture shows: Richard Carmody (James Anthony-Rose) looks typically nervous on a farm visit. He's outside a barn next to some milk churns.

Richard Carmody (James Anthony-Rose).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE 

Episode 4, “By The Book” of All Creatures Great & Small Season 4, opens as James and Helen tease each other with unsuitable baby names before the start of another busy day. James wants Helen to slow down and officially announce her pregnancy, but she’s reluctant to do either. “Farmers don’t stop for babies,” she tells him, and it’s early days. She’s suffering some nausea and downplays it to Mrs. Hall as indigestion between raids of the pickled egg jar in the pantry. Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Hall guessed Helen’s secret, and the two women become closer talking about pregnancy and the wait for James’s call-up papers.

James: To knowledge, fleas, and our growing family

James is out on a call with Richard Carmody, their book-smart but naive assistant. Siegfried refers to it as the Carmody Conundrum; how can someone academically bright be so clueless when dealing with people? With his strong emotional intelligence and his kindness toward human clients, James can surely teach him a thing or two. His nose buried in a book on the way to the Crabtrees’ farm, Richard has to be reminded to get out of the car and open (and shut) gates, and brightly remarks that the symptoms so far sound like brucellosis. James shuts him down. The family could lose everything, including the farm, if it is something as serious as brucellosis. This is a potential tragedy.

Sid and Elsie Crabtree (Ryan Hawley and Chloe Harris) are not from farming families. Sid was a mill worker who suffered lung damage, making him unfit for military duty, and he decided to serve his country as a farmer. Although they love the farm and their new home, they have no resources or support and find their neighbors critical and unfriendly. The first calf born on the farm is sick, and it looks like Richard’s diagnosis was correct. James gently warns them that the disease is highly contagious and there will be losses. The calf’s mother was bought recently and was almost certainly infected at the time. Richard points out their rookie error in not keeping her quarantined, the usual practice with new stock, offending Sid. 

Picture shows: Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) and Helen Herriot (Rachel Shenton) chat as they hang out the wash.

Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) and Helen Herriot (Rachel Shenton).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE

James is upset, and no one feels very sorry for Richard when he pratfalls not once, but several times, into some nice fresh manure (he forgot his protective overalls). “I thought that went rather well,” Richard, face smeared with manure, tells James as they drive back to Skeldale House. When they arrive home, Mrs. Hall presents James with a cup of tea and a conspiratorial smile for the new father-to-be. Siegfried, meanwhile, is very angry with Richard. He must learn to respect people even if they have little education or don’t understand technical jargon. 

Sadly, the Crabtrees phone to let the practice know the sick calf died, and the next day, James and Helen return to the farm. Sid and Elsie fear they may lose their farm if the disease takes its course. As they talk, James hears the unmistakable sound of a cow in labor and delivers a premature stillborn calf. With the possibility of the Crabtrees losing all this season’s expected calves, the future is grim. Back at Skeldale House, Siegfried decides Richard needs to be taught people skills and casts Mrs. Hall as the owner of a dog with a sore paw, played by Jessie, who enjoys the attention. With no access to books, Richard flounders and attempts to follow Siegfried’s prompts. Mrs. Hall advises him to trust himself.

Elderly Ned Clough (Paul Copley) arrives with a real patient, his elderly tortoise Bernard, and Richard does his best, although needing translation for Ned’s thick Yorkshire accent.* The tortoise is itchy and isn’t eating, and Richard suspects the ailment is related to nutrition, and gives Ned a piece of cuttlefish for him. Ned’s report to Siegfried on Richard is surprisingly favorable: “Broom up his backside knows his stuff."

*(If this is an issue you have with the series, here’s a helpful article on Yorkshire accents and slang.)
Picture shows: In the examination room of Skeldale House, Ned Clough (Paul Copley) has brought in his sick tortoise Bernard. Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) supervises as Richard Carmody (James Anthony-Rose) attempts a diagnosis.

Ned Clough (Paul Copley), Bernard the tortoise, Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) and Richard Carmody (James Anthony-Rose).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE

Richard meets James and Helen as they return from their visit to the Crabtrees, and although they intend to sneak upstairs for some more baby name discussions (or something), he waylays them. He’s just read something exciting and is anxious to share his discovery, which he thinks might be dissertation material. Brucellosis is subject to zoonosis, where the disease can move from one species to another; in other words, brucellosis could transfer to humans, where it could cause miscarriage. This isn’t how James and Helen intended to announce their baby news; James is angry, Helen is in tears, and Siegfried and Mrs. Hall are deeply concerned. 

James takes Helen’s temperature. So far, she has no signs of illness, and as she bravely points out, it was only one study. However, the miscarriage rate mentioned was 75%. James, Richard, and Siegfried return to the Crabtrees’ farm and join a group of other farmers and neighbors with brooms, brushes, and buckets to help disinfect the farm. Sid and Elsie are initially alarmed, wondering how they can pay everyone, but it’s a practical demonstration of farmers supporting their own. It’s no surprise that Helen has arranged everything with her status and contacts in the farming community. 

There’s bad news from Europe as France surrenders to Germany, but some good news for Mrs. Hall. A letter from her solicitor informs her that the divorce is uncontested, there will be no court hearing, and a decree will be issued. Now Helen is at home, resting and in low spirits. Dash the spaniel bounds upstairs to visit her, followed by Mrs. Hall, who explains that the dog likes to hear the baby’s heartbeat and invites Helen to bake with her.

Picture shows: Dressed to clean, James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph), Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), and Richard Carmody (James Anthony-Rose) stand in a stony lane edged with drystone walls. They are wearing heavy-coats for messy work.

Dressed to clean: James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph), Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), and Richard Carmody (James Anthony-Rose).

Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE 

Siegfried returns to the books and divides the medical textbooks between them all. Somewhere, there has to be some overlooked information that can give James and Helen peace of mind, and the household settles down to some serious reading. As Siegfried points out, brucellosis has been recognized as a disease for only eighty years. It’s Richard who strikes gold. An agglutination test, designed to detect typhoid, can be used to test for brucellosis, so Helen becomes an honorary cow when James draws a blood sample and takes it in to be tested.

There’s good news from the Crabtrees. Three more calves have been born and survived, and Sid has been hired by neighbor Ann Chapman to work on her farm, meaning the family will weather this bad patch. But Bernard the tortoise isn’t getting better, and although he enjoyed the cuttlefish, he’s still scratching. By a process of elimination, Richard decides that, although rare, reptiles can suffer from fleas or mites and puts Bernard in a pie dish filled with water. Fleas jump from Bernard into the water, and now we notice that owner Ned is scratching himself rather a lot. Problem solved; both tortoise and owner are sent away with medication.

James comes home with the test result, and he and Helen, both terrified, open it together. Thankfully, she tests negative, and they, Siegfried, Mrs. Hall, and Richard, gather in the kitchen for a celebratory sherry. Richard seems to have caught Bernard’s fleas, but the others are warmer toward him now, and James even offers to go way out of his comfort zone and discuss research papers with him. Richard is slowly becoming one of the Skeldale House team, which can only make him a better veterinarian.

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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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