It's Wings for All at Christmas in 'All Creatures Great & Small'

Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot training with his unit in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 4

Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 4

Helen Williams/Playground Entertainment/Masterpiece

Initially the show’s Christmas Special, the finale episode of All Creatures Great & Small Season 4, begins at James’s training camp, where a kestrel hovers and a Spitfire lands soon after. James, still earthbound, watches. His fellow trainees are subdued; a plane was lost last night, friends gone, and James, who also knew them, is shocked. He doesn’t even complain when addressed as “old man.” Now in his mid-twenties, married, and about to be a dad, James doesn’t argue with his teenage fellow trainees. He has plans to meet up with Helen for dinner that night after weeks of being apart, and it’s all he can think of.

Helen: I’ll give you the business end. 

But when he calls Skeldale House, it seems their date may be canceled by the threat of a winter storm and Helen’s advanced pregnancy. But he’s able to share some good news with her. Cradling a badge (his “wings”) in his hands, he tells her he has some sewing for her since he’s passed his exams and will go on to bomber training in preparation for flying missions. Siegfried gets on to the extension to tell them he thinks allowing Helen to drive in the snow is a bad idea. She argues that she’s had a few random cramps, but she’s scared, and she needs to see James. A line of airmen, waiting to use the phone, builds up behind him.

The kestrel we saw is the company mascot, who now has broken feathers and can’t fly. James’s superior officer, Flight Officer Woodham (Sam Retford), says the men regard this as a bad omen. James has never worked on a wild bird; he’ll try, but not before asking if he can take a few hours off to visit Hele. Request denied: James’s duty is to drop bombs and protect his fellow flyers. But when he goes outside, he sees a truck about to leave and barely hesitates before vaulting inside.

Samuel West as Siegfried Farnon and James Anthony-Rose as Richard Carmoody carrying the christmas geese in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 4

Samuel West as Siegfried Farnon and James Anthony-Rose as Richard Carmoody in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 4

Helen Williams/Playground Entertainment/Masterpiece

The inhabitants of Skeldale House prepare for Christmas. Mrs. Hall decorates the tree, and works on food, Richard plays a terrible version of the Nutcracker Suite on the piano, and Siegfried bickers with him on who is to dress up in the Father Christmas costume for the children of Darrowby. Siegfried wins the argument. In tribute to James’s Scottish tradition, Helen has carved a Cailleach, a wooden effigy of Old Woman Winter, to burn at Christmas for good luck. (James carved her one in the Season 2 Christmas episode.) 

Mrs. Hall removes her wedding ring in the kitchen, placing it on a ledge above the sink. Siegfried notices but says nothing. Instead, he laments that between them, the current inhabitants of Skeldale House have very few beloved family members to celebrate the holiday with. Mrs. Hall, not one to encourage negative thoughts, sends him and Richard out to pick up the goose she’s ordered from a nearby farm. They’re met by a fiercely barking dog that won’t let them out of the car. Siegfried distracts the dog with food while Richard gets out, but he stumbles over some milk churns, and the dog sets chase, biting him in the behind. 

On their return to Skeldale, Mrs. Hall enters the surgery to praise them for the nice plump goose they came home with before realizing that Richard, pants down, is presenting his nice plump behind to Siegfried for medical treatment. Poor Richard. It’s not an auspicious beginning to his first real Christmas; his parents, atheists, don’t celebrate and generally go abroad for the holiday. He does, however, like the music and the food.

Sam Retford as FO Woodham and Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot sit in the car looking at the house in All Creatures Great and Small, Season 4

Sam Retford as FO Woodham and Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 4 

Helen Williams/Playground Entertainment/Masterpiece 

James travels as a stowaway on the truck until he recognizes some familiar scenery. He can hitch a ride with Michael Collins (Antonio Galas), who is looking for a lost cat. We get the impression that this troubled man doesn’t see much of his children, and the cat belongs to his daughter. Responding to James’s sympathetic interest, he admits that he’d fight if he could, and James tells him that all he’s going to do is visit Helen for Christmas and return to his training and fight. He is not a deserter.

Wishing each other well, Michael lets James out just one mile from Darrowby, just as another vehicle draws up, driven by a remarkably calm FO Woodham, who didn’t want the Military Police to arrest James. He’s taken back to the training ground, where they discuss the injured kestrel, and Woodham tells James he has twin daughters he’s seen twice in their life. 

It’s Christmas Day the next morning, and Siegfried offers their traditional Christmas greeting, “Merry bloody Christmas.” Mrs. Hall presents Richard with a Christmas present, a new, colorful bow tie, and he’s very touched. It’s his first Christmas present ever! Helen realizes she may be in early labor, but Mrs. Hall can’t reach the midwife. Siegfried offers to step into the breach if necessary; he’s delivered hundreds of baby animals, and since Helen’s baby only has two legs, how hard can it be? Richard reminds him that the baby will have two arms and claims they can muddle through. (After all, how different can it be from a sow?) At this point, Helen is infuriated, and her temper does not improve when Richard claims he’s willing to help, keeping away from the “business end” if it would make her more comfortable.

Tony Pitts as Richard Alderson with. present for his grandson in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 4

Tony Pitts as Richard Alderson in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 4

Helen Williams/Playground Entertainment/Masterpiece

Meanwhile, James is dealing with the business end of the kestrel, with an audience of fellow recruits watching. Woodhouse tells them they are fortunate enough to have the best veterinarian in Yorkshire, and James comes up with an elegantly simple fix, using a toothpick to splint the broken feather back into place. The kestrel takes to the air with no difficulty.

Helen’s family comes to the Drovers, where the citizens of Darrowby have planned a feast with everyone contributing. Siegfried and Richard, advised by Mrs. Hall to leave the house, arrive with the goose, and Mrs. Pumphrey has brought one of her lavish hampers to share. Tricki Woo makes himself comfortable in the Alderson family cradle, which Helen’s father has brought for his grandchild. Richard is paid the ultimate compliment by Mrs. Pumphrey, who addresses him as Uncle Carmody and asks him to keep Tricki company. She proposes a toast to Mrs. Hall, who is responsible for much of the cooking, and Richard adds Jesus’s name to the toast. 

Another compliment to Richard comes from Siegfried, who offers him Tristan’s room if he’d like to stay on, and Richard accepts. Siegfried goes to great pains to avoid saying anything complimentary to Richard about this change of direction: "Because it's convenient. You can answer the night calls. But keep your hands off my whiskey, especially the good stuff.” After lunch, the ritual of listening to the King’s Christmas Speech* takes place, heard not only by the people in the pub, but all over the country and the Empire, including at James’s training camp. 

(*You can hear the original 1940 Christmas Message, on which the script is partially based, here.) 
Rachel Shenton as Helen Herriot and Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot hold their newborn in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 4

Rachel Shenton as Helen Herriot and Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 4

Helen Williams/Playground Entertainment/Masterpiece

On their return from the pub, Richard hugs Mrs. Hall in a burst of alcohol-and-Christmas-inspired affection. Siegfried offers to wash up and reminds Mrs. Hall that she’s forgotten her ring. “I didn’t forget,” she says. Interesting! (Does Siegfried react? Not really.) Richard dresses in a beard and green robe and prepares to entertain Darrowby’s children. Does he lecture them on obscure veterinary problems? Sadly, we don’t know.

Meanwhile, Helen retreats upstairs with her sister Jenny and waits for the midwife to arrive. The baby is definitely on its way, and later, so is an unexpected visitor – James, who’s driven there by FO Woodham for a two-day visit. When he arrives, he’s astonished to find a much thinner Helen and meets his newborn son in a highly emotional scene in which he promises to return. The baby is to be named James.

James contacts Michael Collins, thinking Oscar may be his daughter’s missing cat. Oscar is not Michael’s cat, but he gladly accepts him into his family, and his daughter is delighted. Helen and James stand on the front doorstep of Skeldale House as snow falls, holding their new son. Merry Christmas, indeed.

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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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