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NICHOLAS Ralph reflects back on an extraordinary year. One in which he appeared in the 2020 feel-good TV show – the reimagined All Creatures Big and Small series on Channel 5 – in which he played the lead role of Scottish veteran James Herriot.
This week for a heartwarming Christmas special, the singer, who grew up in Nairn and moved to Glasgow in 2013 to pursue acting, will return to our screens. For the Christmas special, audiences around the country will be tuning in.
Ralph, 30, is not the same as last year, when he was one of the most famous visitors to the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, where, after graduating from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, he took his first steps.
It’s early November, as the voice of Ralph spills over from London to us. He acknowledges that it takes some getting used to being the star of a big television show, not least because he plays such a famous literary character.
“It was amazing from start to finish,” he says. What an amazing chance. It took me a while to get used to it in order for the show to be so well received.
We weren’t out as usual, of course, [because of the lockdown], but I was noticed a couple of times by cab drivers and people on the street. That’s surreal. The people I ran into said nice stuff about the show.
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The timing of the series in what was a miserable year for many has helped. The drama, set in the 1930s and exuding a welcoming, cozy atmosphere, has given audiences a much-needed escape. “Absolutely,” Ralph agrees. “My buddy described it as like getting a big hug in the series.”
Based on the experiences of veterinarian James Herriot (real name Alf Wight), the Channel 5 series aired this fall. The original series starring Christopher Timothy as Herriot, which ran on BBC One from 1978 to 1990, will be fondly recalled by older readers.
Both television series are based on the James Herriot books written by Wight, a Glasgow Veterinary College graduate, and recount descriptions of his Thirsk, Yorkshire work and life, with stories set in the 1930s to 1950s.
The aim of All Creatures Great and Small is on a trio of veterinarians employed in the Yorkshire Dales. The eccentric Siegfried Farnon recruits James Herriot, along with Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan and housekeeper Mrs Hall, the matriarch, to join his veterinary practice at Skeldale House.
“During the audition process – there were many rounds – I watched the first episode of the BBC series to get a sense of the world of James Herriot,” Ralph says.
Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot of All Creatures Great and Small in the Christmas special. Image: Channel 5/Playground Television
But as an actor, since you can subconsciously imitate stuff, you don’t want to see anything more than that. For me, the books are like the Bible, but I’m not reading too far ahead — I’ve read the first two.
I went to the Glasgow archives and found the real James Herriot/Alf Wight, his grades and his record of absenteeism from when he was a veterinary school student.
You google a lot and everything else, but when I attempted to create the character and find out about that universe, the books were certainly my main source of content. Those are brilliant tales. You’re laughing out loud one minute and you’re really moved the next.
Alongside Samuel West, Anna Madeley, Rachel Shenton and Callum Woodhouse, the cast for the 2020 reboot of “All Creatures Great and Small” is headed by Ralph, with the late, great Dame Diana Rigg, Matthew Lewis and Nigel Havers also joining the cast.
West plays Siegfried, Woodhouse plays Tristan’s brother, Madeley plays Mrs. Hall and Shenton plays Helen Alderson, a farmer’s daughter who falls in love with James.
The cattle, horse and dog actors are then there. Ralph laughs at the old adage that he never deals with kids or livestock. In fact, he had little concerns about rolling up his sleeves and pitching in.
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Before we began shooting, we did a ‘vet boot camp’,” he says. “Myself, Rachel, Callum and Sam went off on set with our consultant vet, Andy Barrett, and spent a few days getting up close and personal with the animals on cloth.