Nicholas Ralph interview: ‘All Creatures’ star on what’s next for James in Season 4

All Creatures Great and Small is back this autumn!

Based on the much-loved collection of stories by author James Herriot, Channel 5’s hit period drama follows the heartwarming and humorous adventures of a young country vet in the Yorkshire Dales.

As we return to Skeldale House in the spring of 1940, there’s change on the horizon for everyone.

Watch the trailer here:

Season 4 premieres in the UK at 9pm on Thursday 5 October on Channel 5, with six brand new episodes airing weekly.

All Creatures Great and Small returns in the US early next year on PBS Masterpiece.

American viewers can catch up on the first three seasons with this free 7-day trial of the PBS Masterpiece channel on Amazon Prime!

Here, actor Nicholas Ralph chats about what’s coming up for his character James Herriot, welcoming new cast members, and working with this season’s animal co-stars:


Where do we find James at the start of the season?

“At the end of the last series, we saw both James and Tristan sign up and then at Christmas Tristan gets called up and James doesn’t, so James is still in the Yorkshire Dales.

“We’re in this period in 1940 springtime and it’s the Phoney War so there’s not too much going on with regards to war. While it’s always in the back of James’ mind that he could be called up at any time, that still seems ever so slightly less likely.

“So, we find James, back in the Yorkshire Dales, still working at the practice. We kick off with a wonderful story with a little boy who’s a bit of a terror in the town called Wesley Binks, and he has a little sick dog.

“James receives the brunt of that sometimes, but we find out a little bit more about why as the episode goes on. The wonderful thing about James and all the vets in the show is that they don’t only look after the animals, they look after the people, the owners, and we very much see that with James and Wesley Binks.

“It is a lovely episode to start the series.

“We have some wonderful guest actors coming in this series, like Wesley Binks played by Billy Hickey and we have Neve McIntosh, who comes in as Miss Harbottle in episode two, who is just absolutely brilliant.

“Neve is someone I’ve watched as an actor for a long time so it was it was brilliant to get to work with her. And then Paul Bazely comes in as Joe Coney, who has a ferret storyline and he was just so funny as well.

“It’s a real treat every year to work with people who’ve got this wealth of experience and knowledge and they’ve done so much. I learn a lot from working with these people and they are all class acts.

“The audiences will have a lot to look forward to in this series.”


How does James feel about the war now, that he could get called up at any time? How is it affecting him?

“With James it’s always a battle between heart and mind and that continues in this series. He absolutely wants to do his best. He wants to stand up and be counted if needs be, you know.

“We see all sorts of people in the village leaving, Tom Chapman and Tristan of course. We know that Siegfried fought in WW1. There is that part of James that wants to do his bit, at the same time he’s a young man who’s just got married.

“Him and Helen are living in their bedsit at the top of the house, they’re in a little nest away from everyone else. Back then things moved a little quicker. If you were married, children seemed to come not too far along down the line.

“There is a little seed of that planted in James’ mind as well. But it’s all conflicting. With war people left and didn’t come back so there’s a lot at play.

“Of course, it’s not just James that feels this, it’s Helen as well. How does Helen feel and where is she at, and where she would be in the future if James did leave. She could be left behind, you know, she’s moved in to Skeldale and she left her family back at the farm.”


So James has settled in well to married life?

“Yeah, I think settling in really well. We see the bedsit developing all the time, you know, little additions here and there – something old has gone and something new has come in.

“They’ve made a little lovely home for themselves within Skeldale House. There’s that difference between being public and being private as well. When you’re out and about, there’s a certain way you must act.

“There are obviously certain things you can talk about, certain ways of behaving in public and even just with the rest of the gang in Skeldale House so, for the two of them to have their little bedsit, to have their own little world away from everyone else, is really nice.

“They can be far more tactile and they can speak a lot more deeply there. It’s a wonderful home they’ve made for themselves and it’s becoming more and more comfortable all the time.”


You touched on this earlier, but do you think the war might change what would normally be the next step for Helen and James and starting a family?

“Yeah, absolutely. As I say, James has a constant battle between heart and head and there’s real world, huge ramifications that James has signed up, but he hasn’t been called up.

“What does that look like? What does that mean? They don’t know how long WW2 is going to last and it could be a very long time.

“It is something that will be in the back of their minds regarding starting a family. I think it’s fairly obvious that they both want to, even though neither one is saying too much about it.

“Helen says a little more. James is a bit more guarded but deep down he absolutely wants to be a father. There are big decisions to be made and lots to take into consideration.”


And James must be missing Tristan, as a friend but also at the practice?

“Yeah, absolutely he misses Tristan. He’s like his best friend and his brother. He misses his best friend a lot, not only just the social side of it but also the practical side of it.

“James is having to do a lot more work now because Tristan is gone. James is having to cover all the nightshifts and things like that. I think James would be quite happy to have a little more help around the practice.”


Do you think Tristan not being there has changed Siegfried and James’ relationship?

“Yeah, definitely. When you take away someone like Tristan, who is such a big character in the house, things are always going to change.

“I think one of my lines was, “When did I become Tristan?” because Siegfried is having a bit of a go and James isn’t used to it. James is used to being the golden boy.”


James brings in young vet student Richard Carmody to help some help around the practice…how does that all go?

“We have a new character Richard Carmody come to the practice as a young intern. It’s James’ idea to get Carmody in, he thinks it’s going to be brilliant.

“He’ll be like a mini him – a mini me. He’ll take him under his wing and teach him all that he knows while taking a load off the practice as well. He’ll also have somebody else to hang out with, to gang up on Siegfried a little bit, which, they always need!

“James thinks it’s going be wonderful. What I love about Richard Carmody first of all is that he’s a character from books which is always great. Secondly, he’s very different to anyone in the house, very different to Tristan.

“It is a completely different energy that he brings to Skeldale which changes the dynamics a little bit. It’s really fun to see the characters pushed and pulled and challenged in different ways.”


How was it having James Anthony-Rose on set as a new member of the cast?

“It really did feel like Jamie has been there so much longer than he has, you know, he just fitted right in from the get-go. He was thrown in the deep end as well, when he arrived – he handled it all in fine fashion.

“I think it’s really good for all the characters too, because we see James almost being like Siegfried was when James first arrived. James to Carmody is very similar.

“He is trying to train him up and be that kind of a teacher. It gives Mrs Hall someone else to welcome to the family and to look after as well. It’s really nice to see how everyone in Skeldale adapts and welcomes someone else in.”


Do you think James has got better at helping animals and their owners as time has gone on?

“Absolutely. I think James is just growing all the time, you know, professionally and personally.

“I think we really see his skill set blossom this series, it’s not just about helping the animals it’s about helping the owners.

“That’s very much part of the world of James Herriot – the vets have so much compassion and patience.

“Helen being a farmer’s daughter and supporting the community, Mrs. Hall welcoming these new faces in like myself and Carmody and just taking care of everyone and Mrs Pumphrey taking in more animals for the war effort.

“It’s a huge part of the warmth of this show.”


And you get a lot of different animals this season?

“We have a boxer dog who’s got a bit of an anti-social problem which is very funny. That’s with lovely Mrs. Pumphrey so you can imagine there’s a lot of fun to be had there.

“We have some goats that get loose in Skeldale and run amok. The animals are just trained so well it is absolutely brilliant.

“They never put a foot wrong, and I was asking the animal wrangler how do they do that? They did it with a buzzer and some food.

“So, they would press the buzzer and then the goats would know that that’s where the food was. It was so impressive. That was a really good day. It was a lot of fun.”


Do you feel like an old timer on the show now, with a new boy on set?

“Haha yes! Carmody and James had quite a similar start in that Carmody, much like James at the beginning, is quite book smart, but practically he’s a little lacking only because he doesn’t have that experience.

“He’s just come from vet school. It was kind of like art imitating life a little in that I could tell Jamie little things and give little pointers about working with certain animals that I have picked up over the years.

“We always have our on-set vet, Andy Barrett, on hand as well. It was nice to be able to pass on a little bit of wisdom that I’ve learned from four years on this show. I have actually learned something!”


All Creatures Great and Small is available to watch on PBS Masterpiece via Amazon Prime with a free 7-day trial.