Samuel West interview: ‘All Creatures’ is a show about ‘coping and trying to be kind’

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 Samuel West (Mr Selfridge, Darkest Hour) chats about what’s coming up for his character Siegfried Farnon, what he feels is the show’s watchword, Siegfried’s friendship with Mrs Hall, and how he feels about James’ new assistant:


What sort of mood is Siegfried in at the start of this season?

“He’s a fiercely independent person. At the beginning of the series, he believes that he’s just as good by himself as he ever was, he doesn’t need to worry about James joining up, and he doesn’t need to worry about Tristan being away.

“He ran the place for many years without any help and it was perfectly well-organised and very successful. And I think what Siegfried hasn’t realised, as happens so often in our lives, is that the baseline gets reset.

“He’s not a young man anymore, the practice is much more successful with James, and the family is much happier.

“He rather misses his brother, infuriating though that is, and the things that he tries to do to prove that he’s perfectly okay and not at all stressed, like giving up tobacco, go terribly badly.

“So, he’s not quite having a midlife crisis but when the war comes, he realises he is too old to join up.

“He’s good at coping with lack. He’s not somebody who cares about luxury very much. He doesn’t worry if there’s quite enough food or if it’s difficult to get money out of the farmers. That’s par for the course.

“I think the surprise is that having sorted it out with Tristan, he misses him and he doesn’t really like talking about him. He’s not fluent with his emotions, like most men of that generation in that period. Which is what makes them interesting to play, of course.

“He has always been a man of layers. And some depth, I think. I don’t always love that he’s a disapproving person, but at the same time, I love that he keeps his warmth. He has great empathy, but not necessarily for humans.”


In the new season, we see Siegfried bringing someone in to help with admin at the practice – Miss Harbottle (Neve McIntosh). How does that work out?

“They both see that he could do with a bit of help, and the idea of somebody who respects what he’s trying to do, and might make it more efficient, particularly if she is as funny and quick and attractive as Miss Harbottle is.

“He’s always been one for the ladies and he meets her at a dance, she comes in, and if anything, she’s even more of a control freak than he is.

“So, he meets his match. And I think initially, he thinks it’s going to be a marriage made in heaven, and possibly a marriage. Who can say?

“But what’s interesting is how she’s always one step ahead of him, which is not a very nice feeling for Siegfried. He’s not used to it.

“And she kind of kind of conjures this response out of him, which is not at all what he’s trying to say. But he knows deep down she’s ruining things by making it about the money rather than the animal…”


And then James brings Richard Carmody into the mix…

“Carmody comes in, he’s supposed to be James’s locum, James’s assistant. And Siegfried says, ‘Richard Carmody from London? He won’t last.’

“Because he’s a snob. He’s out of touch. He’s young. It’s all book learning. But I think Siegfried sees somebody who could have been him.

“But Carmody comes in and says, ‘I think my job is to keep the milk flowing and keep the beef healthy and make sure people don’t starve.’ And Siegfried thinks that’s true as well, and so they bond on that level.

“And also, Carmody turns out to be a bit more up to date on some of the research than we are. And even though that means that in the field he’s a bit hopeless, and he can’t remember things, and he doesn’t know how to move his hands in particular ways, and tricks that James has known for years, and James picked up really quickly, are still unknown to him.

“So yes, I think he finds, rather to his surprise, that Carmody is very green, and very imperfect, but learns fast and is keen, and has good taste. And, as I say, rather to his surprise, takes more of a shine to him than James does.”


Siegfried is very supportive of Mrs Hall this season…

“Siegfried is a great believer in mutual care. If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. He’s always felt supported by Mrs Hall, and he’s clever enough not to question the fact that she’s really in charge.

“And he’s wise enough to know that that shouldn’t be questioned. And when he took her in… he’s an iconoclast.

“He’s not one for formality and references. He didn’t really care where she’d come from. You know, he had a feeling about her, so he offered her the job.

“Other people wouldn’t have done that, and she respects that. So yes, he’s unusually sensitive when it comes to Mrs Hall sometimes.

“He’s learning when she walks into a room and something’s not right for her, or she is a bit disturbed, because sometimes she’s brisk, sometimes she’s busy, sometimes she’s stressed. She’s got a lot to do. But when she’s upset, he gets it. I like that.”


In the first episode we see Siegfried’s empathy towards both animal and human in this story…

“Yes, it takes a village, as they say, and Darrowby is a village, albeit quite an extended one, and it’s important to remember that some of the farms on those hillsides have been there for hundreds of years, you tend to think that they’re completely self-sufficient in emotions as well as in farming…

“But actually, just keeping an eye on your neighbours and making sure that people are looked after and not lonely, I think that turns out to be something that Siegfried is quite good at in the end.

“That’s one of the things I like most about All Creatures actually, is the idea that Darrowby isn’t a place where everything’s always fine. That people are lonely, and people lose people, and people die, and people don’t come home for Christmas.

“And there’s a certain amount of leaning and pulling together that needs to happen – and sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it is good when it does.

“I think it’s one of the reasons that people maybe appreciate the series, because it came out at a time when we were all stuck inside and having to rely on each other rather more than usual.

“And those connections between people, they’re invisible, but they do exist. And we know we’re making a good series when we film what’s invisible.

“And I got to hold a tiny lamb. We didn’t have lambs in the first series because we started filming in August.

“So, yes, if you’re going to start in March in the Dales, you might as well have stories with lambs in, because it would be a shame not to! We had our first goats this series too. Brilliant, very funny. That was a good sequence. And our first ferret.

“And then of course, Vonolel, my lovely rat, who’s now established, and has found a new place to live just at the top of my waistcoat. And that’s a delight.

“I think this series it’s not a question of keep calm and carry on, but I think the watchword is coping. And maybe that’s a good thing, given the cost-of-living crisis and the difficulty that many people are having, just simply making ends meet.

“I don’t think we make any huge claims for this programme. It’s not always happy, it’s not rich, and it’s not about people who have a great deal.

“But it is about people coping and trying to be kind to each other. There’s a lot to be said for that.”


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