Ways and Means TX: 2/12/78
From the very start of Series 2, there is the looming threat of war. This is the late 1930s. The rumblings of Germany are getting heavy. Talk of war is escalating. I love how the series has the threat of war and the contradiction of this talk happening in beautiful peaceful countryside. I suppose one could forgive and understand Tristan’s belief that there would be no war. He explains this to Alice as he talks with her about possibly going back to Glasgow with her. He says it in a simple innocent child-like way. He even tells Siegfried that he wants to move to Glasgow and marry Alice. Siegfried tries to talk some sense into him but is it sense or is Siegfried being a little selfish? It is unclear, at least to me, what Siegfried true intentions were yet ultimately it was probably a smart thing that Tristan stayed behind. Alice overheard their conversation about Tristan wanting to marry her. Who couldn’t, they were yelling! She gently let Tristan know that she didn’t want marriage right now. Tristan took her to her bus and they say their farewells. We never see Alice in the series again. Usually the episodes end on a positive note but we end this episode with Tristan returning to the practice while big brother pats him on the back as they all try to get back to normality.
Contrary to what I wrote so far, James Herriot is in this episode. His wife Helen volunteered him to speak to the local youth group. James hates to publicly speak and Siegfried was able to give him some pointers. This included practice, practice, practice. James would practice in their Practice (so to speak) speaking in various tones from conversational, humour, or just blunt seriousness just trying to get the right tone to open his speech. Of course he turns around to see Mrs. Hall staring at him and she slowly backs out of the room not sure what got into him. The best is when James and Siegfried go to a famer where James needs to administer something to a dog. The farmer leads James to the room where the Dog is with her puppies. Since the farmer needed to leave to get some water, James felt this was a great opportunity to practice more of his speech to the dogs. The tone he starts the speech of was so loud that it scared the dog into thinking James was attacking her pups. The dog becomes almost rabid and really starts going after James who tries to leave the room but pulls off the door handle and is locked into the room with the furious dog. Meanwhile, as you can hear the constant barking of the dog outside, the farmer passes by Siegfried who is having his lunch at the car waiting for James and offers the farmer a glass of wine. So while James is desperately trying to get away from the attacking dog in the locked room, the farmer who could help him is having a leisurely glass of wine with Siegfried! Eventually James gives his speech to the Youth Club who heckles him. They didn’t care to know about the MRCBS at all.
Although this episode focused more around Tristan, James is always such an endearing character. I could not imagine anyone else in this role other than Christopher Timothy. Christopher brings such warmth, patience and good humour to the role. James rarely complains about anything and does a good job of keeping his wits about him. At the beginning of the episode, Siegfried is driving with James in James’ car. James tells Siegfried that the brakes are not great in the car. Siegfried doesn’t listen and pretty much loses control of the car as he drives through all areas at accelerated speed since Siegfried can’t slow down. Siegfried looks at James and tells him that it would be a good idea if James would lets him know when the brakes go bad and not let leave it for him to find out for himself. James just smiles and nods. James also has to put up with the likes of Mr. Biggins. No matter what James says to try to help Biggins, Biggins always makes everything difficult. This is only one a few times that James loses his temper with Biggins and that is only because James was out all night with a difficult calf birthing and he didn’t yet have his breakfast.
Biggins is a great example of some of the great characters the series has brought to us over the years. Biggins is almost the villain of the series in the vaguest sense. He is the one that doesn’t want to pay, won’t pay, and questions everything the vets do. James could tell him on a sunny day about how sunny it was and Biggins would tell him it wasn’t sunny at all. Helen is in this episode played by Carol Drinkwater. Nothing against Lynda Bellingham who played Helen from Series 4-7, I do prefer Carol. Carol is very fresh and fits into nicely of the time period of the 1930s. She plays off of Christopher’s James very well. I think they toned down the character of Helen quite a bit by the time Lynda got to play it and it wasn’t even the same character to me anymore. Of course, one character who always stands out is Mrs. Hall. Even though she didn’t have a lot to do in this episode, she is great. She is just a loveable kind character and was hugely missed from later episodes.
In a previous article about the series, I mentioned how Series 1-3 is my favourite from the whole series. I know I am not alone in this assessment. The series has an energy to it that is not there when the series returns in Series 4. I think the upcoming threat of World War II brings a kind of edginess to the narrative of the series where there really is nothing like that when the series returned as a full series in 1988. One possible reason is that the director pool is very different for the first 3 series. This episode was directed by Christopher Barry. Funny and absurd moments such as the dog going crazy from James reading him the speech is missing when the series returned. When the series returns, it just tells the story (in a very competent way) just misses some of those specials moments that really makes this series All Creatures Great & Small.
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com
I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive
Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.