All Creatures Great and Small: The curtain goes up on series four of this evergreen drama

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Thursday: All Creatures Great and Small (Channel 5, 9pm)

A well-known online encyclopaedia describes the literary version of Siegfried Farnon as “outspoken, opinionated, bossy, quick to lose his temper, and also quick to blow over”.

As lovers of this drama know all too well, he is based on Donald Sinclair, the Yorkshire vet who was immortalised by partner Alf Wight in the James Herriott stories.

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Viewers of a certain age will forever associate the role of Siegfried with the incomparable Robert Hardy, who brought the character so vividly to life in the 1978 television series.

James and Helen HerriottJames and Helen Herriott
James and Helen Herriott

What is less well known is that Sinclair wasn’t especially keen on Hardy’s portrayal of him, despite the fact the thespian based his performance on Sinclair’s “eccentricities”.

Luckily, it didn’t prevent the pair from later becoming firm friends, with Hardy remarking he wished he had got to know Sinclair sooner. “It would have helped me to perfect a much more interesting character,” he mused.

Fast-forward to 2020 and it’s Samuel West who takes on the role of the curmudgeonly vet for the series reboot.

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He described his alter-ego as “a man of honour”, and believed Siegfried had evolved over the series to become a “deeper and more serious” character. However, the actor said he wanted to retain the sense of him being a bit of a “loose cannon, because that’s fun to play.”

For the uninitiated, Samuel’s mum and dad are veteran stars Prunella Scales and Timothy West, while his grandfather was actor Lockwood West.

Samuel’s CV reads like every wannabe thespian’s dream, working in theatre, film, television and radio. His dulcet tones have enhanced countless documentaries, but he has also appeared as a reciter with orchestras, even performing at the 2002 Last Night of the Proms.

Born in 1966, he first appeared on the TV in the 1975 drama series Edward the Seventh, and made his London stage debut in 1989 at the Orange Tree Theatre, playing Michael in Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles, and got rave reviews.

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Thirteen years later came his stage directorial debut with The Lady’s Not for Burning at the Minerva Theatre, before his radio directing debut with a 2011 production of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Money on BBC Radio 3.

Samuel has racked up countless appearances on the small and big screen, and one thing connects them all: no matter how big or small they are, they are always great.

He’s the ideal choice then, for Siegfried, who we find trying to hold Skeldale House together singlehandedly, as the curtain goes up on series four of this evergreen drama.

It is spring 1940 and change is on the horizon for everyone. Without Tristan, Skeldale House is busier than ever. The war hasn’t come to much, prompting James and Helen to dream about the future, hoping that he won’t be called up.

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Meanwhile, a chance encounter leaves the vet worrying if a dog is being mistreated. True to form, James wants to ‘put the animal first’ regardless of the consequences.

At the same time, Siegfried finds himself called out by experienced farmer Clifford Slavens and has to learn that everyone needs a bit of support during hard times. So, when Mrs Hall takes a leap of faith, he’s on hand to do so.

The cast includes Nicholas Ralph, Rachel Shenton and Anna Madeley.

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