It’s party time in All Creatures Great and Small

Christmas Eve:All Creatures Great and Small; (Channel 5, 9pm)

We all let out a huge sigh of relief at the end of 2020, crossed our fingers and hoped for a better 2021.

Looking back over what has been another rollercoaster 12 months, and peering ahead to a year that could well be as bumpy, there’s no wonder many of us have a yen for the past.

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The festive schedules are liberally sprinkled with period offerings, from The Larkins on ITV to Aunty Beeb’s Call the Midwife, all giving us a slightly rose-tinted view of the not-so distant past, when things seemed simpler and life was taken at a slower pace.

This gentle drama, set in the 1930s and centred around a Yorkshire Dales veterinary practice, was originally filmed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first book in the James Herriot series, If Only They Could Talk.

The first series went down a storm with viewers, who embraced Nicholas Ralph as Herriot. Unsurprisingly, he did his homework for the show, speaking to the son and daughter of Alf Wight, the author of the books. Ralph said they spoke a lot about Donald and Brian, the real Siegfried and Tristan, warning him he had the toughest job because Alf was almost an observer of these larger-than-life personalities.

If All Creatures became famous for anything, it was the sight of a vet with his arm up a cow’s backside, and while the 21st-century version uses prosthetics for that particular examination, it still goes to great lengths to make sure the actors do things properly.

Ralph recalled the steep learning curve for the series one: “Straight off the bat with our on-set vet adviser Andy Barrett, we were up close and personal with horses, sheep, going through procedures that we would be doing.”

He learned how to approach an animal and use the stethoscope on a cow’s heart, lungs and stomach. By the time the second season came around, we suspect he was a dab hand, but there was a changing of the guard elsewhere among the cast.

The iconic actress Diana Rigg died after series one, leaving the show’s producers unsure of what to do with her alter ego Mrs Pumphrey.

They decided to stick with the character and cast veteran star of stage and screen Patricia Hodge in the role, where she’s done an outstanding job.

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It remains to be seen what part the veteran Darrowby resident will play in this festive special, which begins on Christmas Day, and finds James and Helen in a bit of a pickle.

They never agreed where they would eat on the big day and they’re expected both at Skeldale by Hrs Hall and at Heston Grange by Jenny. Sadly, their dilemma throws up awkward questions about their future, and a card from his father doesn’t help.

Meanwhile, Helen feels like a fifth wheel at the Skeldale Christmas party after a local pet falls ill. Luckily for her and the unfortunate creature, local farmer Dave Kitson may have all the answers. Plus, Tristan learns that it might be time to take himself more seriously and reveals some important news.

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