All the principal actors went to “vet boot camp,” as Ralph put it. “We got up close and personal to horses, cows, sheep, everything, and went through some of the processes, like looking for abscesses. It was intimidating, but you want every detail right; how a vet would touch the animal, wash his hands, or wear his spectacles around his neck.”
They all learned a lot about farming, said Shenton, whose character runs a dairy farm with her father. “Times were very tough in that era and people didn’t have hundreds of animals,” she said. “If one is ill, it can have a huge effect.”
The original series, noted a review in The Telegraph, “became synonymous with vets’ rolling up their sleeves and rummaging around in the rear ends of startled-looking cattle.” (The James Herriot Museum in Thirsk, the writer noted, has an interactive installation allowing visitors to “put their hand up a cow’s backside.”) But recently implemented rules about using animals on film meant the actors were spared those experiences, and worked with a mixture of live animals and prosthetics.
“You have to work with animals that are good at pretending,” West said. “It’s quite amazing.”
Vanstone said that while the first season leans primarily on Herriot’s first book, a recently commissioned second season will use a mix of the first two in order to broaden both the character perspectives and the kinds of veterinary action on display. The novels include many stories about cows, he said. “I tried to cast a wider net.”
The popularity of the series across age groups (Channel 5 reported a large share of the 16-34 demographic) and audiences suggests that the show hit a sweet spot for family comfort viewing at a moment of national adversity.
“There is something about the show’s focus on community, heart and family that seems to have been particularly resonant at a time when we have all gone through something globally difficult,” Shenton said. And then there’s the aspect that has less to do with community or creatures than with more transportive pandemic pleasures: the show’s ravishing Yorkshire hillsides and time-capsule-pretty villages.
“None of us have been able to move about much this past year,” Shenton said. “But we’ve spent some time in beautiful Darrowby.”