All Creatures Great and Small-Series 1-Volume 1 (1978)

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Released 1-Sep-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 295:25 (Case: 294)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Terence Dudley
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Christopher Timothy
Robert Hardy
Peter Davison
Carol Drinkwater
Case 4 Arrow-Triple
RPI $59.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Who is Alf Wight? He is a man that through his writings brought one profession into the limelight and created a world that millions have enjoyed, both through his books and then in the TV series based on the books. The series created has been copied many times since, in fact just recently we have seen on the ABC a series that follows a young group of veterinarians from college through to the practices they join and their adventures. Even the music for this recent series echoes strongly the original theme music. I can only be talking about the most famous vet of all, James Herriot, the semi-autobiographical character created by Alf Wight.

    According to the biography of Alf Wight written by his son, one day Alf returned from work and regaled his wife with yet another funny incident that had happened to him during his rounds and finished off the story with "It would be a good story for the book". His wife looked at him and said "The Book, Alf? You have been talking about writing that book for the past twenty years. You'll never write a book!" This, at nearly fifty years of age, spurred Alf to write his first book, and from there spawned this wonderful series that is still as bright, happy and readable (or watchable) as the day it was penned.

    The series is based on the life of the author and the people around him. It is not autobiographical in that the characters are embroidered and reshaped, some of the stories are collected from other vets, and the world they inhabit is a little more perfect than real life, although to be honest I found the reality as portrayed in the biography both a little disappointing (and almost shocking), as problems did intrude into Alf's life, but also reassuring as he did live a truly rich and wonderful life and gave us a great gift in his stories. The only character that was portrayed as a little less than he truly was was the character of Siegfried. Apparently the source for Siegfried was one of the true English eccentrics and Alf was a little worried about being sued if he wrote the unvarnished truth. The series is set in the period between the two wars, at a time when the science of veterinary practice was moving from the dark ages into the light of modern medical practice. This comes through, along with everything else that makes this series so rich, as we follow along the life and times of James Herriot.

    James Herriot, played in this series by Christopher Timothy, comes across as a man that loves his job, the animals he works with and who has a deep compassion for the owners of the animals he treats. As I write this review, short stories from the books that were faithfully reproduced in the series keep flashing through my mind involving this wonderful character, visits to various farms, characters he met, all reflecting the character of a man that it is very easy to come to like very much.

    Siegfried Farnon, as English as they come despite the name, is a wonderfully eccentric character. Echoing a time that leads up to when the series was set he is a strong dashing man who never admits fault. Played with consummate skill by Robert Hardy, he is the owner of the veterinary practice that hires James straight out of veterinary college.

    Tristan, Siegfried's younger brother, is in training to be a vet at the start of the series and is in many ways the comic relief. He is always getting into some sort of trouble and is always at the receiving end of Siegfried's displeasure when caught out. Played by Peter Davison, he is an indispensable character in the series.

    Last and certainly not least is James' future wife Helen. Carol Drinkwater looks and plays the part of the beautiful farmer's daughter who is in much demand by all the young men in the area but who eventually falls for the quiet young vet. No more perfect a couple can be imagined. Other characters include a wonderful array of dales farmers, residents of the village such as Mrs Pumphrey (owner of Tricky Woo) and many others.

    Set in Darrowby in the Yorkshire dales, the veterinary practice is located in Skeldale House. Skeldale House is almost a character in itself and is now a popular tourist attraction. The scenery has to be seen to be believed; wonderful rolling green valleys, ancient stone bridges, a little village nestled amongst the hills. With true BBC accuracy and attention to detail, the time is accurately portrayed with a great collection of vintage cars and buses.

    On this particular set of discs is the first six episodes from the total of thirteen that made up the first series. The series went from 1978 until 1990 and comprises ninety one episodes, each about fifty minutes in length. The six episodes are presented on three discs with two episodes on each. Each episode contains a combination of short and slightly longer story arcs along with some threads that move from episode to episode. Just reading the chapter selections for each episode is enough to trigger a fond memory and a smile as you remember that section of the story. No other series that I know of has so many memorable moments.

Disc 1:

Horse Sense (50:47)

    We open the series with the famous falling asleep incident. James turns up for his job interview to find that Siegfried is nowhere to be found. After spending the entire afternoon waiting in the drawing room, he eventually nods off and is discovered asleep by his prospective employer. Siegfried takes James out to a couple of calls on the local farms to see how he fares. A difficult case of pus in the foot of a horse and a cow that kicks like a mule gives James the opportunity to show his stuff. As we know, he gets the job and his life at Skeldale House begins.

Dog Days (49:12)

    James is starting to see clients, but many are unsure about this new vet and make it clear that they would prefer to see Mr Farnon. He manages to overcome this resistance and begins to build a reputation, unfortunately not always the one that he would hope for as the farmers have a very dry sense of humour and love it when they think they have got one over the vet. Tristan returns from veterinary college during this episode in a wonderful scene where he manages to put one over Siegfried in relation to his success or lack thereof in the recent exams. We also meet Mrs Pumphrey and the famous Tricky Woo and James becomes the fast favourite when he cures a bad case of Flop Bottom.

Disc 2:

It Takes All Kinds (47:46)

    A young calf with a broken leg brings James to the farm where Helen lives. The calf is in the top paddock and Helen comes along to help, leading to a nice walk across the farm. Siegfried is convinced that the practice needs some discipline and organisation and hires a secretary to help run the practice. The only word that can describe the new secretary is battle-axe and we just know that two very strong personalities such as the secretary and Siegfried cannot possibly coexist in the one place.

Calf Love (49:21)

    The piggy from hell - both James and Siegfried have had a go at treating this less-than-cooperative porker. So, in true Siegfried style, the job is assigned to poor old Tristan. Meanwhile, the battle of wills between Siegfried and the new secretary reaches a dramatic climax. This episode also contains one of my favourite little stories from the books where James imbibes a little too much home-made wine.

Disc 3:

Out of Practice (49:25)

    James finally plucks up the courage to ask Helen out and he is talked into making a real production of the night and taking Helen to an expensive hotel in a nearby town where there is meant to be a dinner and dance. As with all of James' early attempts to woo Helen, all does not go to plan. There is also a nice little story about a sick pony belonging to some gypsies that are in the dales. The episode does not end well for James as he embarrasses himself rather badly in front of Helen while out with Tristan and a couple of Tristan's lady friends.

Nothing Like Experience (48:54)

    An injury to one of the farm dogs on Helen's father's farm brings Helen to the surgery while James is on duty. James takes the opportunity to risk another date with Helen. Alas, again the gods do not smile on poor old James as he attempts to improve on his previous efforts to impress Helen. We meet one of the less likeable farmers who insists that his cow has been struck by lightning, something that the insurance company will cover as opposed to natural causes which it does not. There are two more of my favourite stories in this episode; the ghost of the old abbey and the disappearing tumour.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     Unfortunately, there has been no restoration work done on the source material and the age and quality of the source material is not the best.

    The transfer is presented at its original 133:1 aspect ratio it is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    There are two distinct source materials for this series; film is one and videotape the other. Typical of the BBC productions of the era, the interior material is shot on video and the exterior work done on film. At a guess I would say probably 16mm film at that. As more time is spent outdoors in this series than in most BBC productions, this film material is particularly noticeable.

    Sharpness for the video material is not too bad but suffers from the usual video blur on movement. The film sourced scenes are pretty blurred and heavily affected by grain - at times the image is little more than a blur. Both the video noise and grain have led to almost constant low level noise. Shadow detail is acceptable in both film and video-sourced scenes.

    Colours in both source materials are drab, with little saturation. The video material is better than the film but still not up to scratch. To be fair, the light in the outdoor scenes is pretty much constantly grey but such is English weather.

    There are constant minor MPEG artefacts triggered by the level of noise in the source material. Pixelization and posterization can be seen in the housekeeper's face at 2/2:09 (Episode 2 at 2:09), grain triggered noise at 1/40:59 and a video moiré pattern at 1/34:35. The video material has a host of video artefacts including false colouration such as at 1/11:02 or on the dress at 3/0:23. There is some minor aliasing in some scenes, an example being 2/24:33. Besides the grain there are only a few film artefacts such as flecks and so forth, and a couple of scratches such as the one down the left side of the picture at 2/12:47.

    I was not particularly impressed with the subtitles, though I suppose they would have a hard time keeping up with Siegfried - they lost some of the little mannerisms and vocal embellishments that added so much to some of the characters. They just seemed a little dry in comparison.

    The three discs are all dual layered discs, with the layer changes separating the episodes and thus unnoticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There is a single English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack on this disc, basically a mono track.

    For the most part the dialogue quality is pretty good. There were a couple of scenes, particularly at the start in the surgery, where Siegfried's voice seemed to be a little over modulated Also, some of the accents are pretty thick but this shouldn't be too much of a problem.

    On the whole, the audio sync was good but in one scene in the 5th episode at 35:00 it was out.

    The theme music is wonderful and it only takes a few bars to transport me instantly to the Dales. The only other music in the series is some short snippets, usually when the character is travelling by car over the Dales, which are variations on the theme.

    There was no activity from the surrounds or the subwoofer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     On the inside of the cover there is a sentence that exhorts you to press the menu key to access the special features. I nearly wore out my menu key, but to my disappointment found no special features.

Menu

    Presented at 1.33:1 and accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, the menu backdrop is four boxes with scenes from the series playing in each. The music is the theme from the series.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The British version and our version appear to be identical with no special features and the series broken into two separate boxed sets. In Region 1, the entire season is included as well as a mini-documentary on the life of Alf Wight, including spending a day on his rounds as a vet. This I would have loved to have seen, so am pegging a Region 1 win for this release.

Summary

    Despite the video quality, the stories, the acting and the wonderful world that James Herriot lives in is a must-see. It is a world filled with humour, love and occasionally pathos and is far removed from the fast-paced modern life which we now live. Sure it is escapism, but who does not need to step out of the rat race for a while? There really is no better series to do this with.

    The video is disappointing.

    The audio is functional.

    The missing extra is unforgivable.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Sunday, September 21, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252q CRT Projector, Screen Technics matte white screen 16:9 (223cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationSony STR-DB1070
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

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