Young James Herriot Review: Vet Origins

YOUNG JAMES HERRIOT: Sunday 18th December, BBC1, 9pm

See this picture on the left? Those rolling dales look beautiful don’t they? Check out the shades of those fields.

If you watched last night’ opening episode of Young James Herriot included not a single field and certainly no colours as vivid as the ones on display here, apart from the dirty brown of our titular vet’s trousers perhaps. We suppose the dull hue wouldn’t be entirely out of place in 1930s Glasgow. It was a hard city enduring even harder times and this is certainly a little less jovial than All Creatures Great And Small, of which this little number is a prequel. This origins tale is by no means morose, but simply another decent little drama carved from a well-loved character or show. The Beeb have enjoyed much success with this tactic of late (The Road To Coronation Steet and Rock & Chips to name a couple) and Young James Herriot seems to be another fine addition to an en vogue catalogue. And why not?

Based around the recently discovered diaries of Alf Wight, who wrote semi-autobiographical novels which then spawned a TV series under the pen-name of James Herriot, this three-parter is a dramatisation based on the diaries and case notes from his early years in vet training. Played by Iain de Caestecker (who reprises the role of a tentative but principled youth he nailed in The Fades) Herriot is a lovable student and has a perfect foil in work-shy rich boy McAloon. He also meets a young firebrand by the appropriate name of ‘Whirly’ Tyson who’s busy campaigning for equal rights at the college. Indeed there’s a fine little sub-plot involving her and Professor Gunnel, a chauvinistic and vindictive old bastard who promises that she’ll graduate “over his dead body”.

With sick animals present, a certain amount of teary sentimentality is inevitable and it comes here in the shape of a dray horse that needs to be put down, something that a young and idealistic Herriot is vehemently against. Yet the whole exchange emphasises the theme that runs through this three-part miniseries, which is the human cost of sick animals. A young lad is sent to the poor house off the back of this particular horse’s ailment and the programme continues to highlight man’s dependency on animals to such a personal degree back then. With some fine supporting characters, Young James Herriot is certainly worth another look tomorrow evening.