Rachel Shenton talks about the All Creatures Great and Small Christmas special

Virgin Radio

20 Dec 2021, 11:21

Credit: Getty

Credit: Getty

With a festive episode of All Creatures Great and Small coming to our screens on Christmas Eve, Oscar-winner Rachel Shenton joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky to talk about being back in the role of Helen Alderson.

The one-off festive edition of the show will air on Channel 5 at 9pm on December 24th. It follows the six-episode second series of the much-loved adaptation, which was broadcast in September this year. Describing the series, Rachel told Stephen Mulhern, who is in this week for Chris: “It’s based on the true story of a vet called Alf Wight, who goes by the pseudonym of James Herriot. He’s a small-town vet from Glasgow and he winds up in a sleepy village of Darrowby, and starts a practice and falls in love with the Yorkshire Dales, and everything to do with Yorkshire really.”

She added: “I would describe the series as sort of a hug. Like a nice warm hug.”

Rachel told Stephen that her character, Helen Alderson, is based on a real-life person. “She can hold her own. I like that,” she said. “She’s based on the real woman, Joan Wight. She was the first woman in her village to wear trousers in 1937, because she just thought dresses were impractical. And that says everything you need to know about her, so I love playing her.”

The first episode of the new Channel 5 adaptation in 2020 was watched by 3.3 million viewers. It was Channel 5’s biggest audience since 2016 and accounted for 20.4 per cent of the entire TV audience at that time! Rachel, who won an Academy Award in 2018 for the short she wrote and starred in called The Silent Child, said of All Creatures Great and Small:  said: “We couldn’t quite believe that. We felt very passionate about making the show, and everybody from every department wanted to do these stories justice, because they were just so beautiful. But I think also it came out at the right time. It came out at a time when the world felt particularly cruel and divided, and All Creatures… is a nice reminder of humility and love.”

The actor continued: “It’s testament to, obviously the stories by Alf White, but Ben Vanstone’s writing, because one minute you can be laughing, and then the next minute it’s really quite touching, and he just does that so well. And it’s just all about community I think, and togetherness, which is really lovely and relevant at the moment.”

All Creatures Great and Small had previously been a massively popular BBC series, with 90 episodes airing between 1978 and 1990. When Stephen asked Rachel whether she had an inkling that the new adaptation would also be a hit, she replied. “To be perfectly honest, no. And I think, to be completely frank, when you take on a show that’s already been so popular and loved, there’s always an element of risk, and no-one knew what it was going to be. Everybody wanted it to be great. I’d fallen in love with the books, and I’d read the scripts and I loved them, but you never know.” 

Rachel added: “It’s ultimately a risk. When you’re shooting up in the Dales as well, all the Yorkshire farmers know the stories, and everyone says, ‘Oh it’s All Creatures Great and Small, is it?’ Well good luck... but don’t mess it up!’ But not quite as polite as that!”

The All Creatures Great And Small Christmas Special airs on Channel 5 at 9pm on Christmas Eve.

For more great interviews listen to The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or catch up on-demand here.