'All Creatures Great and Small' character guide - who’s who in the new PBS period vet drama

All Creatures Great and Small Helen with James
(Image credit: Masterpiece)

The much-loved books by vet Alf Wight, written under the pen name of James Herriot, about the highs and lows of his life tending to a range of animals in the Yorkshire Dales in England, have captivated readers for decades. 

Originally brought to our screens in classic British period drama All Creatures Great and Small, which ran from 1978 to 1990, the heart-warming adventures of James Herriot are now being reimagined once more in a lavish new seven-part version, set in the 1930s and airing on PBS from at 9 p.m. Eastern on Jan. 10.

Here’s our guide to the key characters to look out for:

James Herriot played by Nicholas Ralph

Nicholas Ralph in All Creatures Great and Small

(Image credit: Playground Television (UK) Ltd.)

Recently qualified, the caring young vet hails from Scotland but he receives a baptism of fire when he starts his career in rural Yorkshire and has to deal with a variety of animals as well as their colourful owners. "Coming from Glasgow to the Dales is a culture shock and it's not the easiest of journeys,"  says TV newcomer Ralph. "James is so lovable, someone you are really onside with, and he goes through a lot."

Siegfried Farnon played by Samuel West

Samuel West in All Creatures Great and Small

(Image credit: Playground Television (UK) Ltd. / Ed Miller)

The demanding, short-tempered but compassionate Yorkshire vet interviews James to become his assistant and is keen to test his mettle when he takes him under his wing. "Siegfried’s frightening but has deep reserves of goodwill and love and a grudging respect for James," reveals West, whose credits include The Crown and Mr Selfridge.

Tristan Farnon played by Callum Woodhouse 

Tristan in All Creatures Great and Small

(Image credit: Masterpiece)

Siegfried’s charming, flirtatious younger brother has been training to be a vet but when he returns to Yorkshire, he swiftly clashes with his exacting sibling. "Tristan is so carefree," says Woodhouse, best known for The Durrells and Cold Feet. "He’s constantly letting Siegfried down and disappointing him. It seems like water off a duck's back with Tristan but it does play on his mind."

Mrs Hall played by Anna Madeley

Siegfried’s housekeeper frets about her absent son but dotes on Siegfried and Tristan and she soon realises that James will be an asset to the practice. "She sees Siegfried needs help,"says Madeley, who has appeared in Deadwater Fell and Patrick Melrose. "Because she’s widowed with an estranged son, these men become her surrogate family."

Helen Alderson played by Rachel Shenton

Rachel Shenton in All Creatures Great and Small

(Image credit: Playground Television (UK) Ltd.)

The spirited farmer’s daughter catches James’ eye, but will her bond with local landowner Hugh Hulton (Harry Potter’s Matthew Lewis) stand in the way of romance? "Helen’s a coper and runs the farm while bringing up her sister Jenny [Imogen Clawson]," says Shenton, who won an Oscar for short film The Silent Child. "Then she meets James and he’s disarming..."

Mrs Pumphrey played by Dame Diana Rigg

Diana Rigg in All Creatures Great and Small

(Image credit: Playground Television (UK) Ltd. / Photographer: Ed Miller)

The late, great Diana Rigg steals every scene she is in as the wealthy and besotted owner of pampered Pekinese Tricki-Woo, whose over-indulgence in rich food frequently brings him to the attention of the veterinary team. "I had a party scene with Diana and she was delightful," says West. "She was like a planet that we would orbit!"

Caren Clark

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.