All Creatures Great and Small Poster

Did you know that James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” series is available as audiobooks? And even better, they’re narrated by the star of the show! Join PBS Books as we sit down with actor Nicholas Ralph (James Herriot) from MASTERPIECE’s “All Creatures Great and Small” to learn more about his experience narrating these memoirs.

The Wonderful World of James Herriot - Audiobook cover
All Creatures Great and Small - Audiobook Cover

What most excited you about the opportunity to create a “new” audiobook of “All Creatures Great and Small”?

First off, I had never done an audiobook before so as an actor that scared and excited me in equal measure. I love a challenge and jumping in feet-first to the world of audio with a big book, lots of characters, and accents/dialects was something I was all in for. Making all the characters was the thing I couldn’t wait to do. Working with what Alf Wight (James Herriot) had given on the page and adding to that to come up with my own interpretation was so much fun. Working at home and then in the recording studio you can really start to embody these people. Then you are just there to serve and support Alf’s wonderful tales and with his skill as a writer and his incredible way with words, the result can often be hilarious and then quite poignant all in a New York minute.

“All Creatures Great and Small” is known for its charm and humor. Do you have a favorite scene that you particularly enjoyed narrating?

There are far too many gems to have an ultimate favorite. However, one that always springs to mind is of two old companions – an elderly man and his old dog. The dog is this man’s last and oldest friend on earth after his wife passed away. He hasn’t very much at all and James can see he hasn’t been looking after himself too well since his wife died. He has no real possessions and the house is in a sorry state. Now the old dog unfortunately needs to be put down, the elderly man understands, and through watery eyes has a quick quiet word in the old dog’s ear and lets James carry on. James asks for no charge – even though the old man insists on paying – and leaves. As he reaches his car he hears the old man shouting after him, he turns to see the man holding aloft what must be his last worldly possession. The old man says’ here lad, have a cigar’.

What most surprised you about working on this audiobook project? Was there a scene that you found challenging?

The sheer amount of time it took me to prep the book. I’ve now completed all five in the James Herriot series so I’m much quicker now and have streamlined my process. However coming in cold with this book, there were so many characters, accents/dialects, huge amounts of old veterinarian jargon I had to research and find pronunciations for and then marking out various other things in the prose. It took me a lot longer to prep the book than it did to record it! One of the first scenes in the book is when James is taken on a tour round Skeldale House and practice by his soon-to-be boss, Siegfried Farnon. The amount of veterinarian jargon, with all the instruments and then the medicines in the dispensary – it took forever to prep – if I never have to do a chapter like that in an audiobook again I will be a happy man!

When did you first read one of James Herriot’s books?

I started during the audition process and then lots after I got the part in preparation for filming on Season 1. I read the first two books as those were the two we were working from for the first season and I don’t like to look ahead. Now with four seasons of the show out and also having completed all the audiobooks I can confidently say I know these books and stories back to front and inside out and I say that happily. What an incredibly kind, caring, funny, warm, and encouraging world it is to have spent so much time in.