Lawks! Somebody’s taken Olly Murs and made him an early 20th century veterinary student at Glasgow Veterinary College! It’s true! Well, it looks like it’s true as among the first wave of feel-good Christmas telly coming our way from the BBC is hidden the young Iain De Caestecker who, it has to be said, bears an uncanny resemblance to The Xtra Factor presenter and singer.
De Caestecker steps up to the Sunday evening slot of period heart-warming drama with a disarming smile and a concentrated frown as the young James Herriot in the drama of the same name. Yes, some of us slightly older telly watchers might be familiar with vet Herriot’s works from Christopher Timothy’s machinations alongside Peter Davidson in the 1980s’ All Creatures Great And Small, but this looks further back, at what motivated the man to become a vet in the first place, and to contextualise how vets might learn back in a time between the wars when so much was changing in the wake of the previous century’s Industrial Revolution.
The series (well, the run of three programmes) opens as Herriot arrives in Glasgow with romantic ideas of healing animals and an over-confidence that is soon rubbing his new professors up the wrong way. With a suitcase full of novels and clean pants under his arm, the first-day-of-term feeling – surrounded and a tad awed by the bigger boys (and girls), general confusion at the geography of the place, and earnest hope and expectation at a brand new life – is conveyed beautifully. Glasgow is a hustling city, with brand new motorcars passing by horse-drawn carts and postal orders holding the entire wealth of a term’s survival.
“Motorcars pass horse-drawn carts, and postal orders hold the entire wealth of a term’s survival”
James soon makes two new friends, the outlandishly suave and self-confident Rob McAloon and the campaigning feminist Whirly Tyson. Whirly is one of only two women studying at the College, and is accused of being indecent with her flyers demanding ladies toilet facilities at the learning establishment. It’s examples like this that place it firmly within its own time, and make James’ ringing endorsement and full support of everything she does ring a little of 50/50 hindsight. Surely, even if he was one of the nicest chaps you’d ever meet, these were quite revolutionary ideas that would take careful consideration almost 100 years ago. To make the move from new boy to political radical in one short day brings us back to the Sunday evening programming of the show which is a shame when an emotional journey was all ready to be had to female emancipation in a young man’s mind.
All in all though, Young James Herriot warms the Christmas cockles in the way a real hearth fire with a beaming Olly Murs in a reindeer jumper is likely to do. It’s very Christmassy, with its Dickensian colour scheme, but equally bound to be loved by Monarch Of The Glen fans everywhere. Such a nice boy. Go on, give him a full series. And maybe a Garibaldi to dunk in his tea.
Young James Herriot, BBC1, Sunday 18 December