‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Cast: Producer Talks About Replacing the Late Diana Rigg in Season 2

All Creatures Great and Small returns to PBS on Jan. 9. But one familiar face will be missing from the second season of the cozy, heartwarming series. Diana Rigg, who played Mrs. Pumphrey, died in 2020. Patricia Hodge has joined the All Creatures Great and Small cast in her stead, stepping into the role of the owner of the pampered Pekingese Tricki Woo. 

‘All Creatures Great and Small’ producer explains the decision to recast the Mrs. Pumphrey role 

Patricia Hodge as Mrs. Pumphrey, sitting in a car and holding a dog, in 'All Creatures Great and Small' Season 2
Patricia Hodge in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Season 2 | Courtesy of MASTERPIECE.

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When Rigg died in September 2020, the All Creatures Great and Small team was faced with a choice. One option was to simply remove her character from future episodes. Another was to introduce a new character related to the original one. But Mrs. Pumphrey – who first appeared in the pages of the James Herriot books on which the show is based – was too good of a character to give up. Instead, they decided to recast, with an eye toward finding an actor who could bring something new to the part. 

“I thought if they could replace Dumbledore in Harry Potter, we can we could find another Mrs. Pumphrey,” executive producer Colin Callender told reporters during a panel discussion at the Television Critics Association summer 2021 press tour. “The truth of the matter is that it was a tragic loss. We all adored working with her, but we wanted to find an actor who would make Mrs. Pumphrey her own, not try and replicate what had come before, but actually make it her own.” 

The current ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ cast has made the characters their own  

All Creatures Great and Small has been previously adapted for both TV and film. The original (and much-beloved) BBC series ran from 1978 to 1990 and featured Christopher Timothy as James Herriot and Robert Hardy as Siegfried Farnon. A 1975 film version starred Simon Ward as James and Anthony Hopkins as Siegfried. In other words, most of the show’s cast was faced with the challenge of making their characters their own, just as Hodge has had to do in season 2.

“Sam [West] has turned Siegfried into his own and Robert Hardy sits there in the background, but Siegfried is now without a doubt in my mind Sam West,” Callender said. “In the same way, you find, Patricia Hodge embodies Mrs. Pumphrey in the most wonderful way.”  

“I think, you know, ultimately these iconic characters that James Herriot created sort of transcend all of us who get to play in that sandpit for a little while,” writer and executive producer Ben Vanstone added. “Those characters live on beyond all of us.” 

The cast drew on James Herriot’s books for inspiration 

'All Creatures Great and Small' cast members Callum Woodhouse and Nicholas Ralph
Callum Woodhouse and Tristan Farnon in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Season 2 | Courtesy of Playground Television (UK) Ltd.

While the All Creatures Great and Small cast and writers have put their own spin on Herriot’s characters, the show remains true to the spirit of the author’s original work. 

Anna Madeley plays Mrs. Hall, who is not very fleshed out in the books. But the actor still turned to them to help understand the world her character inhabits. 

“Reading the books was great in terms of getting the community, the sense of all the other characters and their journeys and what was going on,” she said. “They’re just gorgeous and heartwarming and keeping that world alive while you’re shooting is just great.” 

The books “were by my side the whole way,” said Nicolas Ralph, who plays James. “You obviously take a lot from the books and then also the scripts, Ben’s wonderful scripts, when building the character up. Then you can merge those all together. But the books were never far away.” 

All Creatures Great and Small Season 2 premieres Sunday, Jan. 9 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS. 

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