All Creatures Great and Small's Christopher Timothy
Week of October 19, 2015
Christopher Timothy
Christopher Timothy.

It’s hard to believe, but actor Christopher Timothy, who played James Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small, turned 75 last week!

The Welsh actor was almost 40 when he was cast as Herriot back in 1978 and portrayed the role of the real-life country vet until the series concluded in 1990. Such was Timothy’s association with the role that despite an extensive acting career, that had begun in the 1960s when he was part of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre company, he had a difficult time getting people to see him as anything other than James Herriot.

Ironically, Timothy had had a hard time getting the role of Herriot and was initially offered the role of Tristan Farnon. The supporting roles had all been cast, and after Simon Ward, John Alderton and Richard Beckinsale all turned down the part of Herriot, the producers were finally persuaded by Peter Davidson to give the lead to Timothy.

Christopher Timothy
Timothy with Carol Drinkwater. ©BBC Picture Archives

Playing James Herriot brought the actor worldwide recognition. It was the role of a lifetime. It was also a role he could not shake off when the series ended. While his supporting actor cast mates were all getting steady television work it would be a decade before Timothy returned to a television series, when he accepted a small part in a police serial drama, The Bill.

Although it was only a minor role, it turned out to have a crucial effect on Timothy’s television career, for while being made up, the make-up woman told him about a new show being cast about doctors. Timothy set up an interview with the producers and was encouraged by their enthusiastic response. What they hadn’t told him was that it was a daytime television show, i.e. a soap opera, not a prime time series. He only found that out when he ran into an actress he knew as he was leaving the interview. Not to be deterred by the fact that it’d be a step down, Timothy rang his agent and told them he’d take the job if it was offered. It was and he did and so in 2000 Timothy took on the lead role of Dr Mac McGuire in the BBC daytime soap Doctors.

Timothy’s return to television was honored when he was surprised on the set of Doctors by finding himself the subject of This is Your Life in 2000. He stayed with Doctors for six years, during which time he also appeared in some television commercials, primarily for a life insurance company. Timothy’s had been a popular face and voice in numerous television commercials for The Sun newspaper back in the 1970s, so that medium wasn’t a new one.

Christopher Timothy
Timothy in The Grapes of Wrath.

Since leaving Doctors, Timothy has returned to his roots as a stage actor. As a teenager he’d forgone university to act in amateur productions, while working at a gentlemen’s outfitters. After his boss suggested his acting aspirations would only ever be as an amateur, Timothy took it as a challenge and applied to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He was accepted and on graduating three years later, got a job at the Old Vic where he worked alongside people such as Olivier, Ian McKellen, Maggie Smith and Michael York.

Nowadays Timothy can be more often than not seen on stages around the U.K. He’s appeared Dial M For Murder, The Diary of Anne Frank, Alan Ayckbourn's Season’s Greetings and alongside David Essex in the musical All the Fun of the Fair, to name just a few. When not touring, the father of seven Timothy revels in his grandchildren. His six eldest children were with his first wife, who he left when he developed a relationship with his All Creatures co-star Carol Drinkwater. On their breakup, she left the show and was replaced by Linda Bellingham. In 1981 Timothy met his second wife, Annie, when she was stage managing a show he was in at Chichester Festival Theatre. The couple married in 1982 and have a daughter.

This past summer it was announced HBO was in the planning stages to remake All Creatures. No word on when that might happen, but if it does you can be sure we’ll let you know!

To contact Heather:
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
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Owings Mills, MD 21117

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Afternoon Tea is Maryland Public Television's weekday presentation of British programs.
Our host and Tea Lady is Heather Sanderson.
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