Vetting my favourite role from Robert Hardy…
My memories of his role as Siegfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small in my tribute to Robert Hardy.
It was with sadness I learned that Robert Hardy, a much-loved character actor passed away recently. Hardy was cast as Winston Churchill in many different productions over the years from 1981 to 2015 and in many titled roles as President, Lord, Major, Prince or as a Knight of the British Empire. However, it was Robert Hardy’s TV role as the Senior Yorkshire vet, Siegfried Farnon that I will always remember him for. Siegfried Farnon was one of a trilogy of Yorkshire vets in the BBC TV drama series All Creatures Great and Small (1978-90).
All Creatures Great and Small was one of those essential British viewing TV shows for me, my parents and my wee sisters. It even inspired my youngest sister to want to become a vet (and before you ask she’s now an artist). And I always remember a cast member’s revelation that many of the scenes were staged including props resembling the back-end of a cow filled with red fruit jelly and a baby animal. These props used for scenes when the characters had to give a hand with the larger farm animals to give birth. A useless fact (til now) I learned from my early Saturday morning Children’s TV days with Noel Edmunds…
The show was based on the best-selling books by Herriot (a pseudonym), and these tales were partly based on his true life experiences. These books were avidly read and reread with me imagining this particular trio of actors in their respective roles and had a distinctive cartoon on the front (in those editions I read back then). The story tells of James Herriot (Christopher Timothy) and his time working in a small Yorkshire veterinary practice in the 1930s with the Farnon brothers, Siegfried and Tristan. The elder brother, Siegfried was played by Hardy, with Peter Davison, a then future Doctor Who (1963-) – and another Doctor Who actor’s father in-law (David Tennant) – playing his kid brother. It also had the lovely Carol Drinkwater playing Herriot’s wife, but was later replaced by a Lynda Bellingham, then a famous mother figure who was celebrated for her gravy in a series of TV ads.
There was also a movie version of All Creatures Great and Small in 1975, with Anthony Hopkins – a full 10 years before his Hollywood Wives (1985) role and just before International Velvet (1978) – in Hardy’s part. Siegfried’s also been played by Colin Blakely. In Hardy’s All Creatures Great and Small his character later had a love interest and married an old love, Caroline Fisher played by Annie Lambert – an actress who ironically starred in another Jackie Collins production, The Bitch (1979) and with Hardy’s wee on-screen brother in Doctor Who. And more real born and bred Yorkshire actors than 1981’s An American Werewolf in London‘s Slaughtered Lamb pub.
Hardy was commended by the friends of the real life vet he portrayed with them reporting his accurate representation of this reportedly eccentric man. Hardy having met the man during his time on the show. This acting attribute was also echoed by relatives of Winston Churchill for many of his numerous appearances in this role. Be it from Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) to his last performance as the British Prime Minister in Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain (2015). However he won a BAFTA for his first portrayal of Winston Churchill in Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years.
However Hardy was my favourite actor as Siegfried Farnon and was fantastic casting for this role. Be it him losing his temper about his brothers ineptness in the practice and life or giving support and advice to newcomer Herriot such as advice to the latter on tending to Mrs Pumphrey and her pet Pekinese, Ticky Woo’s medical needs. My favourite scene is however one where he believes his brother has phoned the surgery pretending to be a client, a common scenario between the on-screen brothers. Siegfried retaliated giving mock advice til his brother is revealed not to be on the receiving end of his phone call. Although an almost predictable scene, the acting from Hardy leaves you spellbound and almost frightened for the outcome.
It was interesting to read that Hardy often contributed both writing (and rewriting) scenes and wore his own clothes in a bid to create a believable character (and not wear too much tweed). His own dogs also featured in the show as Siegfried’ s dogs. And heartwarming to read that Hardy also wrote many scenes specifically for the Farnon brothers, with his on-screen brother Davison praising his support and influence stating he had learned much from his co-star. So moving on to a more recent role, many of you young ‘uns will recall his part as Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter films. But in the few times I’ve seen Harry Potter movies, I hadn’t noticed Hardy mainly as I don’t really get into these movies even with Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith et al. But for more on this role and his other more historical ones, I recommend to look out for a review from one who looks back at more of these roles, and who’s just wild about Hardy.