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All Creatures Great and Small producer hits back at claims show wasn’t ‘woke enough for the BBC’

"I was very distressed to see how the show suddenly became a sort of political football," says Colin Callender, executive producer of Channel 5's All Creatures Great and Small.

Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley) Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) in All Creatures Great and Small

The Executive Producer of Channel 5’s hit drama All Creatures Great and Small has said he is “distressed” by how the show’s success has been used as a “weapon” to criticise the BBC.

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In October, the Daily Mail online ran with the headline: “Did BBC pass up All Creatures revamp because it was too WHITE? Channel 5 rakes in record 3.3m viewers for new series after corporation felt it wouldn’t appeal to prized millennial audience”.

This story had originated from a remark made by Executive Producer Colin Callender, who told the Daily Telegraph the BBC “had concerns about whether it would speak to a younger audience and, I think, whether or not the show could emerge from the shadow of the first series”.

That first series, adapted from the original James Herriot books, had aired on the BBC between 1978 and 1990. Callender’s production company Playground did take the idea for the new series of All Creatures to the BBC, but the broadcaster was only prepared to commit to a pilot episode; by contrast, Channel 5 was happy to go straight to to a full series and Christmas special.

All Creatures Great and Small
Channel 5

But at a press event ahead of the Christmas episode, Callender insisted this was no reason to attack the BBC.

Addressing the “journalists in the room”, he said: “I was very distressed to see how the show suddenly became a sort of political football and was being used as a way of showing what was wrong with the BBC. This is not a show about – this is not a story about the BBC thinking that All Creatures wasn’t woke enough to be made.”

Explaining that the rejection was an “editorial decision”, he said: “The BBC is under attack from all quarters, and the last thing I want is the success of this show to be used in some way as a weapon to attack the BBC.

“Shows like this, and the work that Channel 5 does, and all the public services will not survive without a healthy BBC. I think it’s very important for the audience and the public at large that that is the case.”

All Creatures Great and Small Christmas special (1)
All Creatures Great and Small Christmas special (Channel 5)

Callender stressed that he wanted to make All Creatures Great and Small because it was about community and togetherness, saying: “It struck me how divided we were, and we are living such difficult and complicated times.

“I felt that the audience – and I as an audience member – wanted a show that I thought was entertaining and fun, and could bring us all together.”

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The All Creatures Great and Small Christmas special will air on 22nd December 2020 at 9pm on Channel 5. You can buy James Herriot’s books on Amazon. While you’re waiting, take a look at our TV guide to find out what’s on this week.