Skip to content

PBS' 'All Creatures Great and Small': Where's the 'Lord God'?

, | February 17, 2023 | By

There's very little to find fault with in the British drama All Creatures Great and Small, airing on PBS' Masterpiece, which finishes its third season on Sunday, Feb 19, with a Christmas special.

Set in the Yorkshire Dales in northern England, in the years (and this season, months) before World War II, this story of dedicated but idiosyncratic veterinarians, gruff farming men and resourceful farming women, strong-minded countryfolk of all kinds, and every sort of creature, is wholesome and utterly charming.

The Role (or Not) of God in All Creatures Great and Small

But, considering it's set in rural Britain in the prewar period, overt expressions of Christianity are hard to find. No clerics are regular characters. Aside from weddings and Christmas, people aren't seen going to church, and prayer is seldom mentioned.

At this time in history, both in Western Europe and the United States, faith figured more prominently in people's lives. In England, rural life often centered on the local (usually Anglican) parish: its services, festivals and events.

But, the Title of the Series (and Books) Comes From a Hymn

It's true that the original series of books by James Herriot (the pen name of real Yorkshire vet James Alfred “Alf” Wight) aren't religious in nature, despite the origin of all their titles.

Here's an excerpt of the original poem, which Cecil F. Alexander composed as an Anglican hymn for children in 1848 (the whole thing is here):

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

The hymn is, of course, overtly Christian in character, but reportedly it was Wight's daughter who suggested it as a source for titles. So, adding clergy characters or more obvious expressions of faith would be an addition to the books.

In the entertainment produced in secular modern Britain, adding references to faith where there aren't any already would be very unlikely.

Is Faith Ever Mentioned in All Creatures Great and Small?

So far, in season three of All Creatures Great and Small, the most obvious reference to faith is from the Hindu veterinarian whose daughter fellow veterinarian Tristan Farnon (Callum Woodhouse) is courting.


Tristan is getting very serious about Florence Pandhi. He meets her parents, who are very fun and drink him under the table. When they mention they think Shakti is okay with their drinking, Tristan says that Shakti sounds like his kind of man. Florence informs him “Shakti is the great divine mother,” and Tristan looks properly mortified.

Also, Florence's mother says she's a vicar's daughter.

There is a mention of a religious holiday in the Christmas episode, plus a related observance and a prayer, but they're not for the obvious one.

Christianity, in particular the Anglican church, has for so long been knitted deeply into British culture, that sometimes it's hard to separate the two.

For many modern Britons, it's part of the air that they breathe, but not necessarily an active thing in their daily lives.

But 'The Lord God...'

While Wight created characters that are decent, honorable, kind and caring, perhaps, even early in the 20th Century, he felt no need to dive deeper into any religious underpinnings.

Obviously, the values above aren't unique to Christians, but the faith does hold them up as an ideal.

Whether the characters profess a faith publicly or not -- and it seems that the author didn't -- their lives and actions are imbued with virtues any Christian would be proud to claim.

What All Creatures Great and Small teaches, then, is that grace is universally available, if we will only open our hearts to it.

After all, as the hymn says, whether He's mentioned in dialogue or not, "the Lord God made them all."

All Creatures Great and Small has been renewed for a fourth season, and speculation has it hitting U.K. airwaves this fall -- and likely back on Masterpiece in early 2024.


Image:  Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot and Rachel Shenton as Helen Alderson Herriot; Credit: Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE.

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Related Articles