Meet the Yorkshire Set Designer of All Creatures Great and Small as the Series Returns
All Creatures Great and Small is back on Channel 5, and we take a look behind the scenes with set designer Jackie Smith
Set designer Jackie studied Interior Design and then Architecture at university. ‘Whilst in my final year one of our visiting lecturers was a production designer called Anton Furst and he invited me to see the sets he had designed at Pinewood Studios,’ she recalls. ‘I went along to see if this is something that might be interesting and was literally blown away. The sets were for the first Batman movie and as I walked along the streets of Gotham City I knew that this was a world I wanted to be a part of.’
When she graduated, Jackie applied for jobs in film and TV. ‘It took six months of applying and working for pennies in small theatres, but I eventually got a job at the BBC,’ she says. ‘The BBC was the perfect training ground and I learned so much in my time there. I’ve been freelance since 1992 but have taken a 12-year sabbatical in order to focus on bringing up my three amazing children, starting back in the world of TV drama four years ago. Since then, I have designed three series of All Creatures Great and Small, for Vera for ITV and for Funny Woman for Sky.
‘I’ve worked on other period dramas like The Mary Whitehouse story with Julie Walters set in the 60s and find this is the genre I enjoy the most. I love the research and bringing history to life within a storytelling context. Funny Woman, which comes out in October, starring Gemma Arterton, was also set in this period and its such a wonderful time period to recreate.’
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Reflecting on her work for All Creatures Great and Small, Jackie says the best part has been being able to build the world and settings for the whole series. ‘Working closely with the director Brian Percival and producer Richard Burrell, we were able to bring Ben Vanstone’s scripts to life for a new generation to enjoy,’ she adds. ‘[I’ve most enjoyed] working in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales with our fantastic crew and cast – and the access to Yorkshire’s finest bakeries.’
Jackie started with the main composite build of the set for the interior of Skeldale House. ‘This was lovely, based on Ian Wight’s home and vets’ practice in Thirsk, now a very successful museum,’ she says. ‘Once we had decided on a palette for this set, the rest of the sets fell into place. We used a palette of earthy tones and the colours of homemaking, toasty browns and buttery yellows with hints of red.’
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Jackie works very closely with the location manager, whose team have been out scouting for new farms and other locations like the Ministry of Agriculture in the new upcoming series. ‘We look at various options to start with and work closely with the director to decide on which works best for us both visually and practically. We always have work to do to locations to make them right for the period and to bring the All Creatures look to everywhere we shoot.
‘This season, the farms around Malham were used a lot and the views here are spectacular. We had the privilege of working at Sawley Hall which is a beautiful private stately home, now being lovingly restored by its current owners. We do a lot of research and have used local museum archives like the quirky and must-see Nidderdale Museum in Pateley Bridge.’
Jackie lives in North Yorkshire and her mother’s family are from there, so she’s known the area all her life. ‘My research has often been anecdotal of what my mother’s generation remember from their childhoods, but has mainly come from archive photography and of course the original books by James Herriot,’ she says. ‘What is most striking is how the harshness of the weather, working conditions and long long hours, contrasting with the enormous sense of warmth both through community and family. This is what I think most characterises the show and I feel it’s a privilege to highlight this in today’s uncertain world.’
Jackie’s role in all three seasons has had its challenges though. ‘We are not a big budget production and trying to bring the stories to life for the budget we have has been relentlessly challenging,’ she explains. ‘We use eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Etsy as well as the full array of local charity shops to bring our world to life. The animals themselves bring their own challenges too, balancing today's needs for safety and care with what would have been the norm in 1939 is always a fine balance.’
The third series of All Creatures Great and Small wrapped production on location in Yorkshire in July 2022, with series three starting last Thursday (15th) on our screens. Catch up now on My5 and continue the full series each Thursday at 9pm on Channel 5.
Can you tell us any funny stories from behind the scenes?
Brushing snow from the fields in April as the scenes we were shooting were meant to be in high summer. Also shooting the Christmas special in June in a heatwave with full snow effects!
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on Archie, a biopic of the Hollywood actor Cary Grant for ITV starring Jason Isaacs. A multi period show which starts in 1909 in Bristol, where Cary Grant was Archibald Leach growing up in an impoverished household, before he made his way to New York and eventually Hollywood.
Your favourite place to visit in Yorkshire?
A Yorkshire place that still holds plenty of history.
Grassington village, the setting for Darrowby in our show. Also Fountains Abbey, Jervaulx and Ripon Cathedral.
An inspirational Yorkshire person you’d like to work with.
Dame Judi Dench.
A book you’re reading right now.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara.
Your favourite film.
So many… Four Weddings, Pretty Woman, Withnail and I, Brazil, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Greatest Showman
A quote that inspires you.
Not quotes exactly but in Yorkshire we love a saying, so these ones work for me:
‘There’s always more than one way to skin a cat.’
‘God loves a trier.’
‘Inspiration is everywhere.’
And a quote…
‘Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.’
Advice for those looking to work behind the scenes of shows.
Contact organisations such as Screen Yorkshire as they have training programmes for people who are keen to work in the industry. Check out the credits of people on shows you like and try to make contact.