The Kings Arms in Askrigg was the real name of the pub we used as The Drovers Arms in All Creatures Great and Small. I returned there seven years ago when I was writing a feature for the Mail on Sunday. I ordered a glass of red wine and sat alone, deep in reflection. In the days when it was the Drover’s Arms, late 1930s to 1940s, it certainly wouldn’t have served red wine by the glass!
I remember my very first bout of filming for the television series All Creatures Great and Small, it was autumn, late seventies. The three actors playing the leading roles of the vets in a Yorkshire practice had already been on location for a week or two. It was about then that I arrived in Richmond to complete the quartet of players. Although we didn’t know it at the time, we were to continue working together very happily for many years. To celebrate our newly-bonded foursome, Robert Hardy, the wonderful late Robert Hardy, threw a dinner party at his hotel, the Punchbowl Inn, Swaledale. The hunting season had just opened and the grouse were delivered to the table almost fresh from the fields. I was a little horrified, partially because, during those years, I was a vegetarian.
Up until that time, I had been an impoverished actress living from job to job, praying a role would fall into my lap so that I could cover the next electricity or telephone bill. Robert Hardy’s dinner party was lavish, certainly by my standards. I can see him now – (to his close friends, he was Tim, not Robert) – at the head of the table relishing every second of the evening, ordering this and that with gusto and taking great care to make sure that the wines were the ideal companions to each course. He called for two bottles of ‘claret’ to accompany the main plate. I think I can honestly say I had never heard of ‘claret’, or if I had, I could not have said which or what wine, or range of wines, it described. I would not have dreamed of asking because I was too awestruck by the company and the splendour of the occasion and because I thought it would be expected of me to know such details.
I have since learned that the notion of ‘claret’ is a very English one and refers to red Bordeaux wines.