Corduroy’s, Tweeds, Overalls & ‘what would Tricki Woo wear’: ‘Masterpiece’ Q&A with ‘ACG&S’ Costume Designer, Ros Little

Photo: MasterpiecePBS

There are certain series such as Poldark, Downton Abbey and Sanditon where the costumes should be considered as important to the storyline as the supporting cast. Just like scenic locations (i.e. the Cornwall countryside or Port Isacc), costumes can be equally as important as a strong ensemble cast. This is never more evident than with the latest adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small.

From richly colored jumpers to cozy tweeds, All Creatures Great and Small‘s costume designer Ros Little has the characters covered…literally! Courtesy of Masterpiece on PBS, Little takes ACG&S fans behind the scenes to reveal how she helps bring the characters to life and, above all, make them believable through their clothes.

Masterpiece: The characters of All Creatures Great and Small have grown and changed over time. Is that reflected in their costumes?

Ros Little:  Maybe in some, and not others. The one that maybe has changed a little bit is Mrs. Hall, only because when we first see her, she’s very much the professional woman wearing very modest clothes—very uniformed looking, rather dowdy. And gradually she’s come out of her shell a bit and is more part of the family, and her clothes are richer colors.

Another one who has changed is James Herriot, because initially we had a color palette for Glasgow, which is very much gray, so when we start off in Glasgow at the very beginning of the series, everything’s gray tones. And then we go to the Dales, and it’s all rich, warm colors, a very cozy and heathery sort of richness.

We had James originally arriving in a gray suit, which was a quadrupled suit [four identical suits] because we immediately see him being kicked by a stallion! That was in the first series. Then at the beginning of the second series we saw him back in Glasgow again, making up his mind whether he was going to make his life in the Dales or not. So occasionally he’s in gray, but largely he’s more in sort of tweedy things.

Generally, their clothes don’t change a lot, the men in particular, because it was the Depression. There wasn’t much money. It would be wrong for them to have lots of clothes. Occasionally, we need special things for them, like white tie ball, or suddenly Helen, who works on a farm, has a gorgeous evening dress. There are things that we’re able to do with the story, but they wouldn’t really be in the wardrobe. We are just trying to make them look nice in their everyday look.

Masterpiece: Can you describe a departure from the regular wardrobe for Mrs. Hall and Helen?

Ros Little: Well, we’ve seen Mrs. Hall in things that are not exactly glamorous, but for example in Series 2 there was a cricket match where she’s in a lovely green stripy dress and it’s very fresh looking. She’s relaxing and she’s with Gerald and she’s having fun. That’s very different to the image we have of her most of the time.

Photo: MasterpiecePBS

With Helen, there’s the evening dress I had made for her in the first series, a sort of petal-y blue velvet thing. It was really nice. That’s a good contrast for her because she’s worn quite a lot of nice summer dresses of the period, but they’re nothing special. They’re originals, most of them, hired from the costume house Cosprop.

Quite a lot of the clothes are originals when we can find them. We have made some blouses and things with reproductions of original prints, but only original things like dresses really last—and even barely. They’ll do for a few scenes, but they’re about 80 years old, so they’re quite fragile.

Things like the beautiful evening dress, we vaguely modeled on another dress, and recreated. A lot of the things in the costume houses we use as a sort of pattern to try on different things, find something that suits her, and then go from there. Because it might not be really quite the right fit, but it’s the idea of finding a look that suits.

Masterpiece: Is there something in each character’s wardrobe that you see as emblematic of who they are? Maybe we can start with Helen and her overalls, which viewers far and wide have fallen in love with…

Ros Little: Yeah, I think everybody likes the overalls, but it’s just what people would wear. I mean, dungarees come and go, but they were very in fashion around the time that she started wearing them. I try to keep her wearing nice trousers at home and overalls when she goes to the farm, because she’s now married and living at Skeldale.

So the overalls are just to be what she wears for work. Helen’s got two sets that we’ve used—one set is blue, and those are hired, then there’s a brown set, and those are actually bought from a workwear company.

Photo: MasterpiecePBS

Some of these things are specially made, and some are hired. At Cosprop, for example…with women’s stuff, you tend to find plenty of nice dresses, which have had very little wear because they’re worn in scenes where they’re probably not going to be damaged.

But you wouldn’t find work wear, or you just find limited work wear. It has to be made, really. But Helen’s got two overalls and they were easy to find, so that was lucky. And that’s just the look you want: wellingtons, big socks, jackets.

Mrs. Hall’s thing is definitely her old faded cardigan. The actor herself [Anna Madeley] is wedded to this cardigan. She doesn’t wear it as much in Series 3, but as long as it’s there…She feels that really typifies her.

Photo: MasterpiecePBS

With Sam West, who plays Siegfried, when we first talked about this series, he said, “I don’t want to be too smart. I should be a bit shabby.” I said, “Well, good. Because you would be,” because I’d spoken to people like older vets I’d made contact with. And one—he’s an elderly but well-known vet—was at pains to tell me that when he was a boy in the ’30s, the vet came on a bicycle.

Photo: MasterpiecePBS

Even a car was beyond the means of a vet, really. You think of a vet as a quite well paid role now, but it wasn’t particularly then, and you see the character Siegfried Farnon scrimping  together and forgetting to send the bills. They are relatively well off, compared to a lot of the villagers, but their clothes would be limited.

His thing is the ties. We have some nice silk ties that we’ve used, but we’ve used them so much that eventually I started getting messages last year saying, “Can we do anything about Sam’s ties? He’d like some new ones.” I’m like, I thought we loved these ties. But he’d love them so much that because they were silk, they actually completely started to shred. I’d thought they were exaggerating—they were worn on the edges before—but we used them so much that when I saw them, there was just the lining left, really, where the knot would be.

I had to find some other ones. Because he likes particular colors, we tend to try and add with him—the suits are fairly plain and sensible, lovely tweeds, and then we add quite a flamboyant handkerchief and a rich colored tie, and occasionally slightly eccentric things, bits of knitwear, just because he’d like his character wearing an old cardigan or something like that in his downtime, maybe playing Scrabble at home.

For more in-depth Q&A with Ros Little including the costume design behind Tristan’s ‘look’, more on Mrs. Hall, Helen’s wedding dress and the timeless look of the corduroys, the tweeds and the knitwear present in ACG&S and, most importantly, Ros Little’s answer to “…if you could design a costume for Tricki Woo, what would it be?”, click here and then watch the costumes come to life on All Creatures Great and Small, Sunday nights on PBS through February 19.

In: Odds & Sods