Scottish Vets Down Under

BBC Scotland, 8pm and iPlayer


VETS were having a moment in last night’s schedules. To mark the forthcoming Channel 5 remake of All Creatures Great and Small, BBC4 showed a couple of old episodes of the Sunday night drama, plus a documentary about its popularity.

In two shakes of a lamb’s tail we were back in t’Yorkshire Dales with unassuming James Herriot, shouty Siegfried and his naughty little brother Tristan, plus Mrs Pumphrey’s Tricki-Woo (a rival to Mrs Slocombe’s pussy in the fnar-fnar joke stakes).

It was all a universe away from Noel Fitzpatrick, aka Channel 4’s The Supervet. The James Herriot of the noughties is a pioneering orthopaedic-neuro veterinary surgeon forever pushing the boundaries of possibility. “Cutting edge” in All Creatures Great and Small, in contrast, was someone donning a rubber glove before inserting an arm into a cow’s backside.

Think, then, of Scottish Vets Down Under, a new 12-part documentary series, as a pleasant middle ground between homely All Creatures and shiny, high-tech The Supervet.

Made by the Aussie firm WildBear Entertainment for BBC Scotland, it was a true story of two young vets who met 20 years ago at university and became best pals.

Dr Chris Ellison was the tall one who specialised in small animals, while Dr Mike Whiteford was the short stop who ran an equine hospital.

The voiceover introduced them as two Scottish vets who had “turned their lives upside down and set out on an adventure of a lifetime”, which made it sound as though they were newly arrived.

As we learned later, Dr Mike went out 12 years ago, with Dr Chris following. Both had successful practices in the rural town of Bendingo. It would have been more dramatic if they had just been starting out, but you can’t have everything.

As it was, the thrills in Scottish Vets Down Under were of the small-scale, animal-centred variety. That was fine by me, as was Drs Mike and Chris being ordinary, unassuming guys rather than the dreaded “characters” so many reality television series seek. Uncomplicated was good. It was different. Whether we will still be feeling that way a few more episodes in, who knows.

First client through the door of Bendingo Animal Hospital was a wedge-tailed eagle found lying on its stomach in a paddock. With a wing-span of 2.5 metres, these birds can down a kangaroo. Dr Chris, wisely, sent the bird for a snooze while he examined him. While doing so he found out that “he” was in fact a “she”.

There were no breaks in the wings, which left the possibility of poisoning. Only thing for it was to wait and hope.

Arriving at Dr Mike’s was a week old foal that had run into a metal fence. A facial injury would be bad news for any creature, but especially one set to be a racehorse. After an op by Dr Mike and his fiancee Dr Sarah Jalim, it was a bandage round the nose for the foal. Another case of wait and see.

Easier in one way was the case of Clive the dog. Clive, 17-years-young, had terrible earache. He wouldn’t let his beloved owner, Kay, near his lug. Like the wedge-tailed eagle, Clive was sent on a snooze.

The problem was a small grass seed wedged in his ear. “Like little daggers,” said Chris’s fiance, Dr Claire. She plucked out the one in the ear, plus several more on his coat, and delivered him back into the arms of Kay, who gave a loud sigh of relief.

Otherwise, the chaps meet a koala and learned how to do a “koala bellow”. Fun fact: koalas have three fingers and two thumbs. Not so fun fact: they suffer from chlamydia a lot. The boys also stopped to check out an injured hedgehog (it was fine), released the eagle (fine) and checked on the foal (fine).

Happy outcomes. All Creatures fans would have approved.