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Tale of Two Helens- Bubbly +Kind vs. Sullen+ Sarcastic

While Mr. Herriot was only married once, his muse Helen was played by two performers (for reasons that would have clicked those Dales tongues a mile-a-minute). Here's where to discuss her!

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Carol Drinkwater definitely brought the courting and newlywed Helen from the books to life in a most appealing way! Yes,  it was a stroke of luck James found her and she evidently had set her cap for him from the time they first met on the bus to Darrowby despite the fact that she was much sought-after by the local bachelors including one or two far better off financially than the struggling vet living with the Farnon Bros. While   some scoffed at her having perfect RP English with her father being a Yorkshire dialect speaker, he did say that she had been like her late mother who had been special and whom no one else would have imagined falling for the likes of him ( including himself) .

 

  As for the late Lynda Bellingham? Let's just say that her offscreen life was more interesting than her character's and she did somewhat more realistically portray someone who had long been married and raised children in a rather crowded house who no longer entirely had that endearing glow of her youth.

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Its been a long time since I watched the series, but I still remember the disappointment I felt when Carol Drink water didn't come back.  I just had trouble warming up to the new actress.  Plus, I always felt she seemed too old against the actor who played James.  Now  if I saw the show, I may feel differently and would be more willing to give her a chance.

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caci,

 

 Actually, Miss Bellingham was about seven years YOUNGER than Mr. Timothy (and even a month younger than Miss Drinkwater). Yes,  I have to admit that I had trouble warming up to her,too,  and will admit that I never entirely did. However; even though her Helen's affection for James was fairly understated compared to how Miss Drinkwater's, it was still there on both the characters' parts even though they also had to deal with rather cardboard offspring.

I suppose this is as good place as any to bring this up (and I'm only doing so because, long after the fact, both Mr. Timothy and Miss Drinkwater confirmed it on camera), but the main reason why Miss Drinkwater didn't play Helen the entire series was due to  the affair with Mr. Timothy coming to an end and her not wanting to have to work with him any more. Yes, that ALSO would explain why in those earlier episodes, James and Helen had such strong chemistry!

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I just rewatched the entire series, and I think the problem wasn't the recast of Helen; it was that Christopher Timothy played James in a different way beginning with the 1983 special, the one where he had just returned from the war. One of the plot lines in that special was that James was on edge and irritable and that he was having trouble adjusting to being back home. Near the end, he says something to Helen (still played by Carol Drinkwater) like, "let me work it out in my own way," but since he continued to be perpetually annoyed throughout the rest of the series, I guess he never did. Before the war, James was friendly and charmingly bumbling (socially, I mean; professionally, he was a good vet). After the war, he was mostly just shirty looks and exasperated sighs. Drinkwater did one more special in 1985, and in that one, Helen and James did little more than tolerate each other, a dynamic that continued when Bellingham took over the role in season 4.

But one thing I didn't notice before was that Bellingham and Robert Hardy had tons of chemistry together. With Drinkwater's Helen, Siegfried was more of a father figure, but new Helen and Siegfried could at times be almost starry-eyed with each other. It didn't come out often, but there were a few scenes, her giving him lunch when James was late, having a drink together in the Skeldale sitting room, and one where they were dancing in the waiting room, where you could see what a good match they would have been. It probably didn't help that the only time we ever saw Siegfried's wife Caroline after they got married was once when she was having dinner with Helen. Siegfried and Caroline literally never had a scene together in the last four seasons, so aside from the very rare reference to her or their children, he still seemed like a bachelor.

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fishcakes,

 

 VERY insightful post. I have to admit I hadn't thought out all those possible dynamics re characters and performers but you gave some intriguing insights (even if I don't entirely agree). Yes, it's a good point that James was never 'the same' after the War  and, (even though it may have been   the performer's own 'tude rather than the writers' intent ) , this actually happened with many a returning vet (as in combat not animals) and I'm sure quite a few viewers on both sides of the Pond knew or were even related to folks who'd had that happen to them.  I think,too, that with the aftermath of Miss Drinkwater's departure, it's likely that not only was Mr. Timothy not entirely happy to see her go but wasn't eagerly looking forward to a replacement (and may have been told by the higher ups to treat any replacement as though she was plutonium so they wouldn't have to scramble for a THIRD Helen). Still, even though the postwar eps were by no means as fun or interesting as the prewar one's, they still were entertaining and worth seeking out on their own. .

    Yes, that's true that they didn't really know how to treat Siegfried as a married man beyond his own wedding and those few odd references. Perhaps since the model for Siegfried (Donald Sinclair) had ALREADY made his displeasure re his own portrayal known, they didn't want to risk adding to his wrath via depicting his wife and family.  It did seem that Miss Bellingham's Helen had more than a filial affection for Siegfried than Miss Drinkwater's had  and, had less affection for James.

 

 Thanks for posting this and I look forward to reading future insights from you on this thread if you like!

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6 hours ago, Blergh said:

Still, even though the postwar eps were by no means as fun or interesting as the prewar one's, they still were entertaining and worth seeking out on their own.

I enjoyed the whole series, but I did feel like the later seasons lacked the warmth of the earlier ones. Calum and his ever changing menagerie were a nice addition though. Because of him, whenever I see a barn owl, I automatically think, "it's Hector!"

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May or may not be entirely true but I did read once that Alf Wight’s wife (the real life “Helen”) did not entirely approve of Drinkwater’s rather overtly sexual portrayal of the character.  I also read that the cast and crew were uncomfortable, to say the least, with the on-going Timothy/Drinkwater affair, given the fact that Timothy was a married man and the affair was apparent to all involved in the series.  They didn’t try too hard to hide it.  There were a lot of factors weighing in on the decision to replace her but in the end, Drinkwater probably made the right decision.

Being a devotee of the books, I loathed Lynda Bellingham’s Helen but viewing the series years later, I really enjoyed her.  I can’t totally explain it.  They made her look much more frumpy compared to Drinkwater but she did a fine job of acting the part.  

Edited by limecoke.
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12 hours ago, limecoke said:

May or may not be entirely true but I did read once that Alf Wight’s wife (the real life “Helen”) did not entirely approve of Drinkwater’s rather overtly sexual portrayal of the character.

I've read that too, and it's never made sense to me. I would describe Drinkwater's Helen as friendly and a bit flirtatious, but that's about it. I can't remember where I saw it, but Mrs. Wight apparently loved the actress who played Helen in the first movie adaptation (the one with Anthony Hopkins as Siegfried) and often complained about Drinkwater's "whorish" portrayal. I try not to think about that too much as it somewhat taints the character for me to think of the real-life version as being such a prig.

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Yeah, I have to agree, fishcakes, that it was a bit much that the late Mrs. Wight would have considered Miss Drinkwater's interpretation of her as being anything but a jovial and friendly one! I suppose that after all those decades of having to struggle before the limelight hit her family, she may have thought that the late Miss Bellingham's sullen and sarcastic Helen was closer to how she herself considered her life towards its close (as opposed to wanting to consider that perhaps she HAD been brighter and vivacious in her youth than she'd have wanted to imagine in her later years). 

Edited by Blergh. Reason: considerations
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