'She just breezes through life': Amy Manson on Young James Herriot

Young Herriot

Taking the female lead in BBC Scotland's three-part All Creatures Great and Small prequel, Young James Herriot, is actress Amy Manson.

Best known for her roles in Being Human and Torchwood, Manson plays Emma 'Whirly' Tyson, a breath of fresh air through the stuffy corridors of Glasgow's Veterinary College in the 1930s.

Manson sat down to talk about her new role during filming and explained what it was like to be part of a male dominated world and what viewers can expect from the character.

Jonathan Melville: Do the period set and the costumes help you get in the mood?

Amy Manson: The costumes have made me feel a bit different. You hear so much about what it's going to be and when you actually get there and you see it, it engulfs you. You've got the director showing you images and you experience it for five minutes then you just have to forget it and believe we are in this time and the objects are everyday.

[Listen to Amy Manson discussing the period setting of Young James Herriot]

Where did the name Whirly come from?

I think she just breezes through life, she's always on her toes, this happy-go-lucky character who's determined to be a vet. She's grown up with four brothers and her father wanting her to succeed and get a husband rather than go into veterinary colleeg so she's always been put down for that.

Fighting for her right to be in the college as one of only two women in the college, and the first before Jenny comes and she has a constant battle. In one episode she's campaigning for womens' toilets so she's fighting against the male dominance within the college and wanting herself established and a name for women in the college.

She always fighting with Gunnell who doesn't think there should be women at the college, so he has his old school beliefs. James says at one point that she's the most intelligent vet in the college why do feel the need to fight and she says basically it's because there's one man she always has to fight against, and that's Gunnell.

She puts her hand up in class he's constantly not listening. He'll go out of his way to ridicule her. In episode three she concocts a little poison for Gunnell because she's just had it. You never see her let down her guard or complaining.

How much of yourself is in this character?

When I went in for the audition the director told me to take it down and be more like myself, because I do have that tomboyish side, kind of up-in-the-air. Whirly's more intelligent than me and had more to fight for.

Would you be like her in that era?

Definitely. I don't know if I'd have the strength to do it on my own though, and that's what's so endearing about Whirly. If there was a group of us maybe.

Did you have any opposition when you wanted to become an actress?

I think my parents were initially wary about what I was going into, that there are 4,000 people a year trying to get into drama school. My mum comes to set with me now, she came to South Africa last year, so she understands the process.

Is Whirly based on a real character?

No, not like McAloon or Gunnell.

James Herriot (Iain De Caestecker) and 'Whirly' Tyson (Amy Manson) down on the farm (BBC/Shed Productions)

What's it like being the only woman in amongst the men?

I came onto set yesterday and took in the amount of males in the room and realised I am alone here. They're great, it's like The Three Musketeers or The Three Stooges and they're there for each other. James brings out something different in Whirly and is there to listen to her. She starts to look at him a bit differently and lets her guard down with him.

Are there indications that Whirly may have a favourite?

In the first script it was Whirly and McAloon but it's written in the script “Whirly gives James a look”, not between them, because James is oblivious to it, but you know she feel something for him and I think it's because she's not met a guy like him before.

We hear that James is young and learning about life, is Whirly fully-formed or does she keep learning?

There's a scene where she has to deliver her auntie's puppies and that's the first time she's really had hands-on experience, because you don't really see Whirly working with the animals. She knows what she's doing and she'd be a vet now if she could be.

Are you happy always being cast as the feisty character in series such as Being Human? Would you like to play the romantic lead?

I think more so after this. I was a bit scared approaching this because I do do things a bit more, not psycho, but there's always a problem and this is a lot lighter, the lightest thing I've done. I was nervous when I started that it would be too big but I'm enjoying the flippant side and having fun with the boys and the banter so I think I'd be happy to go into something that's lighter or more fun.

I mentioned Being Human and you were also in Torchwood, both made by BBC Wales who are massive just now. Would you like to see Scotland rising up to the levels of Wales and do more here?

Definitely! Honestly, I would love it. This is the first time I've filmed here because there's not been anything like this that I feel I can get my teeth into up here, a show in Scotland that's really moody, brave, different, dark and fun. I did a play up here and I was so bloody proud to be able to say this was my first play with the National Theatre of Scotland, and that's how I feel about this show.

[Listen to Amy Manson discussing working in Scotland]


Episode One of Young James Herriot is on BBC One Scotland on Sunday 18 December at 9pm.

Related links

‘It’s about James Herriot becoming the character everyone knows’: Iain De Caestecker on Young James Herriot