'He could be a very good vet, he just doesn't apply himself': Ben Lloyd-Hughes on Young James Herriot

Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Rob McAloon (BBC/Shed Productions)

One of the trio of young actors leading the cast of BBC Scotland's Young James Herriot, actor Ben Lloyd-Hughes (The Hour, Skins) takes on the role of trainee vet, Rob McAloon.

Based on a real character from the life of Alf Wight (the author of the James Herriot books), McAloon will be new to fans of the novels and All Creatures Great and Small.

Here, Ben introduces McAloon and discusses some of the similarities between the new series and the Harry Potter phenomenon.

Jonathan Melville: How would you sum up your character in Young James Herriot?

Ben Lloyd-Hughes: I play Rob McAloon who is at the university with James and he's a kind of cad, that would be a 1930s way to look at it. He's not the best student, he's been there far too many years, he should have graduated already and he's had to repeat a few years. He's still in his second year after being there quite a while because he's academically not interested, even though he's actually quite intelligent.

He's someone who comes from a very well-off background and he's been sent there by his father. He actually could be, if he wanted to be, a very good vet, he just doesn't apply himself because he's more interested in gambling, money and having a good time.

He's someone who goes to university to have a good time and find a way to be himself. Sometimes when you come from a well of family there's a pressure to live up to the family name and in Glasgow he can be himself with these other students, almost reinvent himself. So he doesn't want to leave and he's found himself with the best of his years as a student and he doesn't want to grow up.

[Listen to Ben Llloyd-Hughes introduce the character of Rob McAloon]

How aware were you of All Creatures Great and Small when you took the role?

I haven't watched it and have decided not to watch it. It was a conscious decision when I went for the interview and when I knew I had the part I decided not to watch it because I think this has to be its own show.

I'm aware of the tradition and how popular it was but I didn't want to be influenced by that show or even the books because, although I know that my character is based on someone who is real in Alf Wight's life, he's not a character who's in the books or TV series, so I didn't think that I needed to watch the show. I was also aware when I auditioned that the show was going to be something unique that was before All Creatures Great and Small.

Have you had any scenes with animals?

It's been interesting as we've down a storyline with a sheep and we had a fake sheep that was animatronic and the it looked real. It's been interesting with the animals, they do their own thing, it's definitely been hilarious with them.

Did you have any veterinary training?

There's an advisor on set but I didn't have any training. My character is very disinterested in animals, his only angle is how to exploit it for money and he doesn't have a passion for animals like James does.

Is you character Scottish or English?

When I first auditioned he was meant to be Scottish, but when we talked about it, because he was always mant to be well off, and because he was meant to well off, he could have gone to boarding school in England which would have knocked it out of him.

What sort of time period does it take place over? Is there scope for further series?

These three episodes are over one term, James' first term in the college, so within the three episodes you'll skip a couple of weeks or months but you therefore have the possibility for more terms and years...

...it sounds a bit Harry Potterish...

It certainly hasn't not crossed my mind, the idea that Harry Potter's just finishing and Young James Herriot begins, I'm sure it'll be a worldwide global phenomenon in the same way.

What really excites me about the show is the relationship between McAloon, Whirly played by Amy [Manson] and James played by Iain [De Caestecker]. There's a really interesting history of two guys and a girl in literature, drama and films and I think the relationship between our three characters, just like Ron, Hermione and Harry, the kind of relationship, friendship and chemistry between a trio of people is really good and exciting.

There's Ferris Bueller's Day Off, two guys and a girl, The Talented Mr Ripley, two guys and a girl, and that's the most exciting part for me, the chemistry between the three of us and the friendships and relationships, the complexity that goes on at university between three people like that.

[Listen to Ben Lloyd-Hughes discuss Young James Herriot's Harry Potter connection]

Does romance come into it the series?

I don't think I can say. Like all good dramas it's got a bit of everything. What's exciting for me is that we can make a show that's complex, that's not straightforward. I like to think that when people watch the show they won't necessarily think “oh yes, this is going to happen and that's who these people are.”

There are surprising aspects to the characters and there are surprising moments which you might not be able to predict.


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

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

Photo Gallery: Young James Herriot – Episode One