During the holidays I started watching the old BBC show, All Creatures Great and Small again. Some scenes in the Yorkshire stables seem a little strange. Did Christopher Timothy actually have his hand in a cow for the filming of examinations of the uterus?
Oh, yes, it was done for real.
From Wikipedia, a quote from Peter Davison himself…
When it came to the oft-joked-about insertion of an arm into a cow's rear end, Davison said: "People think we cheated, or something. I tell them that the BBC are not going to pay for a stunt cow that I can put my arm up." Robert Hardy added: "It's enchanting, because once you've got your hand inside you can understand how the interior works."
Davison first had to perform this examination in the series-one closer "Breath of Life", which was filmed in November 1977. "I had not [yet] been called upon. Now here in black and white: Interior Barn: Tristan is stripped to the waist with his arm up a cow. I spent so many days worrying about it, I didn't even give much thought to the cold weather. The series was set in 1937, when vets didn't have the luxury of modern 1977 rubber gloves, so therefore neither did the actors portraying them. All we had was a bar of soap, a bucket of warm water, and Jack Watkinson, our veterinary adviser, to show us what to do. 'It's very simple,' he said. 'A quick up and down the arm with the bar of soap, and in you go.'
So on a cold November day with the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls of the wooden barn, in I went. Of course, when I got on with it, it wasn't so bad, and even the cow seemed to quite enjoy it. All I remember is thinking the only warm part of my body was my arm. Afterwards, with a real sense of achievement, I made my way back to get cleaned up, and even the sparks seemed to look at me with new respect, although I felt sorry for them, having to clean the cow shit off the cables after filming."
I recall from the time him telling these stories of 'reality' in TV interviews.