Call the Midwife to return for a fourth series

Jessica Raine riding bike with two students nurses puffing behind Call the Midwife, starring Jessica Raine, has been a hit since it aired in 2012

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Around 8.2 million viewers watched the exit of a major character when the third series of Call the Midwife ended on Sunday.

Warning: spoilers ahead

The finale showed the departure of lead actress Jessica Raine, who has played Nurse Jenny Lee since the BBC One drama debuted in 2012.

Inspired by Jennifer Worth's memoirs, the programme depicts the lives of nuns and nurses working in the east London parish of Poplar.

A Call the Midwife spokeswoman said: "Like Jenny Lee herself, Jessica is keen to explore new ventures.

"Jennifer Worth worked as a midwife for just a few years, but the nuns remained in the East End for another quarter of a century. Her friendship with the Order lasted a lifetime, and inspired her to immortalise them in her memoirs.

"Call the Midwife will carry on with that fascinating and emotional story, celebrating the people of Poplar, and the much-loved residents of Nonnatus Houseā€¦ We wish Jessica all the love and luck in the world as she cycles off into her future."

She added that Vanessa Redgrave, who voices mature Jenny, will continue as the show's narrator.

Christmas special

Produced by Neal Street Productions and written by Heidi Thomas, Call the Midwife has proved to be a hit abroad, where it is watched in nearly 200 territories.

Unusually for a TV show, the latest series was made by an all-female directing team. It has also attracted a consolidated audience of 10.4m viewers so far.

Nurse Chummy's mother (Cheryl Campbell) in sickbed The finale showed Nurse Chummy's mother (Cheryl Campbell) deal with cancer

The drama will return for a Christmas special, before a fourth series airs early next year. Based in the 1960s, it will show the nuns and midwives trying to hold on to their traditional values during an era of change.

After leaving midwifery, Jennifer Worth worked at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital and the Marie Curie hospital in London. She gave up nursing in 1973, when she started a career in music.

Worth's first volume of her Call the Midwife trilogy was published in 2002 but she died of cancer shortly before the first series started filming in 2011.

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