Call The Midwife

Date: 03.01.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.10
Category: BBC One; Drama
Call the Midwife is a moving and intimate insight into the colourful world of midwifery and family life in 1950’s East London.

We are introduced to the community through the eyes of young nurse Jenny Lee as she arrives at Nonnatus House to live and work as a midwife alongside an Order of Nuns.

As Jenny comes to terms with her new life, we meet some phenomenal people who prove that their warmth, resilience and determination are to be admired beyond measure. At the heart of this world are the Sisters of St Raymond Nonnatus who have been active in the East End as Anglican nursing nuns since the beginning of the 20th century. The Sisters and the midwives of Nonnatus House carry out many nursing duties across the community. However, with between 80 and 100 babies being born each month in Poplar alone, their primary work is to help bring safe childbirth to women in the area and to look after their countless newborns.

The series was commissioned by Danny Cohen, Controller BBC One, and Ben Stephenson, Controller BBC Drama. It was adapted with the blessing and guidance of Jennifer Worth, who worked closely with Neal Street Productions and screenwriter Heidi Thomas (Upstairs Downstairs, Cranford) up until she passed away shortly before filming began in the summer of 2011.

Starring newcomer Jessica Raine as Jenny, the cast includes Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris, Miranda Hart and Judy Parfitt. Three other new faces, Helen George, Bryony Hannah and Laura Main, complete the regular ensemble cast. Vanessa Redgrave provides the narration as the mature Jenny.

Executive Producer for Neal Street Productions is Pippa Harris (Revolutionary Road, Stuart: A Life Backwards) with Christopher Aird as Executive Producer for BBC. The series was produced by Hugh Warren (Above Suspicion, Survivors) and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe (Five Daughters) and Jamie Payne (The Hour, Ashes To Ashes).

On bringing the books to life, Pippa Harris says: "The books were first brought to my attention by my Neal Street colleague, Tara Cook, when Call The Midwife was published in 2007. We were working on several feature films, and scouting for more film projects, but Call The Midwife cried out to be a TV series. It was the mixture of wonderful characters, gripping storylines and the combination of humour and pathos that made me think it would work well on TV. I loved the fact that Jennifer's writing gives you an insight into a recent, yet long vanished world. Although she was only writing about the late 50s, this post-war period in the East End was extremely tough. Surrounded by bomb damage, and sometimes living in slum conditions, women gave birth to baby after baby often with no running water, clean bed linen or pain relief. Yet despite the hardship, Jennifer's books are filled with warmth and humour and show the powerful bonds of family and community that held people together."

Heidi Thomas says: “Most of my adaptations have been of 19th century novels – Cranford, for example. So I was looking for something a little more modern – 1957 feels bang-up-to-the-minute for me! However, as soon as I started reading I realised that Call The Midwife was actually a very profound social document, a depiction of a world with which we can all identify, but which has vanished from our view. It was funny, and it was touching and I simply could not put it down. I was up till three in the morning, turning the pages, because I just felt compelled to devour it all at one sitting. And every woman I have ever met who has read the books has said exactly the same.”

Philippa Lowthorpe says: "I love stories about real people and I love stories about women which are unearthed from an unknown history and this project had both elements. I thought these midwives and Nuns are truly unsung heroines. The work they did in the East End was amazing and no one has ever celebrated that before. But the women themselves were completely down to earth, very funny, and very human, sometimes bad tempered and fed up, sometimes making mistakes - just so real. I love the fact that the nuns weren't at all saintly. I also adored Heidi Thomas' writing. She's captured the world so brilliantly and so movingly."

Jamie Payne says: “I sincerely hope that I have captured even an ounce of the incredible heart and courage of the nuns, midwives and the people whose lives they became such a big part of. The inhabitants of Poplar in 1957 had very little but hope and humour dominated their lives. I hope that each episode captures their incredible, inspiring attitude to life, family and love.”

Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, says: “This superb cast of some of our best established and new actresses will bring to life the extraordinary true stories and friendships of midwifery and family in 1950s East End London. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the late Jennifer Worth for both her support and insight on Call the Midwife which I hope will serve as a fantastic tribute to both her life and work."

BBC Drama Publicity