Have You Been Watching… Call the Midwife?

The hiiiills are alive, with the sound of ...er...bikes.

Call the Midwife, adapted from the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, is the BBC’s highest-ever rating drama debut.

Just let that sink in a minute. All those previous classics, knocked into a cocked hat by what might be the fluffiest show ever to not star Rory Kinnear.

I have to confess I missed the first episode because, after all, I am a red-blooded man whose idea of a relaxing Sunday night is a bit of bear baiting followed by a brief football riot rather than, say, watching newly qualified midwives bumbling around 1950s London on bikes.

But I saw the second instalment and I’ve seldom sunk into a warm custard of feelgood whimsy so quickly. All the ingredients are in place: attractive yet naive young women in nurse outfits (to be fair, they are nurses, but I am a red-blooded man etc.), cheery, cheeky cockney housewives and loveable scamps, not to mention Jenny Agutter in a wimple (that one for our older, but still red-blooded, readers) as Sister Evangelina.

Basically, it’s a mashup of Oliver Twist, The Sound of Music and One Born Every Minute.

And it’s awesome, in a qualified and unchallenging way: silly and funny and gentle and emotional and OMG BABIES. And Miranda Hart on a bike! She’s awkward! And posh! Such fun.

Poor woman, she’s going to be stuck with that one for the rest of her career.

The nurses follow a familiar formula. Dowdy Spice (Cynthia, mousey but with a firm spirit), Forward Spice (platinum blonde Trixie, perhaps a wee bit flighty), Chummy (Miranda giving us an accurately monikered Posh Spice for a change) and Jenny, Everygirl Spice who narrates from BEYOND THE GRAAAAAVE – er, from the present day when she’s turned into Vanessa Redgrave.

I want to be Vanessa Redgrave when I grow up.

The nuns, whose convent hosts the girls and keeps them Sunday-night-appropriate, are also rather more physically and morally spry than we might have expected. For Jenny Agutter, this isn’t a surprise, but in tonight’s episode, shrinking violet Sister Bernadette is wracked with longing as the girls all go out with their young men to dance to rock ‘n’ roll (Trixie has already seen Elvis Presley, of course).

Perhaps she’ll be defrocked? *makes Frankie Howerd face*

We also had our first death. Our first two deaths, as neither mother nor baby made it. I’d been waiting anxiously for this – how could they avoid it, given the subject matter? Unfortunately it was a bit of a miss: understated in a way that didn’t really do justice to the desolation and trauma inherent in the situation. But that’s pre-watershed TV for you, folks.

That said, it was moving and did help the plot progress: mousey Cynthia has been a tad anonymous to date, so perhaps being at the centre of tragedy will be the making of her.

She’s not allowed any romance – not yet, anyway, which is a shame as it’s coming more and more to the fore: Jenny has a nice young man, Trixie has a host of unsuitable rogues (I assume), and Chummy, whose character is painfully sexless even for comic relief, has met a nice policeman after running him down on her bike.

There’s that word “nice” again – I promise you, I’m editing it out more often than not but it simply couldn’t be more apt for this series. If the programme were a cake, it’d be a lovely, straightforward bit of Victoria sponge rather than a fancy confection dripping fudge sauce and covered in edible glitter.

Also, despite the programme being set in the 1950s, it seems completely now, tapping the recession-spawned desire for escapism and nostalgia. The stories themselves are successfully stand-alone but with a continuous thread. This week’s storyline involves a young working girl from an earlier episode: she’d had her baby taken away, so she’d stolen a new one.

It was simple but effective. Which pretty much sums up the show.

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Call the Midwife is on Sunday nights, BBC1 at 8pm. You can catch up on iPlayer here.

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59 Responses to Have You Been Watching… Call the Midwife?

  1. Emma says:

    there was a stillbirth in the first episode 😦 however it was very much a subplot as the mother in question was a bit gobby.

    I’m finding it a bit weird in tone – it’s obviously going for cuddly Sunday night nostalgia but some of the things it’s dealing with (Catholic church forcing young unmarried woman to give up child against her will, horrendous effect on women of no contraception e.g. woman with 15 kids, grim reality of pregnancy & childbirth in general at that time) are really quite gritty and the gritty bits rub along rather awkwardly with the fluffy bits. I haven’t read the books but would hope they gloss over the grim stuff rather less.

    • Hilary Wardle says:

      I can just imagine the scene in the production offices

      Man Chomping On Cigar: “Hey lady, so we love these groovy memoirs. But, you know, the whole birth complications/babydeath thing is a bit, like, of a bummer, yeah?”
      Lady Who Wrote The Memoirs: “Well, yes. But they’re about childbirth in the 1950s, which was often fraught with danger. I mean, this was the reality of the situations we often faced, an integral part of…”
      Man Chomping On Cigar: “Yeah yeah yeah. So, we were thinking, right, instead of babies dying- which to be honest wasn’t playing well with our 18-85 Sunday night demographic- we could replace that stuff with, say, Miranda Hart bumbling around and knocking things over.”
      Lady Who Wrote The Memoirs: “Well I’m not sure that’s quite…”
      Man Chomping On Cigar: “YEAH CHEERS RIGHT BYE THANKS FOR COMING IN”

  2. Sonia says:

    I’m loving this programme. But I noticed in episode 3 when cynthia was measuring Mrs Lawson’s bump, that she measured her in centimetres (“36 centimetres…that makes you 36 weeks long”). As this is set in the 1950’s, we didn’t use centimetres then, or, does this mean that the medical profession had an advantage over the rest of us long before the 1970’s?

  3. Zsuzsanna says:

    Why did the BBC choose The Swan, which is a piece for the ‘cello, and then say it was played on the violin? It is not in the book. Why not choose a violin piece?

    • Zsuzsanna: Hi, and yes, it’s a great series!

      As I mentioned elsewhere, it was indeed The Swan which we saw played on the violin (about 7 or 8 mins into the programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01bzs2l/Call_the_Midwife_Episode_4/), but obviously in a different key to that used in the Yo Yo Ma normal cello version.

      I’ve also now found out that there is an arrangement for violin and piano by none other than Jascha Heifitz. Here’s a clip of Rudolf Koelman and Ferenc Bognar playing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L41pDHOmVIA (You can even find the sheet music, for violin, online…)

      I don’t recall any mention of this piece of music in the book, either, but Jennifer Worth did of course move from midwifery to become a professional classical musician, so perhaps she told someone about it when they were planning the programme? Or maybe someone just thought it was nice…?
      Hope this helps!

    • Hilary Wardle says:

      IT’S A MYSTERY

      • Re: ‘The Swan’ which we saw played on the violin (about 7 or 8 mins into Episode 4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01bzs2l/Call_the_Midwife_Episode_4/), but obviously in a different key to that used in the ‘normal’ cello version.

        There is however an arrangement for violin and piano by none other than the master violinist himself, Jascha Heifitz. Here’s a clip of Rudolf Koelman and Ferenc Bognar playing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L41pDHOmVIA (You can even find the sheet music, for violin, online…)

        I don’t recall any mention of this piece of music in the book, either, but Jennifer Worth did move from midwifery to become a professional classical musician, so perhaps she told someone about it when they were planning the programme? Or maybe someone just thought it was nice…? It’s certainly both popular and very soothing.

        Hope this helps!

  4. Colin Hills says:

    I recommend that anyone who enjoyed this excellent BBC series read the memoirs of Jennifer Worth in book form! It is not for the fainthearted for there is much in the book that would be unsuitable to be shown in its explicitness on TV. A riveting book that brings the old East End to life and is a valuable social history source.

    • Barbara Smith says:

      Well said Colin, I’m so pleased that a man has admitted to enjoying it. I bought a trilogy of the author’s books beginning with Call the Midwife because for me, it is the best thing on tv at the moment. Such a change from night after night of the same old soaps. Now I really have something to look forward to on a Sunday night even if there are only 2 more episodes left.
      I was delighted to read that a second series has already been commissioned!
      Barbara.

    • lol says:

      I agree I read the book some time ago and it was very thought provoking.I was around in the fiftees and despite being familier with areas of social deprivation in Liverpool was shocked at the desscription in the book of Jennys visit to some of the homes that were filthy where children urinated where they stood it seemed more dickensian tha 1950s.I must have lead a sheltered life NOT?

  5. TerrBerr says:

    The books are certainly more gritty than the television series. They’ve taken some of the stories and almagamated them and toned down some of the religious aspects (as much as you can with a story set in a convent). Nonetheless I’ve enjoyed the series almost as much as the books themselves. Great to see the characters come to life especially Chummy who sounds and looks just as I’d imagined her.

  6. biondino says:

    I’m feeling a bit poorly today but blimey, I’ve had something in my eye for practically the whole of tonight’s episode ;_;

  7. jackie says:

    i allways
    look forwards to sunday evening

  8. Sheila Billins says:

    Having trained as a nurse at ‘The London’ and worked there as a trained nurse, I am very disappointed that the limited scenes in the Hospital do not feature the correct uniforms. Green was never the colour worn. Where were our puff sleeves and long dresses? Who were the researchers for this programme?

    Apart from this criticism, I am loving the series.

  9. Madeleine Pennock says:

    I am enjoying the series immensly but having also trained at The London Hospital (now The Royal London Hospital) and am disappointed that our uniform is not being portrayed correctly. Student nurses wore pale lilac pin checks and staff nurses (this includes midwives) wore purple dresses with iconic smocked puff sleeves. It is a shame that they didn’t research this correctly. The link below is an example in 1942 and would have been the same in the 1950’s.

  10. brian says:

    The shots of the London Hospital include a “Royal” designation which was not given until 1990 (long after the show’s supposed 1957 setting).

  11. Wyn Jackson says:

    I am enjoying the series enormously, however did the directors do their homework? The series is set in 1957 and the expectant mothers are seen writhing in agony giving birth naturally. I gave birth to my first child in 1956 and “gas and air” for pain relief was readily available to all mothers during childbirth.

  12. lol says:

    ENJOY THE PROGRAMME IMMENSLY GREAT STORY LINES CINAMATOGRAPHY IS FAB LOOK FORWARD TO NEXT SERIES. THE ONLY NEGATIVE ASPECT IS MIRANDA HEART.SORRY BUT SHE IS JUST NOT BELIEVABLE IN HER “CHUMMY ROLE” SHES OK AS A COMEDIANE SHUD STICK TO HER DAY JOB. SHE PUTS ME OFF A BIT I RECORD THE PROG AND FAST FORWARD PAST HER DIALOGUE SORRY

  13. Ian Dunn says:

    Hang on, If this series is set in 1957 then why are the midwives in the picture above riding Raleigh M-Class Roadsters, which EVERYONE knows where not widely available south of Luton until the spring of 1958. Someone had better be fired for that ‘Screw up’!

  14. I have to agree with the Wyn Jackson, I was born at home on the 1st day of the decade (1950) and I was told by my dear late mum how grateful she was to have the ‘luxury’ of the ‘gas & air’ machine that she had been denied when my brother was born in 1946.
    Apart from some anachronisms, I’m loving the series and having not read the books, am going on Amazon now!

  15. mitch8061 says:

    Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant!!! Loved the final episode, hope there is more to come in a future series

    • Jill Dowding-Walker says:

      Totally agree – it is brilliant! I especially enjoyed the performance of Miranda Hart as Chummy! Perfect comic timing married with touching character acting brough warmth and sympathy to the role. Absolutely loved her, as well as every other well drawn character! Roll on the second series!!!

  16. Clare Roberts says:

    What a fantastic series – hurry up please with Series 2! Can’t wait!!

  17. Peter Boyer says:

    I have watched this series Call The Midwife and I think was a good tv watch on a Sunday evening all those nuns and nurses, just great, I have bought the to read so I can see how it is from the tv series.

  18. Sandoval says:

    I am enjoying it a lot. I will try to read the book…

  19. Elaine says:

    Have been watching this programme as an ex midwife myself and have thoroughly enjoyed it! I have watched it not to critic any of the midwifery but as a fabulous nostalgic Sunday evening’s viewing. My 12 year old daughter has been completely hooked and it raised lots of issues that we then discussed about what life was like back in the 50’s. Not that I was around then!
    Amanda Hart was so perfect for her role and she really was excellent. The narration during the programme was also tastefully done.
    I will really miss this programme on Sunday evenings and would love to see a second series.
    Well done to ALL involved at the BBC.
    I must admit I did not enjoy Upstairs Downstairs as much!

  20. Leo says:

    As an elderly gentleman at a sprightly 70 years I have thoroughly enjoyed this program.
    There was a plethora of fine actors and actresses which brought gravitas to it all.
    But for my money Amanda stole the show. She clearly has a natural aptitude for acting.
    I hope she remains in that lauded profession. I think she is a better actress than comedienne.

  21. biondino says:

    Just to confirm, in case anyone was wondering, that there WILL be a series 2 and it’ll be starting pre-production in late spring, so I would guess we’re looking at a similar broadcast slot in January 2013.

  22. jackie says:

    it is great
    the midwife
    sundays wont be the same

  23. Sheila says:

    Have thoroughly enjoyed the series, was so upset at the end of last nights episode. Please can the next series be sooner than next year. Amanda Hart is great as Chummy and all the others played their parts great as well. Wishing the year away…….

  24. Alice says:

    I absolutely love call the midwife. It makes a change to programmes that are loud, obnoxious and violent. It has been a long time since I sat waiting for the next episode of a programme with anticipation and excitement. The only way I can describe not only the whole series but the final episode is that, everything is as it should be. Beautiful….

  25. julie says:

    fantanstic programme…couldnt wait each week for it to start…unfortunatley we now have to wait for them to make the second series BOOOOOOO

  26. Linda says:

    Could somebody tell me who wrote the book?

  27. Kieron says:

    I have to say I loved it! I watched it as my girlfriend wanted to, then I found myself telling the kids to shush when they interrupted it!

    I hope a second series is commissioned…perfect Sunday night TV and all acted by a very well assembled cast.
    Call the midwife?? Call the TV BAFTA’S more like!

    • Linz says:

      I really hope that the BBC commission another series, it was fantastic viewing and made a change from the usual crud we get on telly at the weekend!!

  28. tin parsons says:

    i loved this very much i laughed i cried i got fright into the storyline cnt wit for series 2

  29. Alison says:

    Please can you tell me why I can’t get CAll the Midwife on BBCiplayer – I could yesterday , but not today ?

    • biondino says:

      This site isn’t affiliated to the BBC, so I don’t know for sure, but I believe iPlayer only shows the top BBC programmes for up to 7 days after broadcast.

  30. chrissie says:

    Not Happy. Missed episode 5 and 6 went on iplayer to catch up and its not on there. So dissapointed.

  31. Annie says:

    hiya this is my favourite programme of all time – i bought the book ages ago abt 3 years ago, and loved it, and bought the others by jennifer and i wanted to be a midwife.. -still trying to get into uni course.

    anyway went away on holiday for slash valentine and birthday occasion thinking i can just watch it on bbc i player when i return (i only have freeview) but i cannot watch episodes 5 and 6, im very very upset. i cannot understand why. just had its not available for content. and now checked again today – its not there at all. i think we all deserve an explanation. please?

    oh im deaf by the way, the DVD series if you ever plan on making them must have subtitles please! :-))

  32. Annie says:

    Series one will be released on a region 2 two disc set on 12 March 2012.

    a quote from wikipedia

    🙂 🙂 🙂

  33. Barbara says:

    To all those who are complaining about the details, uniform colour, what cars they are driving etc. please remember this is a fictional series based on a fictional book and not a documentary. It is a captivating, well-acted, emotional and heart-warming series and has been adapted for the TV to make it as enjoyable as possible. I think it does the job brilliantly and I am looking forward to the next series.

  34. Sheila Billins says:

    Just a comment to Barbara, yes agreed it is not a documentary, but it is based on real characters and written about real events that occured in actual places, that still exist. It compares with the successful BBC TV series ‘Casualty 1905’, where the producers did a fine job of depicting places, uniforms and equipment of the time, to the best of their ability.

    That said, I still think it is a wonderful series, equal to the content of the books and I too, can’t wait for the next series!

  35. d says:

    Such a great show can’t wait until the second series when will this be?

  36. Debbie says:

    Great show, Glad to hear there will be a second series, when will this be? I hope it not to long a wait.

  37. GillianS says:

    Great series but I missed the last episode? I can’t seem to get it on iplayer? Why not BBC?

  38. brightbirth says:

    As a student midwife, I have to say that It is great to see depiction of many sides of the birth and mothering, as well as some very complex social issues that exist around it. I did notice few minor inaccuracies, but they are really minor and are nothing in comparison to how unrealistically birth depicted in other movies. I also really happy to see such a great respect for the midwives.

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