Call The Midwife
Following an upbeat Christmas special, the East End midwives are back for a fifth series of adventures in baby wrangling. However, despite the series reaching the early 1960s, don’t expect too many drastic changes as yet.
“I think there was an expectation that the minute we hit 1960 the nuns were going to start wearing miniskirts and every tenement block would sport a psychedelic mural,” says series creator Heidi Thomas. “So far, we’ve managed a bit of Billy Fury on the jukebox and a couple of pairs of geometric curtains!”
Nonetheless, one of the overarching themes in the series is the gradual arrival of modernity, not least in the introduction of the combined oral contraceptive pill, which was first used in the United States in 1960, and is mentioned towards the end of the series.
A recurring storyline involves thalidomide, which in the late 1950s began to be used to combat morning sickness. Sadly, nobody initially realised the drug caused birth defects. “I am the direct contemporary of the thalidomide babies,” says Thomas, explaining why she wanted to feature this story so centrally and “do what was right” by those who were affected.
“One child was born in the same Liverpool hospital as me, at the same time, and we were literally in the nursery together. I believe that little one died, but I grew up seeing children without limbs at the swings and on the street and by the seaside.”
As for the wider research techniques involved in making sure the series accurately reflects the world of 50 years ago, they will be familiar to many who have researched a family tree. Thomas says she spends a lot of time “trawling archives”, such as those held by the Wellcome Trust and at The National Archives in Kew, as well as poring over women’s housekeeping manuals and British Pathé newsreels.
“I also listen to people,” she adds. “I have hotlines to lots of old ladies, women of my mother’s generation, who I’ll sometimes ring and ask questions. It’s quick and accurate and it enables me to interact with people of the time. It’s about accessing humanity. Often the smallest conversational tidbits will lead to great dividends dramatically.”
This time around, Strictly star Helen George heads the cast as Trixie Franklin, and in the first episode starts an exercise class. It’s difficult to imagine returning stalwarts Jenny Agutter (Sister Julienne) and Pam Ferris (Sister Evangelina) will be doing too much jumping up and down in the name of fitness. Jonathan Wright
new series is set in the early 1960s