Call The Mid­wife

BBC One

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - THE GUIDE -

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

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