The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts
Friday, BBC Two, 9pm
After a dramatic Christmas episode, our excitement levels were raised even higher for series eight of Call The Midwife. Thankfully, the wait is over. Set in 1964, it will see familiar faces in Poplar’s Nonnatus House joined by two new nuns, who are thrown right into the action.
And you can be sure there will be plenty of heartbreaking, heartwarming and humorous moments as the hugely popular show continues (admit it, you sob at every episode).
We saw Nurse Trixie Franklin — played by Brummie Helen George (34) — return unexpectedly from her time away in Italy in the Christmas episode.
Refreshed and seeming like her troubles are behind her, she’s back to work. And series eight sees her be part of something pioneering — the first smear test to take place in London.
“The doctor starts to do it and she takes over from his lead,” explains George, who’s also known for film, The Three Musketeers. “But she pushes the first initiative for smear tests in London. That was really interesting to push that story forward and think, ‘Gosh, it was the Sixties and that’s not actually that long ago’.”
There’s a “really interesting” hermaphrodite storyline George is involved in, too.
“It’s one which you wouldn’t think would be on Call The Midwife,” she says. “I don’t know why, but with my modern eyes, it felt like a modern storyline. But that’s what we are dealing with in the early-Sixties.
“It brings together the medical side with the emotional turmoil she has to face, as she’s just about to get married to her fiance, so it really ricochets over several members of her family.
“It was fascinating to do. I think Heidi (Thomas, the show’s writer) is also very clever with that. Call The Midwife is always timely.”
However, Taunton-born Jenny Agutter (66), who has starred as Sister Julienne in Call The Midwife since it first hit our screens in 2012, says the world of Poplar is different from when the show started.
“One of the big changes in terms of storylines is having come from a world where you don’t have anything, to having a world where suddenly it seems like there are many, many more choices,” she says.
“For the nuns, that’s thrown up very particularly, because we’ve been through the First World War, the Second World War. One’s living in a society that’s becoming affluent and even in Poplar, there is more choice — although the community is held together because it’s not as rich as other places.”
Jennifer Kirby (28), who plays Nurse Valerie Dyer, reveals there’s an abortion storyline in the first episode.
And this leads to the issue being a definitive theme across the series, she says.
“There are further cases down the line — I don’t want to spoil anything, but Valerie takes it to heart in a way, because she is so connected to that community. It’s where she’s from, it’s where she’s lived most of her life.”
We are even introduced to her gran, played by EastEnders and Widows star, Ann Mitchell. “She’s amazing in it,” gushes Kirby, who was raised in the West Midlands and whose first ongoing screen role was Call The Midwife. “No acting required, when I met her, I thought she was the kindest, nicest person and she’s a wonderful actor.”
You might still be recovering from Charlotte Ritchie’s departure from the show (her character, Nurse Barbara Hereward, tragically died from sepsis at the end of series seven).
However, the exciting news is there are a few new faces this series, who we already met in the festive episode.
Miriam Margolyes portrays Sister Mildred, whose character is bound to shake things up in Poplar now she has taken her place as Mother Superior at the Order’s Mother House.
Meanwhile, close friends Sister Hilda (played by Fenella Woolgar) and Sister Frances (Ella Bruccoleri) are two nuns who have already been living together in the Mother House and now find themselves moving to Nonnatus house to live and work.
So, how did Woolgar find filming her first birth scenes?
“It is quite weird, I suppose,” admits the 49-year-old, whose standout past TV and film roles include Bright Young Things, Doctor Who and Harlots. “I’ve had children, but I’ve never had to do it the other way.”
The fact that it’s often a real newborn baby being used in the birth scenes is “quite intimidating”, she admits.
“They are long days and incredibly concentrated,” elaborates Woolgar. “Having the real mum and dad there can be stressful — unless they are on baby number three, in which case they are like, ‘Get on with it’.” Call The Midwife, BBC One, Sunday, 8pm
There was a time when, if you said you were interested in crafts, people would look at you as if you were crazy, but now crafting is cool. The inspiration for the sudden boom in crafting is a mystery. Some have suggested that, during a time of austerity, we have taken up a “make do and mend” mentality; programmes such as The Great British Sewing Bee have also helped.
Anita Rani, Keith Brymer Jones and Patch Rogers have now kicked off The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts on BBC Two, which expands the crafting idea even further.
The first episode introduced viewers to six experts in their field, who have taken up an extraordinary challenge: they will spend time living by the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement while renovating a property in its trademark style.
The second episode sees the volunteers attempting to make a double bed and bedspread, a clock and a wall decoration in just one week, using only the tools that would have been available to their Victorian counterparts.
They also continue to live communally in the hope of better understanding the drive for artistic and social change, but the pressures of being so close together take their toll.
Ceramicist Brymer Jones says: “The crafters living and working together in the house and growing as a group really reflects what the Arts and Crafts movement was all about.”
See if you agree with him by tuning into the latest episode and the rest of the series, which is set to run for the next two weeks.
Fenella Woolgar as Sister Hilda and (inset) Helen George in the show