Ali­son Rowat on the re­turn of Vera and Call the Mid­wife


Call the Mid­wife (BBC1)


Vera (STV)


BODY­GUARD, what Body­guard? Pais­ley’s Richard Mad­den has picked up plau­dits ga­lore, and a Golden Globe, for his Sun­day night stint as a close pro­tec­tion of­fi­cer, but nor­mal week­end busi­ness was re­sumed last night when TV’S other golden girls re­turned.

Call the Mid­wife and Vera have notched up 17 se­ries be­tween them, mak­ing a mock­ery of the as­sump­tion that women-led dra­mas do not do as well as male-dom­i­nated ones.

Both these shows con­tinue to suc­ceed be­cause they work to finely honed for­mu­las and, in the case of Vera, the mag­nif­i­cent Brenda Blethyn play­ing the Ge­ordie de­tec­tive (note to Richard M: Blethyn’s got a Golden Globe too, pet, and two Os­car nom­i­na­tions).

Call the Mid­wife has now reached the giddy days of 1964. The Queen is ex­pect­ing a new baby, which is the talk of the mid­wives at Non­na­tus House in Po­plar, east Lon­don. That, plus the ar­rival of shiny new bags to re­place the old leather ones, and two new nuns, one fresh out of train­ing, the other a jolly old hand used to east end ways.

First task of the day for Nurse An­der­son was a home birth in one of the new tower blocks. Dad, present and as­sist­ing, asked if he could see the baby “com­ing out”. Nurse An­der­son did not think that was a good idea. “You’re do­ing just fine with that gas mask, Mr White. I wouldn’t get too am­bi­tious.”

The toasty, Vic­to­ria Wood­style hu­mour of Call the Mid­wife was as ever bal­anced by a clear-eyed look at the tougher side of life for women of the time. The new mother’s sis­ter couldn’t help at the birth be­cause she had been up all night with a dicky tummy. Alarm bells rang. Rightly as it turned out. The vic­tim of a botched abor­tion, she needed ur­gent care, but a hos­pi­tal was out of bounds in case the po­lice were called. With nowhere else to turn she threw her­self on the mercy of Non­na­tus House. What fol­lowed made for har­row­ing scenes in which we saw lit­tle, but heard enough to know what was hap­pen­ing.

The other emer­gency of the night was a mul­ti­ple birth, which be­came so tricky it was no longer a case of call the mid­wife but phone for the glo­ri­ously named “Ob­stet­rics Fly­ing Squad”. One imag­ined a Sweeney-type gang of brutes boot­ing down the door to the ma­ter­nity ward and shout­ing, “Get yer breath­ing sorted mum, or you’re nicked!” They were not needed, with good old rub­ber tub­ing, ad­min­is­tered by the doc­tor’s Scots wife, per­form­ing one of the night’s mir­a­cles. Not a dry eye in the house. As ever in Call the Mid­wife, the floors needed a mop, too.

Over on STV at the same time – well done, sched­ulers – Vera re­turned, sail­ing into view again like some ocean go­ing liner, if ocean go­ing lin­ers could wear mud coloured trench coats and green hats. The drama be­gan with the sight of a woman’s body dumped on a land­fill. One ex­pects bet­ter, some­thing less sen­sa­tion­al­ist, from Vera, even if DCI Stan­hope did tell the pathol­o­gist to act quickly be­cause “I don’t want her ly­ing there any longer than she has to”.

The next two hours, packed with a shoal of red her­rings and sat­is­fy­ing twists, flew by. The cre­ation of nov­el­ist Ann Cleeves, who also writes Shet­land, Vera is as com­mand­ing a pres­ence as DI Jimmy Perez, but with a nicely barbed wit be­sides. While there will be no stop­ping a Body­guard come­back, Mad­den should know he has a fight on his hands for Sun­day nights.

„ Left, the ever-pop­u­lar Call the Mid­wife has now reached 1964, tack­ling all the tri­als and tribu­la­tions the era throws at its char­ac­ters. Below, Brenda Blethyn shines as Vera.

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