Call The Midwife
Monday, 30 November -0001

‘You can’t hear a thing in those wimples’

Call The Midwife is back – but what dramas will there be this time around? Melonie Clarke meets the cast and uncovers their backstage secrets

Written by Melonie Clarke
It is the dawning of a new age at Nonnatus House. The 1960s have arrived. And while we may not see everyone changing immediately into miniskirts and go-go boots – although there is much excitement when Trixie gets a pair of tights in one episode – there have been some profound changes in BBC’s hit television series, Call The Midwife.

Her voyage of self-discovery to become a nun means Cynthia (Bryony Hannah) now sits on the other side of the table with the sisters, as opposed to with her midwife friends, Trixie (Helen George) and Patsy (Emerald Fennell).

‘When I first came out of the [midwife] costume I had a little grieving process because I love Cynthia,’ Bryony admits. ‘Sitting on the opposite side of the dinner table away from my friends was quite odd, but strangely I felt very safe being in the habit.

‘I didn’t have to worry about living up to Trixie’s expectations any more, I could just be myself. You’ll see later in the series that she is very content for the first time and there isn’t that “Where do I belong?” feeling as much. I’ve loved spending more time with the ladies [Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris and Judy Parfitt] too.

‘In some ways, it almost feels like a different job.’

Her new nun’s habit is likely to bring challenges of its own though.

‘It can get very hot,’ warns Pam, who plays Sister Evangelina.


‘The headdresses are six doublethickness pieces of linen, so you can’t hear,’ continues Judy – aka Sister Monica Joan. ‘I am a little bit hard of hearing now so I’m forever asking “What did you say?”’ she laughs. ‘In some scenes, I have to lip-read.

‘For one scene last year, we had new costume people and they starched our headdresses… I totally lost the plot. The noise was horrendous. I just couldn’t hear anything. ’

‘The shape of it means it funnels the sounds from behind. You can hear people behind you but not in front,’ adds Pam.

‘It was like having your head inside a drum,’ exclaims Jenny (Sister Julienne). ‘The starching meant that any movement made it go “Boom, boom, boom”, so you tried to stay very still.’

Pam’s character, Sister Evangelina, faces other worries, too.

‘Very scary times, she’s having big trouble with her underneaths,’ says Pam. ‘I can say no more but obviously she’s in mortal terror, and I hope that comes across on screen. She is very, very frightened.’

Indeed, Sister Evangelina’s problems may even cause her to question her faith.


‘It’s interesting with the faith thing, which I don’t think we touch on too much. When you’ve dedicated your life to something, you wonder “Why am I being afflicted? Why is something stopping me doing what I need to do?” So it’s a challenge of faith.

‘That must take some toll on the internal process, adding to the terrible personal doubt she must have… she faces a crisis of self-confidence. It’s a tough year for Sister Evangelina.’

There are newcomers too as Charlotte Ritchie (who plays Barbara Gilbert) and Linda Bassett (as Phyllis Crane) join the midwives.

‘I was delighted to be offered the job… I was born in the 1950s, so it’s fun to work in a period that I can remember,’ says Linda.

To play the part of Nurse Crane, Linda has been studying textbooks of the era.

‘The midwife adviser, Terri Coates, is amazing and has been such a help. She helped me to buy a basic midwifery textbook from 1958, so I’m studying that in any spare time I get.

‘I always like learning new things for a new part. It’s always part of the joy of a job that you get an education… people train for years to be a midwife and in a few months I’m trying to grasp a few things. But there’s time for me to get to know more and more.’


So what was it like to see the first episode of the new series?

‘Wonderful,’ says Judy, ‘beautifully directed and superbly acted by everyone.’

‘I do feel a little peculiar about being self-congratulatory, except I did feel very proud to be in it,’ Jenny continues.

Filming the drama certainly sounds like fun.

‘It’s like being at school,’ says Emerald, who plays midwife Patsy. ‘For six months we just spend all of our time together and we all get on so well. Certainly the week after it’s finished, you feel quite desperate.’

‘When we’re all together at Nonnatus House, it sounds really corny but it’s so nice to be in something where people generally care about each other,’ Victoria Yeates (Sister Winifred) continues.

Jenny adds, ‘It’s nice to have those meal scenes where we get together.’


‘And The Great British Bake Off is on at the same time we film so all week it’s an obsessive topic,’ Emerald says.

Has Call The Midwife inspired any of the cast to leap into motherhood?

Helen George, aka Trixie, laughs, ‘I have two dogs and they keep me very busy.’

And the boys say…

The opening episode of the new series centres round deprivation and a case of child neglect. But just how similar was life then… and now?

Although the level of deprivation is nothing like it was back then, both Cliff Parisi (Fred) and Stephen McGann (Dr Patrick Turner) believe it’s not unheard of today.

‘I think there still is [deprivation]; rickets is back, the food banks are back,’ says Cliff. ‘I think we’re in a pretty similar situation of poverty now as in some parts of London in the 1960s. I don’t want to get political or anything, but there are similar things happening.’


‘We were very moved by the episode,’ Stephen continues. ‘I certainly remember from my working-class childhood, poverty was never very far away. It [poverty] never goes away. It’s that little shadowy underside of our society – it’s there all the time.’

At the end of the last series Dr Turner and his wife Shelagh (Laura Main) adopted a baby girl, Angela. And it seems she’s made the men in the cast go all soppy.

‘How gorgeous is baby Angela?’ coos Stephen. ‘Angela runs the set. She has five people dancing attendance on her… it’s wonderful. I just love babies.’

The new series of Call The Midwife starts on 18 January, 8pm on BBC One.

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