Call The Midwife returns as series 12 and 13 commissioned by BBC
With series ten due to launch tonight, Sunday 18 April at 8pm, and series 11 about to commence filming, Call The Midwife will now be on air until 2024.
Series 12 and 13, commissioned by Piers Wenger, Director of BBC Drama and Charlotte Moore, Chief Content Officer, will consist of two series of eight 60 minute episodes and two Christmas specials.
Made by Neal Street Productions for BBC One and BBC iPlayer, Call The Midwife is celebrating its tenth anniversary series this year and continues to be one of Britain’s most popular and most watched drama series since it launched in 2012.
The series attracts an enormous audience for BBC One, with its Christmas Specials achieving over 9 million viewers. Series nine was also the fourth biggest drama across all channels in 2020. The drama has won multiple awards across the decade for its depiction of challenging medical stories which are tackled bu the nuns and midwives of Poplar.
Heidi Thomas, Creator, Writer and Executive Producer, says:
“It’s an incredible privilege to be able to look back on a decade of Call The Midwife, and yet know that our journey is still very far from over. We are thrilled to be going on for a few more years! Like Nonnatus House itself, we have a proud past but an even more exciting future - full of old favourites, fresh faces, higher hemlines, new ideas. The stories we tell are like babies - they never stop coming, we love them all, and we vow to do our best by every single one.”
Pippa Harris, Executive Producer for Neal Street Productions, says:
“We are all delighted by this vote of confidence from the BBC, and are looking forward to delivering more laughter, tears and babies for our loyal fans. Over the past ten years it has been an honour to see how warmly the show has been embraced by audiences around the world, thanks to the skilful writing of Heidi Thomas and the brilliant work of our cast and crew.”
Piers Wenger, Director of BBC Drama, says:
“The enduring popularity of Call The Midwife is a testament to the extraordinary love and creativity from its creator Heidi Thomas and its producers Pippa Harris and Ann Tricklebank. We are delighted to have secured the future of Call The Midwife for two further series beyond those which are currently in production, and look forward to enjoying more adventures for the inhabitants of Nonnatus House for years to come.”
Series creator Heidi Thomas continues to lead the writing team and serve as Executive Producer alongside Pippa Harris and Ann Tricklebank. Executive Producer for the BBC is Mona Qureshi with Ann Tricklebank as Producer.
LOOKING BACK WITH EXECUTIVE PRODUCER PIPPA HARRIS, AND SERIES CREATOR & SCREEN WRITER HEIDI THOMAS
Reflecting on one of the BBC’s most popular drama series, Executive Producer Pippa Harris said:
“I can still vividly remember discussing Call the Midwife with Heidi Thomas for the first time, even though it was over ten years ago. We had both fallen in love with the world of nuns, midwives, and healthcare on the cobbled streets of 1950s Poplar, which Jennifer Worth depicted in her memoirs. However, we weren’t convinced we could persuade the BBC that these were the ingredients of a prime-time drama. Luckily for us, the BBC also saw the potential, and here we are a decade later about to launch series ten.
“People often ask what is the key to the show’s longevity? Could it be the strength and variety of the ensemble cast, or the wealth of period detail in design and costume, or perhaps the many complex medical issues we’ve covered. But for me, it is one simple factor, and that’s Heidi Thomas’ screenwriting. Heidi manages to write about challenging, and at times disturbing issues with such sensitivity that the audience are drawn in, and empathise immediately with the characters she creates. She also has an almost unique ability to move from sorrow to joy within the same episode, creating an emotional rollercoaster for those watching. Her writing is full of warmth and emotion, but it’s never sentimental - she perfectly embodies the old saying of being an iron fist in a velvet glove.”
Heidi adds: “People always ask me where all these stories come from, and I always say the same thing 'They come from the lives of women, and the working class.' I find endless inspiration in the simple power of ordinary lives, and Call the Midwife draws from a bottomless well of human experience - birth and death, love and despair, hope and community. Women and the working classes matter, and our show celebrates them and treats them with respect. Not many shows do that. And interestingly, not many shows run for ten years. Maybe that should give us pause for thought!”
“Looking back over ten years of Call the Midwife, there are countless stories which make me proud of the show and the impact it’s had. We’ve made a point of shining a light into some of the darkest recesses of recent medical history - the terrible legacy of thalidomide, the impact of illegal abortions, the treatment of gay people at a time when homosexuality was still illegal, as well as highlighting perennial medical traumas such as still-birth, sepsis, disability, miscarriage, STDs, cancer, cystic fibrosis, FGM and sickle cell. But it’s not just the onscreen portrayal which makes me proud, it’s the way in which we’ve been able to support and promote a diverse workforce behind the camera.”
Pippa continued: “From the start, the show has been led by women, not only Heidi Thomas and myself, but also Ann Tricklebank our wonderful fellow Executive Producer, and a legion of other female writers, directors and crew members. At a time when only 14% of prime time drama is written by women 73% of our episodes were written by women, and similarly when only 14% of mainstream drama is directed by women 74% of our episodes have been directed by women.
“The show stands as testimony to the talent and creativity of women in the UK TV industry, and proves if proof were needed that drama made by and about women is cherished by a huge worldwide audience.”
Heidi said: “I sometimes think of Pippa Harris, Ann Tricklebank and myself as the Three Musketeers of Call the Midwife - a trio of swashbuckling, mature ladies who write our own rules, and fight for what is right and true. Well, we do the next best thing which is to get terribly vexed about unfairness and injustice, and try to do something about it. Basically, if you are poor, or scared, or sick, in labour, in a new country, or disabled by society, our show will see your value and let your voice be heard. We will love, unreservedly, everything you are.”
Call the Midwife is a show which, thanks to Heidi Thomas’s skill, presents difficult medical stories in such a way that the whole family can watch together - it’s a light touch history lesson as well as being an engrossing character drama.
It’s particularly poignant for all of us to be presenting this tenth series at a time when the NHS has been put under such pressure by the pandemic, for, whatever else Call the Midwife might be it is above all a love letter to the NHS, and all those who devote their lives to the service of others.
Heidi concludes: “I feel incredibly fortunate to have been immersed in this wonderful world for so long. Anyone who has a job they enjoy is lucky - but to be able to laugh, cry, love and learn while you are sitting at your desk is a privilege beyond all others.
“Call the Midwife has been a bit like raising an unruly child at times. There have been long days, and sleepless nights, and there is always something to fret about or plan for. But it is also funny and beautiful and full of surprises. It has been worth every groan, every push, every gulp of gas and air - quite simply, a labour of love.”
MEET THE CAST
JENNY AGUTTER (Sister Julienne)
Can you talk us through the first episode of the new series?
"It is set in 1966, which is a thrilling time. There is a lot going on, such as the exploration of space. 1966 is also the year that England won the World Cup. So a lot of exciting things are happening. Episode one this year is all about trying to create a possible future, modernizing, and doing things differently so that the order can move into the modern age. There's a sense that it may no longer fit into the modern community, and Sister Julienne is certainly addressing that.
"She looks at the possibility of raising money through working outside of the order, to be able to bring money back into the community. There's also the possibility of wearing a different habit. I know that Sister Julienne would like to see those changes happen. But by the same token, it's quite hard to see them being drastically different. It's about trying to find the right balance of where we're going with the modernity. They’re not going to have mini-skirts, I don't think!"
What has changed for the order in the ten years of Call the Midwife?
"When I read the first ever script, I remember thinking, 'Goodness me'. I kept looking at the date, and it was 1958 going into 59, but the way they were handling everything seemed Victorian. I suppose it was still the post-war era, and you still very much had the sense of that community trying to get its strength back again. But over the next ten years, a lot of growth happened. There was a shift in the community, and different problems arose as people became better off. The more people had and the more possibilities they had, the more they seemed to want to give up the responsibility of taking care of community, which I think is something that Sister Julienne worries about."
Why is she so concerned about that?
"Because she's gone through two world wars, when there was such reliance on people working together to get through things. In the immediate post-war years, there's still that reliance on community to make things happen. But after that, there seems to be much more reliance on the social setup. People are asking, 'What can the government do for me now? What can society do for me now?' as opposed to the reverse. People are no longer asking so much, 'What can I do to help us get where we’re going?'"
Will there be a lot of medical and social changes on screen?
"It’s a really exciting time. Very much on the positive side, there are extraordinary breakthroughs happening in every way in the 60s, in the arts, music, science, space and medicine. Childbirth, for example, becomes so much easier for women because so much more is known about it. But we do also see many health and social problems this series."
Do you think Call the Midwife has been a pioneering show over the last ten years?
"Absolutely. Call the Midwife is ground-breaking because it deals with problems full on, without stepping back from them or trying to excuse them or to make them OK or to give characters a happy ending. I'm so proud to have been a part of this show over the last decade."
HELEN GEORGE (Trixie)
What is going on at the beginning of episode one?
"Episode one is very exciting for Trixie. She is asked by Sister Julienne to go to the Lady Emily Clinic, which is a private clinic in Chelsea. Her task is to observe exactly how their systems work and how their midwifery functions. Delivery at the Lady Emily Clinic is a more doctor-led process. The thought is that Nonnatus House will rent out midwives and nuns to the Lady Emily to help out with the deliveries and to staff the practice. In return, they'll get paid, and Nonnatus House will be saved. But we'll have to wait for episode two to find out if it goes well or not!"
What has changed for Trixie during the last ten years?
"There's been a lot! When you have been with a character for that long, you see them grow and change. When I look back to Trixie very early on, the journey that she's been on is pretty huge. It's been fascinating to watch her develop from this bubbly, blonde, best-friend type character, and then delving into her past and seeing the relationship with her parents and what made her come into nursing. It was really interesting to work with Trixie's alcohol problem as well. There's been such a change to her character over the last decade. It's been fascinating to play and to be involved with someone else's life for so long."
What does the tenth anniversary of the show signify?
"The tenth anniversary is a really big deal for Call the Midwife. We started out thinking it would just be a small show, lasting for just six episodes. And here we are a decade later! So it means a lot that people are still watching it after ten years. Especially over lockdown, people have been going back to the first series and watching it all from the start, which is a lot of episodes! But it's really great that people are still wanting the show and still wanting us there."
Do you have any plans to celebrate the tenth anniversary?
"I'm sure there'll be a lot of champagne drinking at some point! But for the moment, I think the celebration is just that we managed to film it during the pandemic. We are all really chuffed that it's still going ahead ten years in and with so many Covid restrictions as well."
How do you personally feel to have been with the show for a decade?
"I can't believe I've been with the show for ten years! It feels like just yesterday when we started it. It feels pretty amazing. Not many people get to do a show for ten years, particularly a really good drama with the viewing figures we're still getting. I'm very proud to be part of a show that is watched throughout the world, by so many different age groups as well. I feel really honoured to be part of it. It's been pretty special."
LEONIE ELLIOTT (Lucille)
Can you give us a short summary of Lucille's journey during series ten?
"In her personal life, we see more of Lucille and Cyril, which is really exciting. In her professional life, I feel like she takes on more of a senior role. She's very supportive to the junior and trainee midwives."
How does it feels to be a part of the tenth series of Call the Midwife?
"It feels amazing to be a part of the tenth anniversary series of Call the Midwife. We have stood the test of time. And that is kudos to all those involved."
Does one moment stand out from your time on Call the Midwife across the years?
"My favourite moment, I think, has to be my entrance. I came in during the big freeze, trudging through the fake snow and meeting Val and the rest of the characters. That's probably my favourite moment. There are others, but I think that trumps them all."
Do you have a favourite Call the Midwife storyline?
"My favourite storyline is probably the one with Annette Crosby who played Miss Millgrove in series eight. She was a great actress to work with. I loved the scenes we did together. She was wonderful."
What have you learned from your time on the show?
"We learn so many things every day because it's period and it's medical. It was probably just me being naive, but I think in terms of midwifery what I've learned is that it is such a physically demanding job. I really didn't realise that when we first started. Honestly, if midwives don't get free physio, they should! It's so physically demanding, it really is. We all bow down to midwives, don't we? We certainly should!"
LAURA MAIN (Shelagh Turner)
What can you tell us about episode one?
"Shelagh has got friends and neighbours who are both heavily pregnant and expecting at the same time. For one of those women, it's her second baby. But the other one had previously been trying and trying and still had no baby. So she felt really sad because next door had a baby, but nothing was happening for her. But now they can share being pregnant together. And that's been really lovely."
What's changed for Shelagh during the last ten years?
"What hasn't changed? The obvious things. She's no longer a nun, and now she's married. She's had a biological child that she didn't think she could have. And she's a step-mum and a foster parent. But the main thing is that she is just got more and more confident and comfortable in her life. She is just so utterly content and has a great job that she loves, and a really, really wonderful family, and great partner in Dr Turner. So it's quite a contrast from the unassuming, quiet, quite shy nun she was right back at the beginning."
In what way is Call the Midwife ground-breaking?
"Well, for starters, it has lots of women in it. There are one or two men around, but it is about a bunch of women and, more importantly, a bunch of women who get on with each other, who are supportive and collaborate with each other. Also, these women aren't defined by their relationships. The other massive, massive strength of Call the Midwife is that it isn't trying to be anything else. It is its own thing. People understood that and took to it immediately. I'm also really, really proud of the fact that the show champions the NHS, and it celebrates nurses and midwives."
Have you been interacting with fans online during lockdown?
"Yes. It's so nice to get feedback from people who love the show. In lockdown, we did watch parties, and we were interacting with fans on Twitter and Facebook. It's just lovely to get that immediate response from people. We have been on for ten years, but it's as though the appetite and enthusiasm for the show has grown."
What does the tenth anniversary of Call the Midwife mean to you?
"I can't quite believe that it's been ten years! It's just amazing. I still absolutely love being part of Call the Midwife. It's still a complete joy to come to work, and the scripts are still wonderful. We are going forward each year, and there are always new things to tackle and new issues to discuss. It's changing all the time. The fashions change, the look changes, so it doesn't feel old. It still feels really, really fresh. Shelagh is an example of how people's lives can change in ten years. She's gone from being a nun to being married with four children. I just feel really, really lucky. I just love it. Long may it continue. I don't want it to end!"
STEPHEN MCGANN (Dr Turner)
This season of Call the Midwife is set in 1966. Do you remember that year?
"Yes. The NHS in Call the Midwife looks like how I remember it from when I was a kid. That's a very sobering moment when a period drama is actually living history to you. Suddenly you're like some antique picture yourself! But it's nice, too."
Can you reveal a little bit about what happens in the first episode?
"Episode ones are always great. Because they open the series, they need a lot more work than other episodes. That's why the biggest writer on this show, which is Heidi Thomas, always spends more time on episode one than on most episodes. They're the ones that have to bring the show back, introduce you to all the characters, yet give you something to really think about and get your teeth into. And this year is absolutely no different. There is the most fantastic theme running through this episode that is emotional and has real social relevance. I think it's a really strong way to start the series."
What does it mean to you that Call the Midwife is now celebrating its tenth anniversary?
"The first thing is, I can't believe it! I've been here since episode one, series one. It's incredible. How can you get to ten series? I love this series beyond all things. It's just the most special thing for anyone who's been involved in it, particularly from the beginning. So to get to ten years is a privilege above anything else. We've never regarded it a right to do more series. We've all had to work for it. But to get to series ten, and to be so close to people's hearts that you can come back and develop a character over ten years - we are just incredibly grateful for that. We feel privileged, incredibly proud and slightly disbelieving that it could be so long since we started. Those ten years have flown by. It's been a hell of a roller-coaster. But here we are with a decade's worth of Call the Midwife!"
Will you and Heidi find time to celebrate the anniversary?
"Undoubtedly, we will find time. It's been so much a part of our home life for so long. We work in very different areas of the job. She's the producer and the writer of the show, and I'm more on the factory floor. She's never involved in that part of it. She's very much involved in pre-production and post-production. But it means so much to both of us. We've given our lives and our souls to this job for ten years. So we need to mark it in some way because it is special. It really means something. How will we do that? I'd love to throw a party. I haven't fully thought how I'm going to do it, but it would be so nice."
FENELLA WOOLGAR (Sister Hilda)
Where is Sister Hilda as this series kicks off?
"At the beginning of series ten, she is quite keen on upgrading the habit for the nuns. Given that Catholic nuns at the time were absolutely going for knee-length skirts and cardigans, she's a bit of a reformer, a bit of a modernist. But does it go her way?"
Can you give us any more hints about what we can expect from Sister Hilda this year?
"We've established that she can be quite bossy and slightly on the front foot. That's occasionally extremely successful and sometimes not so successful. But I think she is definitely one of those people who wants to get more involved. So she does have a little bit more responsibility towards the end of this series. She anticipates that it will be a very enjoyable thing to have more power, but it might not go quite as well as she'd hoped…"
What have you relished most about being in Call the Midwife?
"The thing I've really enjoyed about being part of this show is that it's really like joining a family because they're just a lovely bunch of people. So many of the crew have been here for such a very long time and everyone's incredibly friendly. We're massively supported by production. And although that's mostly true for everything you do in this industry, occasionally it's not. So that's why people stay for quite a while because they are just lovely people to be around."
What else have you enjoyed?
"I've loved working with some extremely good actors. I really get on with all of them. For instance, I'm a big Linda Bassett fan, but it's also really nice to discover that she can get the giggles as well, so I very much enjoy that. We got the giggles on set slightly during the Christmas episode. So just little things like that. It was also really nice to start on the show with the lovely Ella Bruccoleri. It was great to join the show with somebody else as we had each other."
Does it feel special to be involved in the tenth anniversary series of Call the Midwife?
"Yes. It feels pretty amazing to be part of a show that has been running for ten years. Obviously, a decade is an unusual thing in this industry, and it’s pretty cool to be part of that. I feel a bit jealous that I wasn't in it at the very beginning because I think it's really exciting being part of something from the very start. I think that feels so different. But it still feels like a really big achievement to get to ten years and to be so loved and supported by the public. It's also a big achievement to film at all in what has been a really extraordinarily strange year. So yes, it feels great to be part of that."
ELLA BRUCCOLERI (Sister Frances)
Where do you see Sister Frances in ten years' time?
"I always find that an impossible question to answer because she's still so young. She seems so sure about so many of her life decisions. But then I'm quite sceptical about that sort of thing. How sure can you be at that stage in your life? So I feel like the future could take her anywhere, and I think that's quite exciting. I feel like her faith is at the moment really strong and that she would probably remain a nun. But anything can happen. As we see, Sister Monica Joan has a crisis of faith at her age. So it can happen whenever and everything could change."
Is it a benefit that Heidi Thomas has been the showrunner since the beginning of Call the Midwife?
"Absolutely. It is amazing that she's been there from start to finish and never passed it on to someone else. For that reason, you get that consistency and that passion behind it, which was there at the start. She knows the characters and the period inside out. When you get a script written by Heidi, it really is in the voice of your character, and that's a lovely thing."
The show still has an enormous emotional impact on its audience doesn't it?
"Definitely. Even before I joined, there was been many a time when I sat and cried watching Call the Midwife. It is just the kind of show where you are guaranteed to cry at least once an episode. It's incredible to me that it still has that effect. Everybody does such an amazing job moving me and all other people who watch the show."
Do you have a favourite birth from the show?
"If I had to pick one, it would have to be the first one I did with the lovely actress Kelly Shirley. During the first season, the whole point was that Sister Frances didn't have a birth because no one would trust her enough to give her that responsibility. And then at the end of the series, she had her first birth, and had to do it by herself. It was this really momentous thing for the character, and also for me, to have a birth scene, I'd heard so much about birth scenes in Call the Midwife and I'd never had one. So it was a great experience to be in the middle of such an iconic moment."
What do you think makes Call the Midwife so special?
"It's a show led by women, run by women and created by women. I think there would have been a time when the gatekeepers might have been sceptical about whether a show like that would be successful. But now it's been successful for ten series, and we've proved that people want to see women on screen. I think that is genuinely ground-breaking."
Is there anything you'd like to say to the fans who have been with the show for a decade?
"Thank you for watching. But thank you also for supporting us. There is no way a show could continue for ten series without that really loyal fan base. So genuinely, thank you for allowing us to do it."
CLIFF PARISI (Fred)
Where is Fred at the start of this series?
"He has gone from being a bit of a pathetic herbert, always trying to make a quick buck, to being married to Vi and a respected member of society. He's like Denis Thatcher now to her Margaret. He's got decent clothes and decent shoes, but he still likes to have a little dabble in some things that might be slightly dodgy - Christmas trees, turkeys, that kind of stuff. He still has a little bit of that going on."
What do you relish most about being in Call the Midwife?
"It's probably the best show on telly, and I'm working with a lovely, lovely cast. We are like a family. We all love each other deeply. I think the best thing about the show is the scripts because, let's be honest, there are millions of actors out there and you could probably get anyone to appear in Call the Midwife. Recasting is not a hard thing to do. There are millions of us out there, but getting good scripts - that's the trick. I'm very, very lucky. Thank you very much."
Do you have any memories yourself of 1966?
"My memory of 1966 is going to school in shorts in the winter: leaves up to my waist, covered in frost. I had to come home for a bowl of soup every lunchtime, and I got fed up with that. So one day I pretended I was ill. My mum believed me and phoned an ambulance. I was taken off to hospital, and I had my appendix out. But there was nothing wrong with me! So that's my memory of 1966."
How do you feel about being in Call the Midwife right from the beginning?
"It's been brilliant. I've seen a few people come and go, and I always say to them, 'Don't go! Where are you going? You're going to be doing other things that are probably not very good when you could be in this, which is fabulous!' So I've seen a few go, and it's always sad to see them go. We've had some fabulous actors pass through this show. But we've got a fantastic cast right now. I think this is probably the best series ever."
What are your recollections of England winning the World Cup in 1966?
"I'm a West Ham fan, and West Ham won the World Cup for England! We had something like nine players in the squad that year. So I am very proud to say that it was a West Ham World Cup. It's great to have that in the show this year. Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters - shame they can't be portrayed in the show!"
ANNABELLE APSION (Violet)
This is the tenth series of the show. What do you still love about it?
"It's lovely to be in this show because there are such nice people working on it. It's like a family. We are a bit like a circus, and of course we featured a circus in the Christmas episode. So I look forward to seeing everybody. Of course, I particularly love working with Danny and Cliff, our little gang. Also, I don't know how they keep thinking of all the storylines. I always love finding out what Violet is doing with her councillor role. So it's always good fun to discover what we're going to be doing in the latest series."
What has it meant to you personally to be part of the tenth anniversary of the show?
"To be involved in a long running show is such a huge compliment. I was in Shameless that ran for 11 series, and I was in Soldier, Soldier that ran for seven series. It's lovely to be in something that develops over time and becomes part of people's way of life. Call the Midwife is something that seems to go from strength to strength. So yes, it's great fun to be part of that."
Does Violet get involved in any medical issues during this series?
"She doesn't normally get that close to the pregnancy scenarios. But of course, she does run the haberdasher's shop. In this series, she has to fit a young woman for some pregnancy accessories. The woman is going to be giving the baby up for adoption because she's so young. And so Violet does see pregnancy, but from the side. However, in the last episode, she's involved with one of the new babies that she has taken a special shine to. And that's a lovely storyline."
Do you ever get any feedback from fans?
"Yes, the feedback I get in real life from fans of the show is always really positive. And I'm always amazed at the detail that people remember from all the different storylines. I always remember I stayed at a B&B once. It was when Violet and Fred were just getting together, and the landlady said to me, 'I love that story. Violet's with Fred because she wants to be, not because she needs to be.' And that really stood out for her. So I love hearing what stands out for people and why. That's a really fun part of being an actress."
Do you have a favourite moment from Call the Midwife?
"My favourite, I think, was when Violet became a councillor because it was very unusual for women to be councillors in those times. If you think back, many occupations were men only, and it was very hard for women to get into them. It's a bit like that thing where people from public school would only want to employ other people from the public school. So Violet becoming a councillor really was a big deal. We should learn from history and keep going forward. So whenever I have a scene like that which is historical, I always particularly enjoy that."
Do you have any memories of 1966?
"We've been shooting in Violet and Fred's new shop which has this huge array of pipes. My dad smoked a pipe, and when I was little, I used to go and buy him tobacco. I remember going into the newsagents and seeing all the pipes and all the cigars and all the cigarettes. It really does take me back. So I very much enjoyed seeing the pipes because they really reminded me of dad."
Call The Midwife returns tonight at 8pm, on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.