Call The Midwife has an extra-special delivery this Christmas – there are more babies born in the festive story than there have been in any other episode.
But this being Call The Midwife, the show that’s followed the nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House in London’s East End from the 1950s through to 1966, gangsters, a missing person, a will-they-won’t-they wedding and blood-sucking leeches also feature alongside the miracle of childbirth.
While previous Christmas specials have taken the team to South Africa and the Outer Hebrides, this episode is firmly rooted in their East End patch and focuses on the show’s raison d’etre and biggest selling point.
This year’s festive special of Call The Midwife has more babies than there has ever been in any other episode. Pictured: midwives Shelagh, Trixie and Lucille
‘I think this is our most intimate Christmas special, we’ve never had so many children born in one episode,’ says Jenny Agutter, who plays Sister Julienne. ‘It doesn’t have the spectacle of last year when the circus came to Poplar, but it has the excitement of new life. It’s packed with personal stories which I think are what appeal to the fans.’
Poor Helen George, as midwife Trixie Franklin, was running between birth scenes in the maternity unit while pregnant herself and having to deal with strict Covid protocols around the newborns.
‘It was fun to do, but I lost track of what exactly was going on and who’d had a baby,’ she laughs. ‘It’s always nice when you get to do midwifery stuff, even if we were filming in Covid conditions.
‘That meant more prosthetic babies and the mothers of the real babies having to put on my nurse’s costume so we could film their arms around their babies.
‘We also had to find some novel ways to hide my bump in the special and through the forthcoming series. There were a lot of capes, and even a big display of flowers to hide behind at one point.’
One storyline involves a bunch of gangsters, and Stephen McGann, who plays Dr Turner and is married to the show’s writer Heidi Thomas, says he wasn’t surprised to see it in the script.
Stephen McGann, who plays Dr Turner, said he was like a child when using leeches for the first time. Pictured: Dr Turner with son Timothy
‘Years ago, Heidi and I were in a cab and the driver was an old East End boy from the docks,’ he recalls. ‘Because Heidi and myself both come from docker families in Liverpool, we shared stories about how dodgy they were.
‘He told us a great story about how a cargo had come off the ships and was stolen. It was a consignment of suits, all the same size, and he said at one point everyone in the East End was walking around in the same suit. That’s the kind of stuff Heidi banks away. I loved having that element in the show.’
Dr Turner also uses leeches medicinally for the first time. ‘I was like a child with them,’ says Stephen.
Daniel Laurie, who stars as Reggie Jackson, pictured, goes missing
‘None of us had seen them before and we were all very excited. I had to pick them up with tweezers. The funny thing is when you pick up a leech in the middle, both sides start wiggling as if to say, “I beg your pardon!”’
Meanwhile, Reggie Jackson (Daniel Laurie) goes missing and midwife Lucille Anderson (Leonie Elliott) is planning a Boxing Day wedding to Cyril Robinson (Zephryn Taitte). But it’s fair to say there are more than a few stumbling blocks the couple will need to overcome first. Will they manage to get down the aisle?
As it has done for the past nine years, the new series of the show will start in January, covering everything from scabies and chicken pox to lung disease, PTSD, end-of-life care and breastfeeding.
‘Things are different every year but babies are still being born,’ says Jenny Agutter. ‘Heidi grabs all of these brilliant stories merging medical facts with social issues, but the drama is always there and it never fails to be moving.’
Call The Midwife, Christmas Day, 8pm, BBC1.