1950’s Midwives Take Centre Stage


Bedpans, surgical gloves and cries of pain take centre stage in a new BBC drama.

Call the Midwife is a series that aims to take the audience into new territory – childbirth 1950s-style. It is about the joys and hardships of a group of midwives working in Londons East End in the 50s.

The drama will be the first to put childbirth, and its place in social history, at the heart of a television serial. Stars include Vanessa Redgrave, Pam Ferris, Jenny Agutter and Miranda Hart.

The creators and stars of the show hope to highlight a neglected area of womens lives. “A womans relationship with her midwife is very important,” said Agutter, who plays Sister Julienne, senior nun at the convent where the midwives live. “We seem to have almost lost track of what is a very critical job and this story is about the beginning of modern midwifery and about the women who supported each other through what was difficult work, but was also a calling.”

She has had personal experience of the benefits of a good midwife. “No one in their right mind would want to go through a surgical procedure like that for no reason. Women want to be supported, whatever they decide,” said Agutter. “I had my baby at 37 and had a long labour, but when a good midwife came on shift and gave me the right advice it really made a difference.”

The timing is impeccable. Childbirth appears to be near the top of the public agenda. Last week a major study into childbirth in Britain revealed that home births carry a higher risk for the babies of first-time mothers, though the British Medical Journal research, which used data from almost 65,000 births across England, pointed out that this risk of harm was less than 1%.

Midwife-led care, it was found, was more likely to lead to a natural birth. Earlier in the week Nice, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, had advised that all pregnant women be allowed to have a caesarean delivery once they were informed of the risks.

On screen and off, it is a very female production. Screenwriter Heidi Thomas says there are some in the television industry who have asked her whether she thinks men will watch the new drama. Her response is forthright. “They may well watch, but people don’t ask whether enough women will watch Top Gear.”

Would you watch this new series?

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Source and image credit: guardian.co.uk


  1. I wonder if they will show the practice of leaving babies to starve at the back of the ward, due to detection of birth defects, race / skin colour, or issues of the mother’s marital status?

    … or was that only done in Australian Public Hospitals in the 1950s?


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