It’s been voted the best period drama of the 21st century by viewers, so it’s no surprise there's something of a buzz about the return of Call The Midwife to our screens.
Fans are chomping at the bit for new instalments of the goings on at Nonnatus House and stories of the expectant mothers of Poplar, and the good news is that they won’t have too long to wait.
[Read more: Heartbreaking story for Sister Monica Joan in Call the Midwife]
The 2017 Christmas special won the TV ratings battle and we've only just stopped weeping about the em
Here's what we know so far about the forthcoming series seven of BBC One’s viewer favourite.
When can I see the new series?
Call the Midwife returns for its seventh series on Sunday, January 21st at 8pm on BBC One.
Watch the trailer
Are there any cast changes?
The midwives and nuns of Nonnatus House are set to welcome a new arrival – Nurse Lucille Anderson, played by Leonie Elliott. Her storyline will reflect the changing times of the 1960s as Caribbean nurses began to make their way to the UK to bolster the growing NHS. Described as elegant, funny and clever, we can’t wait to get to know Lucille better.
Executive producer Pippa Harris said: “We can’t wait to introduce the audience to our new midwife Lucille, played by the hugely talented and captivating Leonie Elliott. From her first audition Leonie managed to embody the essence of this elegant, intelligent, witty character whom [series creator and writer] Heidi Thomas has created with her customary skill.
"Lucille is a fantastic addition to the Nonnatus House team and we know she will be warmly welcomed by the nuns and midwives."
Earlier this year, three actresses announced that they would not be returning for the next run of the show. Original cast member Bryony Hannah played Sister Mary Cynthia who was admitted to a mental institute in series six and will not be back in 2018. Emerald Fennell said that she would be leaving her role as Nurse Patsy Mount to concentrate on writing, and Kate Lamb has also exited as Delia Busby.
The returning cast includes Jenny Agutter as Sister Julienne, Linda Bassett as Nurse Crane, Judy Parfitt as Sister Monica Joan, recent new mum Helen George as Trixie, Laura Main as Shelagh Turner, Charlotte Ritchie as Barbara, Victoria Yeates as Sister Winifred, Jennifer Kirby as Valerie, Stephen McGann as Dr Turner, Jack Ashton as Tom, Cliff Parisi as Fred, Annabelle Apsion as Violet, Max Macmillan as Timothy, and Jack Hawkins as Christopher.
Did Charlotte Ritchie's Nurse Barbara leave in the Christmas special?
It looked like she was making a shock exit from the show as she had an emotional goodbye with her friends. However, despite moving to Birmingham with Tom (Jack Ashton) at the start of the new series, we've been reassured that Charlotte will be back later on in series 7.
Where will the storyline take us next?
Call The Midwife’s Christmas special kicks off an especially tough winter for the gang – the Big Freeze of 1963, the coldest season in 300 years which brought the country to a standstill with power cuts and frozen pipes.
The snowy landscape is sure to cause all manner of problems for the midwives on their rounds, but the weather isn’t the only thing they have to contend with.
As the drama progresses through the 1960s, the midwives and nuns see the old East End of London changing as the slums are cleared to make way for a new wave of tower blocks to accommodate the expanding population.
Their work sees them come into contact with patients with leprosy, tokophobia, stroke, Huntingdon’s Chorea and cataracts.
Relationships continue to drive the storyline as Trixie and Christopher’s romance develops, Tom and Barbara settle into married life, and the Turners employ an au pair. Nurse Crane will encounter an unexpected challenge to her authority, while Sister Monica Joan will be forced to accept that her faculties are failing her.
Creator, writer and executive producer Heidi Thomas said: “The friendships, struggles and triumphs of women remain at the heart of Call The Midwife as we swing into 1963. With new mums ranging from a stripper to an Asian child bride, series seven will see our beloved Nonnatus House team stretched to the limit, as they face a series of medical, social and emotional challenges.”
Creator and writer Heidi Thomas's guide to series 7
What can we expect from Call the Midwife in 1963?
The friendships, struggles and triumphs of women remain at the heart of Call The Midwife as we swing in to 1963. Series seven sees our beloved Nonnatus House team stretched to the limit as they face a series of medical, social and emotional challenges.
One of the things people seem to really love about Call The Midwife is that it's centred on a family in Nonnatus House, and I’m including the Turners who don't live there, but we've watched their family grow; I think viewers are looking forward to seeing new baby Teddy, little Angela is growing up and people love that.
Nonnatus House itself, with the nuns, with Fred and Violet and their adopted relative Reggie who has Down’s syndrome, people really look forward to engaging with those characters, and all of those characters are drawn closer together in the course of this series by many different events. Those relationships deepen and widen across the body of the series and added to that mix we have our usual strong magical ‘story of the week’ arcs and storytelling.
We’ve referred to the Space Race in many series of Call The Midwife, and mentioned Yuri Gagarin in series five, and we suddenly realised that the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, went into space in the summer of 1963! Obviously, that's going to be of huge interest to the Nonnatus community as they’re nurses, they’re scientists, independent strong professional women. There was something amazing about the idea that a woman had gone into space so soon after the first man had done so. I think probably only the Soviet Union would have made such a bold gesture at that time, so everybody has something to say and they sit around the television, which is now restored to Nonnatus House, and I think it inspires different characters in different ways.
We see a lot of changes in 1963, particularly in housing. There's a lot more modern council housing which was fantastic for the people living there at that time, but it also starts to create social isolation and the breakdown of family structures. I think if there's been an emergent theme in series seven it's been about family structure: the phrase seems to come up time and again both in my own notes and in dialogue.
The ties that bind us, what draws us to other people, how do those relationships function within the family and within the wider community. There was a lot of change in the way people were living in the early 1960s, people were moving out of the East End, instead of living next door to your Mum or across the street from your aunt, you perhaps were not physically related to your neighbours, and also there was a sense of a socially upward, more mobile culture that meant people were migrating into London, sometimes from as far away as India or China.
I think on the midwifery front the biggest change is fathers really are starting to be allowed into the room, and that can create tension between couples. We have a wife who wants a husband to be at the birth and he's not keen so you start to uncover these little textures and fractures within human relationships where changes are happening and not everybody is completely happy with them.
The plight of teenagers and young adults is raised in series seven - why have you broached this?
What's been lovely about Call The Midwife as we've gone forward is looking at teenagers. They didn't really exist until the mid 1950s and one could say they were almost an American invention, certainly if you were working class in Britain in the 1950s and early 60s. You could leave school at 15 and so you would go from being little more than a child to someone who was earning a wage and dressing in an adult way. A lot of people married at 18, so being a teenager was quite a short-lived phase. By the early 60s it had been identified as a phase of life that you should really be able to enjoy.
Discos were starting, you've got pop music exploding and there was an expectation of freedom that society didn't always deliver, particularly to young women who had a sexual side to their nature. They were being allowed to think that sexual feelings weren't completely prohibited, but there was very little to protect them from unwanted pregnancy or disease or emotional exploitation because they weren't educated in the things that being an adult woman involves.
I loved the idea that we could pick up on something that was starting to happen which was basically sex education and not just about sex, but education about the way in which a woman's body works. It's something we've touched upon many times over the years that women of the older generation at that time could not name their body parts; they literally didn't understand what made them tick. I love the idea that our younger midwives who are themselves only in their 20s actually want to bring about changes. Interestingly Valerie's very much the vanguard of this; she's been in the army, she's from the East End, and she’s incredibly forthright. Lucille is much more reticent. She's not a prude as such, but there are certain things that she thinks young women don't need to know and I have to say the scenes between them are very, very funny.
How do you tackle the arrival of Nonnatus House’s first black midwife?
Lucille is our first black West Indian midwife and she represents a whole generation of really fantastic young women, I think they were almost exclusively women, who came at the behest of the British Government from their homes in the Commonwealth to train as nurses in Britain. They were hugely needed, passionate about the work they were doing, but sadly they didn't always receive the welcome here that they should have had a right to expect. Lucille is funny, elegant, bright, unassuming and yet very forthright.
While Lucille receives a warm welcome from the Nonnatus community, we do deal with the harsher realities of being a young, black woman in white British society at that time. Back then, the young nurses who came over were heroic - they were leaving their home countries with the almost certain knowledge that they wouldn't go back to live there for many years; a lot of them were single so they didn't have spouses or family around them, they had to be very self-reliant - yet unfortunately, as I mentioned, they didn't always get the welcome they deserved.
There was so much ignorance in Britain at that time and you were seeing people from a country you didn't understand, who were young professionals who had a position of authority and apparent privilege and that didn't always sit very well with people who perceived themselves to be struggling. At that time I think people felt entitled to be very open about their views. It was quite a sad and delicate episode to approach because these young nurses could face persistent racial abuse. There was a definite drip feed of racial prejudice, sometimes it was silent sometimes it was vocal.
We see early on that Lucille is a young woman of faith, but when we did some more research into the way in which the West Indian community was bedding down and becoming local and indigenous in London, we found out some really interesting details about their church-going experience. They were often not as welcome as they should have been in conventional churches and so started to worship in each other's homes, and they built really strong, religious communities. There is something homespun and vibrant and in turn wonderful about seeing how they celebrated the Gospel together and how they developed relationships within their own community that might lead to love or marriage, but was always about offering each other support.
How is Trixie coping with her alcoholism?
I've loved writing the character of Trixie, she’s been an important member of the Nonnatus family from the word go. Her journey has become complicated by her alcoholism, and it's affected her personal relationships. It’s never affected her spirit, but she did have a very unhappy childhood that I think she carries with her. A lot of Trixie's glamour, her beauty, her fashion sense, it's all to do with covering up the very fragile woman she is inside. We've had hugely positive feedback from the AA community in particular about her sobriety, and we liaise with the AA about her journey.
In series seven we decided it was time to challenge Trixie, as we felt it wouldn't be realistic if she never stumbled on that path, and Helen once again gives a tour de force performance in the role. We discover something a little more about Trixie, about her hunger for love and how even though she's met this gorgeous, funny, respectable dentist, he comes with baggage. The path of true love doesn't run as smoothly as we would like and that's very painful for Trixie.
What is tokophobia and why have you tackled this mental illness?
In Call The Midwife we often feature very straightforward labours and births; I always say ours is not a series about women being constantly endangered by the natural process. The drama often comes from the setting in which they find themselves in emotionally or socially, but one thing I was very curious to look into was the phobia of childbirth.
We've always had a very strong remit to look at mental health and I see this story as being an extension of that. There are a lot of emotional issues around childbirth, postnatal depression is well understood these days, and we have featured postnatal psychosis in the past. I think a lot of people have emotional issues as childbirth approaches, it's fear of the unknown or in this case fear of the known.
The mother in our story’s first delivery was very complicated, she had forceps, she was traumatised and the idea of going through that a second time is crippling her. Physically and emotionally she cannot face up to what lies ahead. Phobia of childbirth is so much more than just fear of childbirth and nowadays it's known as tokophobia. In the early 1960s, it was not well understood, but she does have a sympathetic GP in Dr Turner who is always very alert to mental distress or signs of mental illness, and obviously some very supportive midwives.
Episode one spoilers
The Big Freeze continues, with scheduled power cuts and more blizzards.
The departure of Barbara prompts Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) to recruit a new midwife, Lucille Anderson (Leonie Elliott).
Owing to the snow, Lucille is two days late and her start is bumpy when she falls ill. Lucille is called out from her sick bed to assist Trixie with a breech birth. Nadine Mulvaney (Tamla Kari), a single mother and exotic dancer in Soho, plans to give the baby up for adoption. But, Trixie is concerned that Nadine’s Rhesus Negative blood type might cause problems for baby.
Meanwhile, Nurse Crane (Linda Bassett) and Dr Turner (Stephen McGann) are caring for Ruth Gelin (Julie Legrand), an elderly Jewish woman suffering from bowel cancer. Ruth and her husband Arnold (Allan Corduner) are facing eviction from their home of several decades. The council have started to demolish their street as part of the slum clearance. Nurse Crane (Linda Bassett) must convince the prickly Sergeant Woolf (Trevor Cooper) to delay the demolition until after Ruth passes away.
Shelagh (Laura Main) wants to return to work and contemplates having an Au Pair. An apprehensive Trixie decides to take her relationship with Christopher (Jack Hawkins) to the next level while Sister Winifred (Victoria Yeates) is nervous as her driving test approaches.
Can I be sure of more Call The Midwife after the series ends?
Don’t worry, there’s no chance that series seven will be the final instalment. After it was named most popular period drama of the 21st century in the BFI and Radio Times Festival Audience Poll, that the BBC ordered three more series and accompanying Christmas specials.
That means that even after series seven wraps, we can expect to welcome back the programme until at least 2020.
Call The Midwife returns to BBC One in December for a Christmas special and series seven will air in 2018.