There seems to be great surprise in the media about the extraordinary success of the new BBC TV series Call The Midwife.
It seems inconceivable (’scuse the pun) to certain people that a gentle Sunday night drama with a predominantly female cast, which shows graphic scenes of the potential horrors of 1950s childbirth, can reach viewing figures of circa nine million for its first few episodes. But I’m not sure why Call The Midwife’s success is such a big surprise?
Sunday night television has always been the place for mild British dramas set in various decades of the 20th century. All Creatures Great and Small, Heartbeat and The Royal were all hugely successful and very obvious precursors to Call The Midwife. And I’m sure this show will run and run, just as they did.
But what of the content of the programme itself? Why are we so keen to see the trials and tribulations of pregnancy and childbirth, and is it just women who are glued to their sets? I wouldn’t be surprised if men are watching too, but possibly under some duress and only so their other halves can berate them with shouts of ‘You see what we have to go through!’
And maybe there’s a certain generation watching, who gave birth without the father present to hold a hand or mop a brow. It was commonplace for him to be found either at home or in the pub waiting for news of his new offspring’s arrival – just how acceptable would we find that today?
I do have to admit though that I’m quite surprised at how much I’m enjoying the programme. I wasn’t a fan of Heartbeat et al, but that might be an age thing.
Maybe it’s just that I’m now old enough now to be drawn into Sunday evening retro programming? But I don’t think it is purely my advancing years, actually I think it’s the subject matter that’s pulled me in. The programme is charming, witty and educational, but frankly I’m an emotional sucker for anything to do with childbirth. I’ve been known to weep at dramatic births in soaps and bawl at documentaries such as One Born Every Minute. And that scene when Miranda Hart’s wonderful character Chummy successfully delivered a breech birth had me blubbing before you could say ‘It’s a girl’.
However, what Call The Midwife also does is make me utterly thankful that I didn’t have to give birth in the 1950s. Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to have a fantastic (and speedy) experience giving birth at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital. I had Molly’s father by my side, a constant supply of gas and air, and a wonderful midwife who supported me throughout.
When you watch the kind of experiences women went through only 50 years ago, it makes you appreciate just how far we have progressed and how lucky we are nowadays. Problems that would be simple to correct now could, in those days, have been terminal for either mother or baby, or both.
So, when I see the archaic-looking tools of the midwife’s trade in Call The Midwife, it reminds me of my own experience and I’m sure I’m not the only mother in the country doing the same. And if the horror of a zero pain relief labour isn’t bad enough, the thought of having a pre-labour enema administered in a glass tube is frankly terrifying.
So I applaud the BBC for making a truly charming and entertaining programme and I’m delighted to hear they have already commissioned a second series. And more importantly I applaud the real mothers who went through childbirth before or during that period. I am amazed that all your children weren’t only children!
NOTE TO SELF: Here’s to the midwives – we wouldn’t want to do it without you.