Written by Jenny Shelton

Arts

Sunday night’s crowning glory

Social history, misery and cake. What, asks Jenny Shelton, is not to love about Call the Midwife?

Call the Midwife cast shot

Nurses Phyllis Crane (Linda Bassett), Patsy Mount (Emerald Fennell), Trixie Franklin (Helen George) and Barbara Gilbert (Charlotte Ritchie) await the latest new arrivals. All photos: Sophie Mutevelian/Neal Street Productions.

Sunday night dramas aren’t afraid of tackling the bigger subjects these days. Julian Fellowes bravely steered Downton into darker waters with Anna’s rape storyline which, I thought, sensitively handled both the event and the complex emotional aftermath.

Call the Midwife also met head-on one of the most controversial subjects surrounding pregnancy and birth in the 1960s when the usually unerring Dr Turner prescribed a patient thalidomide.

It’s easy to dismiss Call the Midwife as gentle, sugary drama. Yet, for all its cardies, frilly caps and biscuit-stealing nuns, Call the Midwife has never been shy about tackling weightier issues. From the outset, storylines have honed in on subjects like alcoholism, stillbirth and domestic abuse.

The very first Christmas special – one of the least-festive shows you could imagine – was all about an elderly homeless woman who peered into prams, remembering her own children who had all died in the workhouse. Bleak stuff.

Series six continues this Sunday (17 January, 8pm BBC1) and looks set to confront the effects of thalidomide – a drug prescribed to some mothers in the late 50s and early 60s for morning sickness, but which resulted in babies developing abnormalities in the womb.

The Christmas special, aside from another weepy carol service and traumatic bid for freedom by Sister MJ, hinted at hope for Patsy and Delia’s relationship; I’m keen to see how writer Heidi Thomas develops this storyline.

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Plus, I’m all set for more births (seriously, I cry every time an incredibly realistic prosthetic baby is born. EVERY TIME) and hopefully the return of plummy mummy, Chummy. We’ve also been promised Easter bonnets and… Lycra leotards. Hopefully not at the same time. And hopefully not the nuns.

What’s always struck me about Call the Midwife is how incredibly recent it all is. The early 1960s is a world most of our parents will recognise, and one we think of as modern and liberated, yet the practices and attitudes (homosexuality a criminal offence; unmarried mothers viciously stigmatised) seem to belong to another age entirely. There’s nothing like seeing a woman scrub a front step to make one appreciate equal rights and household appliances.

That’s what dramas like these do so well: by focusing on the domestic, day-to-day lives of ordinary people they so powerfully bring home how life has changed – or in some cases, how it hasn’t.

@JennySheltonCam

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Written by Jenny Shelton

Jenny is a writer and displaced northerner who has danced, baked, flown planes and hugged giant seals in the name of journalism. She is also a secret birdwatcher, serial book-buyer and sucker for a Sunday night costume drama.