Is ‘Call the Midwife’ based on a true story?
If you’re a big fan of the hit BBC period drama, then you probably already know that Call the Midwife is based on a true story — kind of. The show was first created by Heidi Thomas and was based on the memoirs of a real-life nurse and midwife named Jennifer Worth. Jennifer practiced midwifery in London’s poverty-stricken East End in the 1950s and wrote a trilogy about her experience many years later.
The first book, entitled Call the Midwife (bet you saw that one coming) was published in 2002. Jennifer’s second and third books — Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End — came out in 2005 and 2009, respectively. As you’ve probably already surmised, the show’s Jenny Lee is based on Jennifer Worth. In fact, Lee is Jennifer’s maiden name, and she referred to herself as Jenny Lee in her memoir.
Jennifer Worth wrote her memoir in response to an article she read in the late ‘90s.
In 1998, a midwife named Terri Coates published an article in The Royal College of Midwives Journal which argued that her profession was underrepresented in literature. The article, which Terri had initially written as an essay for her Master’s degree, struck a chord with many midwives who read it, including Jennifer Worth. After reading the article, Jennifer told Terri that she felt inspired to write about her time as an East End midwife.
“I thought little more of it, but 18 months later she sent me a handwritten manuscript,” Terri said. “The stories leapt off the page.” When the BBC started adapting Jennifer’s first book into the series, the writer recommended Terri as the show’s midwifery advisor — a role she currently still holds!
Terri’s job as the midwifery advisor is super important to the show’s production.
Terri works on-set to ensure that the show’s birth stories are as accurate to real-life births as possible and also collaborates with the producers and writers to ensure the clinical language is appropriate and correct. “‘That might be making sure there is no dialogue during a contraction – women don’t talk through a contraction. It’s almost choreographing birth,” Terri says.
While Jenny Lee was a main character for the first three seasons of the show, BBC’s Call the Midwife quickly moved past the events of Jennifer Worth’s memoirs and began sharing new stories (though the show still strives to historically source its material). So, while the memoir certainly inspired the BBC show, they exist as two different entities now — and Terri has been deeply involved with both!
And there are even more stories still to come!
In March of 2019, the BBC confirmed that Call the Midwife had been renewed for two more seasons, meaning it will be on the air through at least 2022. Each season will be comprised of eight episodes and one Christmas special apiece. We can’t wait to watch!