BBC’s new series based on Jennifer Worth’s best-selling memoir Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times broke viewer records when it attracted 9.8 million viewers for its opening episode. The show’s popularity only grew from there with later episodes overtaking Downton Abbey’s record ratings. The ensemble cast, including Jessica Raine and Vanessa Redgrave, brings to life the harsh living conditions in London’s poorest slums in the 1950s. The memoir that inspired the series was recently rereleased in time for the show’s US television premiere.
At age 22, Jennifer Worth moved into an Anglican convent to work as a midwife to the poorest women in East London. The world she describes is almost unimaginable to modern audiences. Few people had cars, so children typically played in the smaller side streets where there was no traffic. Large families lived in small two-room apartments, many of which had cold running water but no indoor bathrooms. Antibiotics were new and rarely used, and nearly all births took place in the patient’s home.
Armed with only a bicycle and bag of supplies, Worth and the other midwives from Nonnatus House delivered 80-100 babies per month in their patients’ homes. Although the details of her patients’ lives and their living conditions are sometimes difficult to read, Worth also brings humor and hope to the stories. Told in her unique voice, Call the Midwife is filled with colorful characters from the nuns and midwives to the patients themselves. This frank and sometimes graphic memoir brings to life a fascinating piece of history. Call the Midwife will air in the US on PBS beginning Sunday, September 30th, and will be released on DVD in November. To get a taste of the show, check out this trailer.