I’m in the strange position where Call the Midwife has just entered my living memory.
It’s reached the year I was born; it’s no longer a historical drama for me. This year’s Christmas special and series starts in the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1962–3 – one of the coldest winters on record. The freeze began in early December, got a lock on the country and didn’t shift until March, so we still see its effects in the first episode of our next season.
I was born in February. My mum used to tell me stories about the cold when I was born. She said the sea froze over – it sounded like Narnia. The country was more familiar with hardship back in the 60s, but as the freeze went on food stopped arriving in the shops and milk bottles couldn’t get delivered; it was a tough time to bring a baby into the world.
I was a real Call the Midwife baby. My mum had me in the front room of our house in Kensington, Liverpool. She went into labour in the evening – Dad came home from work just in time.
They did actually call the midwife, who had just taken a sleeping pill! She came on her bike, cycling through snowdrifts.
One of my brother Joe’s earliest memories is of standing at the top of the stairs on the night I was born, wondering what the fuss was about. He must have been five years old. He came and asked my dad what the noise was; my dad told him he was going to have a little baby brother or sister and took him back upstairs and tucked him in. The drama of that night is now part of my family’s mythology.
And if, like the younger cast members, you can’t imagine the freeze, wait until you see the episode. We’ve had snowy sets before but this year was exceptional. They built up huge snowdrifts; it was a winter wonderland. Then the snow machines were switched on – the fake snow smells like burnt paper and looks like cotton, but it’s so realistic you actually feel cold. Which came as a relief, because as usual we were filming in June and it was roasting outside.
I’d come in and the costume designer would say: “Sorry Steve, you’re wearing this jumper, this jacket, this coat…” I’d grumble, but then it’s becoming clear that I was literally born to play this role!