The stars of call the the midwife are used to being recognised. In Britain it usually happens in the ladies’ loos. “People look at your face, look again and go ‘Oh my god, are you…?’ Yes, yes i am. Please may I pass because I really need the toilet?” Helen George (better known as blonde bombshell Trixie) giggles, clearly enjoying every minute of her new-found fame. But now it’s happening in America too.
The show has been sold all round the world from Taiwan to Sweden, but nowhere has it been received with as much enthusiasm as in the US.
Squeals of recognition followed Jessica Raine and her two co-stars around New York on a recent visit to promote the second series. “Americans are different to British fans in their… sensibilities,” Jessica says, delicately. “Brits are more hesitant and more likely to stare for a while. The Americans will just stride up to you and go” – she slips smoothly into a New York accent – “OH. MY. GOD. Are you from Call the Midwife? I LOVE that show!”
Did she take the opportunity to perfect that accent? “Yes, until we decided we’d better stop because it sounded like we were taking the p***.”
With its wince-inducing births and brutal poverty, Call the Midwife was a riskier export than a cosy costume drama like Downton Abbey. But it turns out Call the Midwife isn’t merely a history lesson across the pond. “One of the US midwives we met in New York was saying it reminds her of areas in the Bronx where she’s worked,” says Bryony Hannah (soft-hearted Cynthia). “Although the architecture may be different, the lives and the stories are very similar.”
“We were told that people wouldn’t watch it over here either,” recalls Helen. “It was never supposed to be a success. People said ‘who will watch this?’ Women who are pregnant won’t watch it because it’s too gritty and men won’t want to watch it. That was the consensus.”
Being shortlisted for the Radio Times Audience Award at this year’s television Baftas on 12 May has been the icing on the cake. “It’s heartening,” says Jessica, “it means a lot, especially when you look at what we’re up against.”
Your vote counts in this year’s Radio Times Audience Award – but which of the super six is your favourite?
The Olympics Opening Ceremony
Game of Thrones
Call the Midwife
Strictly Come Dancing
The Great British Bake Off
To vote for your favourite, go to radiotimes.com/bafta