She was the midwife who first introduced us to poverty-stricken Poplar and its heart Nonnatus house.
We entered the East End just like she did, eager-eyed and naive. We learned to love bolshy Sister Evanglina and whimsical Sister Monica Joan as she did. We learned terms like postpartum and how not to wince every time a baby’s head came out. We started fancying Babysham and Battenburg cake again.
But now Jenny Lee – the poster girl for Call the Midwife, the leader of the bicycle pack – has hung up her red cardigan and thrown her midwifery bag, forceps and all, to the wayside.
The final episode of series three, which aired on BBC1 on Sunday, had Midwife fans the country over sobbing into their crocheted blankets as Jenny Lee announced that she had handed in her notice and was leaving the East End, this time for good.
When you think about it, it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. Jessica Raine’s star is on the rise. She’ll soon be off in Iceland filming star-studded, big-budget Sky series Fortitude. No doubt she’s being offered other new roles, possibly tempting opportunities to try to make it in Hollywood. She has, whether fans want to admit it or not, sort of outgrown the BBC1 Sunday night drama.
But that still leaves us, and Call the Midwife, in a bit of a fix. Where does the show go from here?
It’s already been confirmed that the period drama is returning for a fourth series. This time set in the 1960s as “a new decade dawns” and “different” challenges emerge. It’s an exciting period of time, ripe with potential and bound to provide some gripping plots for Midwife, as the Pill appears and traditional gender roles are broken down.
And while Jenny was our main protagonist, ultimately Call the Midwife has an ensemble cast – and Jenny was more often than not a passive character, observing rather than driving the drama.
Series three has been preparing us for this moment, too, whether we knew it or not. After the shock death of her boyfriend Alec (Leo Staar) halfway through the series, Jenny went missing for two episodes and we coped. And the last nine episodes shone more of a light on Chummy, Trixie, Shelagh and even Sister Evanglina, and allowed us a glimpse into their intriguing pasts.
When the show returns to our TV screens, there will still be a set of strong characters ready to lead us over Poplar’s cobbled streets. It’s likely that Trixie, with her fledgling romance, will come to the fore, aided by Cynthia, who surely has some stories of her own to tell, new mum Shelagh and newly bereaved Chummy, plus bold, straight-talking newcomer Patsy, who we understand is set to return for series four.
And it’s not like we’ll be leaving Jenny Lee behind all together, either. Mature Jenny (voiced by Vanessa Redgrave) will still introduce and close each episode confirms the BBC, “maintaining our link with the very special author of the books that inspired us”.
See Jenny Lee arrive in Poplar:
Call the Midwife will return for a fourth series in 2015