Call The Midwife has seen too many departures from Nonnatus House this series so with both Sister Mary Cynthia and Patsy gone, the nuns decided to enlist a new pair of hands, hiring former army nurse Valerie Dyer in episode four.
Valerie joins Nonnatus House on episode five, but we’ve met her somewhere before, haven’t we? Here’s why her face looks so familiar…
Who is Valerie Dyer?
Quick-thinking Valerie is a Poplar native who served in the army as a nurse. When she left the military she returned home to Poplar where she’s been working as a barmaid ever since.
“I’ve always been a fan of the show” says actress Jennifer Kirby, “and she’s a bit of a fan as well because she’s kind of watched [the nuns] growing up”.
Who plays Valerie Dyer?
Valerie is played by British actress Jennifer Kirby. She’s got quite the stage CV having performed with The Royal Shakespeare Company playing Katherine in Henry V and Lady Percy in Henry IV.
Kirby played Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and also appeared in Holby City.
She’s a big fan of Call The Midwife so she was thrilled to get the role.
So thrilled, in fact, that she didn’t mind allowing them to chop all of her hair off!
“It was funny really because I had very very long hair, so it was a big change and I didn’t really think about it at the time because I’d just got the job and I was ecstatic to get the job and I was just like “yeah, do what you want. Do what you want to me, I don’t care, take my hair, shave it off!”, she explains.
“It was something I was really excited to do because I’m not really precious about my hair and I’ve always kind of fancied cutting it off but I never felt I could. When you’re an actor you kind of think ‘I’ve got to be versatile all the time’ and I kept getting cast in period dramas so you want to have long hair for that. So I was really happy to have an excuse and I could sort of step back and go ‘not my fault’.”
“It was really good in terms of the character as well because the way that they style it and everything is so different to how I look day to day so it was very easy to look in the mirror and see Valerie and not me. Something which I‘ve always found really useful is having a hook in to a character whether it’s a piece of costume or whatever that makes you feel like them and not you and for me the hair was that 100 per cent and it was really good.”
And as for all that spare hair? Well, Kirby had it donated to the Little Princess Trust, makes real-hair wigs for children undergoing cancer treatment.
Where have we seen Valerie Dyer before?
She first popped up in series six, episode two when she assisted Shelagh during a factory fire.
Valerie said her mum wouldn’t believe she’d been to Nonnatus House, admitting that she and her friends had been watching the midwives since they were very young.
“We thought you brought the baby in the bag,” she laughed as she told stories of watching the midwives arrive on their bicycles during her childhood.
That’s what put her on Sister Julienne’s radar and prompted the nun to approach her when advertising for a new midwife.
Why did Valerie leave the army?
“It was a lot of curing and not quite so much caring and I think that’s quite telling of her character really” says Kirby. “She’s emotionally invested in everything that she does and that’s something we see throughout the series. Everything that happens to her, she feels very strongly about it, she wants personal emotional connection with people and that’s something that midwifery has in abundance.”
“You’re with that person at the most important time in their life and you help them through it and I think that’s something that she loves and relishes and wants to be part of it. So I think that’s why it’s a perfect fit for her.”
How does Valerie feel about joining Nonnatus House?
“I think she’s incredibly excited and it’s something she’s wanted to be a part of for a long time” says Kirby, “but I think she definitely worries to begin with. Because she’s from the East End, she’s perhaps not like the other girls, in the sense that she’s got a different accent and she might think looking at it from a distance that maybe they’ll judge her, she won’t fit in.”
“But it’s nice to see how quickly she realises that what brings them together is the fact that they’re all the same. They’re all nurses, their training is what defines them, not anything about who they are or where they’re from.”