Beginning in January 1965 with the funeral of Winston Churchill, the series will see Nonnatus House “entering a bold and innovative era” – but for the midwives, “the very fabric of their lives is jeopardised when Nonnatus itself comes under threat of demolition.”
Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas said: “After a magical Christmas experience in the Hebrides featuring wild seas, stormy skies and some very disobedient sheep, we return to the harsher reality of city life in 1965. Society is changing fast and in series nine we will see Nonnatus House shaken to its foundations.”
Each series of Call the Midwife covers a single year, and in series nine we have reached 1965. It is a time of massive social change in Poplar.
“As the tower blocks multiply, and a new East End rises from the ashes of the old, society becomes more prosperous, but more complex,” the BBC has teased. “Our familiar team of medics and midwives face unexpected challenges as the population shifts, rules change, and old diseases come back to haunt them… meanwhile, their own experiences are fuelled by love, loss, and doubt.”
Over the course of the series, Nurse Trixie Anderson (Helen George) threw herself into her career, following new opportunities and using her spare time to study and work at the surgery with Dr Turner (Stephen McGann). As an ambitious young woman with a talent for medicine, perhaps she’ll take more of a leadership role at Nonnatus House?
We’re also intrigued to see whether Violet Buckle (Annabelle Apsion) will take her political career to a national level, having come into her own as a local councillor.
Nurse Lucille Anderson (Leonie Elliott) has found a charming young man in Cyril Robinson (Zephryn Taitte), but it remains to be seen how their romance will progress.
Things are looking good for the Turner family, but Timothy Turner (Max MacMillan) is growing up fast and will have to think about his future. And now Nurse Phyllis Crane (Linda Bassett) is back at work and no longer fighting off the affections of Sergeant Woolf (Trevor Cooper) after setting him up with Miss Higgins (Georgie Glen), we are excited to see what she gets up to next.
Over the course of the series, Sister Frances (Ella Bruccoleri) and Sister Hilda (Fenella Woolgar) have settled into Nonnatus House alongside Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) and Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) – and we’re excited to see if they have any big storylines.
What happened in the Call the Midwife Christmas special?
This year’s festive episode saw the midwives off to work in the Outer Hebrides. They arrived on a remote, idyllic Scottish island, where the residents were in urgent need of nurses and midwives.
“Exposed to the elements, they operate in bleak conditions with limited access to water and electricity to help their patients, just in time to reconvene in Poplar for Christmas,” the BBC announced.
It was a moving episode, with Mother Mildred (Miriam Margolyes) and Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) leading their team as they delivered multiple babies and handled medical complications (appendicitis in a lighthouse! Retained placenta!) and slowly made friends with the locals. They also came to the aid of a troubled local teen who just needed some reassurance that her family loved her.
Meanwhile, Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) was fuming about being left behind at Nonnatus House – and so she made her escape to join the rest of the gang in Scotland. But in the end everyone made it back to Poplar in time for Christmas, capping things off by helping Reggie make a record-breaking paper chain.
Having made her debut in the 2018 Christmas special, Miriam Margolyes returned as Mother Mildred in the 2019 festive episode. She’ll also be in the first episode of series nine before disappearing back off to the Mother House.
Also returning to the show are Jenny Agutter (Sister Julienne), Linda Bassett (Nurse Crane), Judy Parfitt (Sister Monica Joan), Fenella Woolgar (Sister Hilda), Ella Bruccoleri (Sister Frances), Helen George (Trixie), Laura Main (Shelagh Turner), Jennifer Kirby (Valerie), Leonie Elliott (Lucille), Stephen McGann (Dr Turner), Cliff Parisi (Fred), Annabelle Apsion (Violet), Georgie Glen (Miss Higgins), Max Macmillan (Timothy), Trevor Cooper (Sgt Woolf) and Daniel Laurie (Reggie).
Recent series have seen several key actors leave the show, with new stars taking their place – but Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas says there will be less change this time around.
“In series nine there’s nobody new,” she said. “The cast has been very stable, which is nice because I get to know them all well. And they are like a family.”
Despite joking that each actor who quits the show is a “stab in the heart” (and that she “now knows the signs” that one of her cast members is thinking of leaving), Thomas said she is proud of her Call the Midwife alumni – and what they’ve done next.
“She’s phenomenal, she’s writing she’s acting and she’s directing,” Thomas said of Killing Eve showrunner Emerald Fennell (who previously starred as Nurse Patsy Mount). “And you do feel incredibly proud.
“I think early on, if somebody ever wanted to leave after three years, you go, ‘Oh this is terrible.’ But… I’m always thrilled to have had them for that period, and then I know that the new faces coming in keep the show fresh. I think if we hadn’t had changes to the cast over the years, we would not still be going – we might have started to feel a bit stale. And that’s never happened because we have young people who feel their journey is coming to an end with us and want to move on. So I’m always like, yeah Charlotte [Ritchie] – do hit sitcoms! It’s brilliant! Love it!”
What medical conditions will be covered next in Call the Midwife?
The new series will reportedly “uphold the show’s established reputation of compelling, sensitive and relevant storylines” as the midwives tackle cases including diphtheria, drug abuse, cancer, tuberculosis, and fistula.
“What I find now is I do get, personally, a lot of letters and emails from mothers of children with genetic disorders or perhaps a rare disability, and they beg me to draw attention to this disability, to create awareness and to create dialogue,” Heidi Thomas revealed. “And that’s sometimes very painful for me. I had a disabled brother, so I’m very alert to the issues around having somebody who either has physical challenges or limits within a family, but because we’re a historic drama series there are some stories I don’t want to tell within the context of 1965.”
That’s for two reasons: firstly, the condition may not have been identified and diagnosable yet; and secondly, because the prognosis back then may have been far worse than today.
“Because we have to tell stories with historic veracity, what I would absolutely never do is drive vulnerable mothers to despair because they might see their story told in a negative way,” she explained.
Yes! Series nine of Call the Midwife was confirmed back in 2016 after Call the Midwife struck a three-series deal with the BBC. But then, after the series eight finale, the BBC announced it had re-commissioned the drama for both series 10 and 11, meaning Call the Midwife will be on-air until at least 2022.
Each series will consist of eight episodes, along with their Christmas specials.
Creator and writer Heidi Thomas said: “Even after all these years, it still feels as though Call the Midwife has more truth to tell, more tears to cry, more life to celebrate, and more love to give. We are blessed with the best cast, crew, and audience a show could wish for, and I could not be more excited about our future.”
Pippa Harris, Executive Producer for Neal Street Productions said: “We are thrilled that the BBC have put such faith in the show by commissioning two more series and can’t wait to watch our wonderful cast and crew tackling all the social and medical changes which the swinging sixties will bring.”
Which historical events could Call the Midwife feature in series nine?
We already know that the next series of Call the Midwife will be set in 1965. We also know that Call the Midwife brings in real-world events, from serious political developments to the latest in music, movies and fashion.
In January 1965, former Prime Minister and wartime leader Winston Churchill died following a stroke. He lay in state at Westminster Hall for three days while hundreds of thousands of people paid their respects at his coffin, after which his funeral took place at St Paul’s Cathedral – an event which we already know will be featured in Call the Midwife. Churchill’s body was then taken through London and along the River Thames to Waterloo station, then on to his final resting place in Oxfordshire, in what was the largest state funeral in history.
This national event would certainly have been felt in Poplar, even though the route of the procession reached no further into East London than Tower Hill. In one of the more moving moments of the day, the London dockers lowered their cranes as a gesture of respect as the barge passed along the river.
So what else could be coming up? Let’s consult the history books…
The year 1965 saw the capture of the Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. It was a year that saw the continued disintegration of the British Empire as The Gambia gained its independence, while the international community faced the Rhodesian Crisis.
Excitingly for Trixie, 1965 was the year that Mary Quant introduced the miniskirt from her shop Bazaar on the King’s Road in Chelsea, London. At the cinema you could have seen The Sound of Music, Oscar-winning classic Mary Poppins, or the Beatles movie Help!
The Space Race continued as cosmonaut Alexey Leonov became the first person to walk in space, almost certainly to the delight of Sister Monica Joan. Later that year, America’s Mariner 4 flew by Mars and became the first spacecraft to send back images from the Red Planet.
And significantly for Nonnatus House, in 1965 the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar merged with Stepney and Bethan Green to form the new London Borough of Tower Hamlets. That move is sure to have implications for our midwives…
What will happen in future series of Call the Midwife?
Call the Midwife has already been commissioned for series 10 (set in 1966) and series 11 (set in 1967) – and while creator and writer Heidi Thomas is focusing on series nine for now, she does have her eye on future key events.
“I know that England will win the World Cup in 1966, therefore this year we mustn’t do any sporting stories. Last year we had the Olympics,” she tells us. “So we think about it in that way, and we’re also thinking ahead to characters perhaps leaving school, and what age the child characters will be.
“But I never think more than a series ahead because I like to inhabit the year in which the series is set and find as much as possible which is of interest and resonance within that world, and that time, and life as we’re living it in the series.”
She adds: “What I do know is that when we get to series 11 it will be 1967, so abortion will be legalised and homosexuality will be legalised, and these are big staging posts in modern social history, so I know we’ll be referencing those and we might be referencing the journey towards those things. There was a lot of public debate about the changes in society, so I know in a very general way that the change that has fuelled us so far will take us forward.”
And while the future of Call the Midwife is secure all the way through to 2022, it will end one day – perhaps once we reach the early 1970s – and Thomas already has an idea for a special episode to mark the occasion.
“When the series ends, what I would like to do is a special episode featuring nuns played by the actors who’ve let us know they would like to be in Call the Midwife,” she said. “And it will be a motley spectacle.”