Call the Midwife’s fourth series has seen a change of direction for the drama. Sure, we still have Victoria Sponge, retro dresses and a jolly old soundtrack, but life has taken a turn for the worst for many of our favourite stars.
Perpetually bright and bubbly Trixie, with her bold skirts, silk pyjamas and perfect nail polish, is heartbroken and battling her inner demons. Confident, funny Patsy is quiet and troubled by the illicit feelings she has for Delia. Nurse Crane is a fish out of water. Chummy has been MIA since episode one. Even steadfast Doctor Turner wobbled last week and took to his bed.
Yet one familiar face has become a shining light: Fred, Nonnatus House’s handyman, Father Christmas stand-in, Civil Defence Volunteer and occasional bomb disposal expert. Without Fred the period drama is at risk of falling into dark and dreary despair.
He’s been there in the background since series one, keeping everything ticking along. He’s changed bike tires, led scout sessions, embarked on ill-advised money-making schemes and single handedly rallied Poplar’s fight against communism.
But now in series four he is a vital part of the drama. He provides a spot of light relief when things get tough. And, unlike the rest of Nonnatus House, he’s at the start of a sweet, fledgling romance.
While Trixie gets over her failed engagement and Patsy struggles with society’s restrictions on who she’s allowed to love, he’s flirting with haberdasher Violet Gee about cushioned insoles, blazer badges and the strength of shoe laces.
While Call the Midwife is tackling gritty storylines and exposing important moments in our social history, Fred’s blushing, bumbling and taking Vi to dances.
It’s great that in its fourth series Call the Midwife is daring to be so brave and bold, but we’ve never needed Fred, with his hankie balanced on his head, more.
Call the Midwife continues on Sunday at 8:00pm on BBC1