Based on the books by former midwife Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife has been a huge hit with an episode given a coveted peak-time spot on Christmas Day and even a Comic Relief sketch. Like the series, we take time back to see why Worth's characters jumped out of the page and have proved such a huge hit.
Wonderful characters, gripping storylines and the combination of humour and pathos
The series' Executive Producer, Pippa Harris explains just why the books cried out to be a TV series. "It was the mixture of wonderful characters, gripping storylines and the combination of humour and pathos that made me think it would work well on TV," she says.
"I loved the fact that Jennifer's writing gives you an insight into a recent, yet long vanished world. Although she was only writing about the late 50s, this post-war period in the East End was extremely tough," Pippa continued. "Surrounded by bomb damage, and sometimes living in slum conditions, women gave birth to baby after baby often with no running water, clean bed linen or pain relief."
"Yet despite the hardship, Jennifer's books are filled with warmth and humour and show the powerful bonds of family and community that held people together."
Script-writer Heidi Thomas agrees but explains that it was an altogether more selfish reason that brought the project to her attention:
"Most of my adaptations have been of 19th century novels - Cranford, for example. So I was looking for something a little more modern - 1957 feels bang-up-to-the-minute for me!"
The writer, who recently brought Upstairs Downstairs back to TV, goes on to explain this wasn't the only reason. "As soon as I started reading I realised that Call the Midwife was actually a very profound social document, a depiction of a world with which we can all identify, but which has vanished from our view. It was funny, and it was touching and I simply could not put it down. I was up till three in the morning, turning the pages, because I just felt compelled to devour it all at one sitting. And every woman I have ever met who has read the books has said exactly the same."
Director Philippa Lowthorpe explains that two factors appealed. "I love stories about real people and I love stories about women which are unearthed from an unknown history and this project had both elements. I thought these midwives and Nuns are truly unsung heroines. The work they did in the East End was amazing and no one has ever celebrated that before. But the women themselves were completely down to earth, very funny, and very human, sometimes bad tempered and fed up, sometimes making mistakes - just so real. I love the fact that the nuns weren't at all saintly. I also adored Heidi Thomas' writing. She's captured the world so brilliantly and so movingly."
Fellow director Jamie Payne explains they had a duty of care. "I sincerely hope that I have captured even an ounce of the incredible heart and courage of the nuns, midwives and the people whose lives they became such a big part of. The inhabitants of Poplar in 1957 had very little but hope and humour dominated their lives. I hope that each episode captures their incredible, inspiring attitude to life, family and love."
The success of the series suggests they have. So pour yourself a cuppa and settle back and visit the nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House. Warning! You might need a tissue or three.