Call the Midwife screenwriter at Cheltenham Literature Festival
CHILDBIRTH in 1950s East End wasn't the most enthusiastically received idea for a new series, this talk revealed.
Yet the gritty but warm Sunday night drama, featuring the nurses and nuns of Nonnatus House, has gone on to keep around 11.4m viewers glued to their seats.
Host and Call the Midwife fan Kirsty Young launched straight into asking bubbly screenwriter Heidi Thomas and executive producer Pippa Harris how they sell a prime time 8pm TV slot about childbirth.
Pippa said: "The BBC was quite slow to green light the show but Heidi had written such a strong script from nurse Jennifer Worth's memoirs."
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And Kirsty also said some graphic scenes didn't hold back the punches.
Tissues started rustling to stem tears as the predominantly female audience saw a clip featuring Miranda Hart - who plays Chummy – painstakingly deliver a breach birth. Unfolding the baby's legs one by one, she then let the body 'hang' before exhausted mother Betty's final push and she simply says "Bravo, Betty."
A dewy-eyed Kirsty said: "Have we all gone? I've gone."
The series strikes a special chord with the Cotswolds as Fairford-born Daphne Jones helped to inspire Jennifer Worth's original book.
Daphne turned her back on a privileged life to become a nurse then a midwife in the grime and misery of London's slums for 55 years.
Heidi said she was "scared" of Jennifer Worth as it was the first time she'd adapted the work of a living author who was "alive and well and living in Hemel Hempstead."
She said: "You have to identify the sacred moments – what's most meaningful and beautiful. What it is that makes the book so wonderful you have to preserve that but then put it in the spoken word."
Actress Jenny Agutter did confess it was challenge playing Sister Julienne.
"It's hard to imagine myself as a nun because I haven't got the patience," she said. "It's someone completely tolerant and who actually enjoys people's foibles.
"Jenny comes as a young woman who should be completely open to everything, but is completely shocked as everything is dirty and morals are questionable. But you get a nun who says 'this is what we have and this is what we're going to work with'."