Life story

BBC Call the Midwife: The touching real-life story that inspired the drama

The hit BBC period drama Call the midwife follows a group of midwives working in the poor East End of London in the 1950s. Although the series is ultimately fiction, it draws on the memoir of Jennifer Worth who worked as a midwife in that time and experienced some of the events seen in the series.

The show is currently in its 11th season, so it has continued beyond the events of the memoirs and instead draws inspiration from elsewhere, like other historical events.

For screenwriter Heidi Thomas, there is also a personal and touching story behind which she draws her inspiration for the series. Heidi spoke publicly about her brush with death shortly after the birth of her son more than 20 years ago, an event that changed her entire life.

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Call the Midwife was inspired by the memoir of Jennifer Worth

The playwright and screenwriter fell seriously ill when she developed gangrene of the intestine and sepsis, then had to undergo emergency surgery.

Heidi, told Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4: “Not realizing what the symptoms were, I kind of worked from home thinking I had a touch of food poisoning, and actually I I developed intestinal gangrene and sepsis.

“I had to have emergency surgery and a really big chunk of my intestine was removed and then of course I had to deal with sepsis so I was in very, very bad shape. It was a brush with death that I think changes your perspective.”



Stephen McGann with his wife Heidi Thomas in 2017

Her husband Stephen McGann, who stars on the show as Dr Patrick Turner, has since said it was this frightening experience that inspired his wife when creating the show.

Write for The Daily mail . he recalls his wife’s illness which saw her land in hospital and recounts the support she received from nurses when she was most vulnerable. He writes how his wife told him: “I could barely move without help. It was two women in their early twenties, and that’s when I realized what real care was. nurses, as opposed to medicine.

“’They said, ‘We’re going to do this together, Heidi, because it’ll go faster for you, because you won’t be able to stay in bed for long. And they washed me gently. Just feeling that water on my head and shoulders – how soft they did it. It was just amazing.

“That gentle act of caring in her darkest moments was something Heidi never forgot. Years later, she penned a hit TV series that had exactly that kind of nursing at its heart.

“If the burning love and compassion for doctors in the writing of Call the midwife has a real birthplace, it was in this shower room.

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