Have you been watching the wonderful show Call The Midwife that airs Sunday nights on PBS? I am crazy about it and each time it opens with Vanessa Redgrave's voice narrating the story, I get a little emotional. Most episodes I am in tears by the end. Last week's was especially poignant as it juxtaposed a story about the general good health of babies born in the fifties with the issue of the unavailability of birth control and women having as many as 10 children while living in poverty.
The midwives, along with the nuns of Nonnatus House, provide free and safe maternity care to the impoverished women living in London in the 1950's. They deliver babies among the slums and dockyards of London's East End. They live along side the nuns at the convent and the relationships between the nuns and these modern girls are the heart of the show. They watch out for and respect each other, learning precious life lessons along the way. Their meals together around the big table in the convent's kitchen is a highlight of the show. As is the vision of the girls and the nuns making their rounds on bicycles wearing their prim uniforms with red cardigans and nurse's caps.
I recently read that writer and producer Heidi Thomas almost passed on this project, but after reading Jennifer Worth's memoirs, upon which the show is based, she was powerfully moved by the stories of the midwives, nuns, young women and mothers all living together in this part of London and the problems they all faced. She realized that the universal theme of childbirth with its inherent dangers as well as joys would be a powerful one and make fascinating viewing. She was right.
If you want to be further immersed in this era of London during the 1950's, be sure to watch The Bletchley Circle that is currently airing as part of Masterpiece Theatre. (Have you noticed the high quality of so many of the dramas on television right now? There seems to always be something good to watch.) The lead characters are four women who worked together during WW II in the espionage department of the government cracking enemy codes. After the war, they turn their analytical skills into solving murder mysteries in London in 1952. This show is fabulous!
And if you would like to round out your picture of London in the fifties even more, throw in a Barbara Pym novel. I am happily rereading my favorite Excellent Women and adoring the story of the central character Mildred Lathbury and all her adventures in the little world she inhabits in London at this time. A clergyman's daughter and a spinster living in London, her life is shaken up by her glamorous new neighbors and unexpected developments for the vicar next door. She tells the story with humor and insight. Her world may be small, but her observations about human nature are universal.