Why ‘Call The Midwife’ continues its reign as the subversive heart of the BBC

Call The Midwife cast – 2020

The BBC is under attack from many sides in 2020.

With the arrival of a sizeable Conservative majority, rumours abound that the Government wants to do away with the public licence fee.

Meanwhile, in an effort to cut costs, redundancies and programme culling has been announced – the most high-profile being the Victoria Derbyshire Show.

There are also those (from both sides of the spectrum) who still harbour grudges about the supposedly-biassed news coverage of the December election campaign – understandably frustrated with their own party’s poor performance.

Enter Call The Midwife – a TV show that probably embodies Sunday-evening viewing at its best: seemingly parochial and anachronistic storylines, with a hint of jeopardy, but where everything always turns out OK in the end.

On the face of it, last Sunday’s episode would seem to be a classic of its ilk.


The wife of a cancer patient (played by the excellent Samantha Spiro) is loth to accept help, while she juggles looking after her dementia-suffering mum, plus her daughter with toddler and newborn.

Where’s the subversion, you may ask? Well (plot spoiler!), not only is Sam Spiro’s character a rare example on TV of a woman going through the menopause, while struggling to look after everyone else, but the outcome shines a light on the standard social services that used to exist for someone in her position after surgery (home help, respite care, for example).

In fact, the whole midwife movement is a shining example of something that is now almost non-existent within the NHS, but has been slowly dismantled in the name of centralisation and modernisation.

And this particular plotline is hardly asymptomatic. This series has examined attitudes to race and prostitution, while alcoholism, LGBT rights, cervical cancer, measles vaccinations and many other issues that continue to exist 70 years on, have been covered in previous series.

The topics may be wrapped within the warm embrace of London’s East End community in the 50s/60s, when everyone still had time for each other and we all knew our neighbours, but the parallels are clear.

At a time when the country feels so divided, Call The Midwife is an echo of when life appeared better – as long as you ignore unsanitary living conditions, overlook the fact that ‘differences’ were barely tolerated and forget that the pace and pressures of modern society barely impinged on life.

It may be a stretch to suggest that Call The Midwife – on its own – is enough to overthrow an established order (the dictionary definition of ‘subversion’), but it’s a gentle way for the BBC to demonstrate that looking at the successes and failures of the past is often a sensible way to plan for the future.

When is a radio show not a radio show?

Sara Cox

If you’re like me, when you picture a radio presenter in your mind, you see them wearing a big pair of headphones, sitting (or standing) at a desk, speaking into a microphone and occasionally pressing buttons.

Although the age of DJs actually ‘spinning discs’ is long gone, most of the rest still holds true… or so I thought.

Last week, however, while idly browsing iPlayer, I came across Sara Cox’s Sounds of the 80s.

Not such an 80s classic
This goes out on BBC Radio 2 on a Friday night from 10pm – midnight and it seems fairly popular.

Ostensibly, it’s just Sara Cox playing lots of a-Ha, Wham!, Billy Ocean and Madonna to dance around to, or so I thought.

You see, this radio show is also available to watch. Now we’re not talking a webcam in the corner here – I mean Sara Cox standing in a proper TV studio facing a camera delivering her script. Continue reading “When is a radio show not a radio show?”

Why UK Television needs more dramas like The Bridge

20120519-182558.jpgAs the latest Scandinavian drama sensation, The Bridge, comes to an end tonight on BBC4, what’s struck me most about the programme is that we need more shows like this in the UK. And now I’ll explain why.

For me, there are two main elements to The Bridge that mark it out as being different to much of the UK drama output.

1) The main female character is completely unfeminine
From the very first episode, when the Swedish detective Saga Noren refuses to let an ambulance containing a patient due for an urgent transplant across the titular bridge, she’s marked out as behaving in a very masculine way.

Saga picks up men in bars and has one-night stands, while her male Danish colleague is portrayed as the ‘sensitive’ one.

That’s not to say that strong, female characters don’t exist in UK dramas – the ITV cop show Scott & Bailey has three, including the eponymous S&B’s boss Jill – but they’re few and far between.

In fact, with The Killing, Borgen and now The Bridge, Scandinavia is leading the way in this regard, with possibly Claire Danes’ Carrie in Homeland making up the list.

2) My second point does relate to the first slightly. Part of Saga’s character is driven by her autism – probably Asperger’s – a fact that’s never explicitly acknowledged. And for me, this is a hugely brave and impressive thing to do in a drama.

To give a main character a medical condition to which you never actually refer and deliberately not make it the thrust of the storyline is rarely done.

A disability is normally the reason for a show, not a side issue. If more writers wrote this sort of thing into their scripts, it would help to break down the stigma about disabilities and illnesses that persist across much of society.

In the meantime, enjoy it while you can.