A BBC series created by Heidi Thomas and based on a trilogy of books by Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife follows a group of 1950s midwives working in London's poverty-stricken East End, and the nuns with whom they live. The series received a virtual confetti shower of glowing reviews praising everything from its gritty storylines to its handling of women's issues, with the Radio Times citing it as "the torchbearer of feminism on television."Characters include Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), the lead character; Jenny's fellow nurses, clumsy but lovely Chummy (Miranda Hart), quietly sweet Cynthia (Bryony Hannah), and bubbly glamour girl Trixie (Helen George); the nuns of Nonnatus House, spirited, saintly nun-in-charge SisterJulienne (Jenny Agutter), snarky and hard-nosed SisterEvangelina (Pam Ferris), gentle, young, dedicated SisterBernadette (Laura Main), and possibly-senile, possibly-profound, elderly Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt); Fred (Cliff Parisi), the good-natured handyman; and Dr Turner (Stephen McGann), the compassionate, widowed local physician who works with Nonnatus House, as well as the colourful characters who populate the district of Poplar. Later additions include adorably dorky Sister Winifred (Victoria Yeates) and briskly lively Patsy Mount (Emerald Fennell).The programme debuted in January 2012, and has recently aired its third series, with a fourth already confirmed.
This series provides examples of:
Acting for Two: Monica Dolan as Mave and Meg Carter in series 2, episode 3.
The entire plot of the fourth episode. Not only is a couple's baby kidnapped from the pram, but the mother has to deal with malicious gossip that she secretly wanted to harm her child.
And in the end, the person behind the kidnapping? A teenage girl who, after being tricked into a life of prostitution, had her own baby taken and put up for adoption without her consent, leaving her to go insane all alone.
The first episode has a mother of twenty-four children concuss herself just before going into labor. She's too confused to realize what the contractions are, so her husband does his best to keep her calm while she screams in pain. Meanwhile, her other children are clearly terrified and have no idea what's going on. And then it looks like the baby is stillborn, though it thankfully begins breathing.
Afraid of Doctors: Meg & Mave Carter, of 2x03. And it isn't just doctors they hate; nurses, midwives, terrified medical orderlies bearing gifts...all personae non gratae. They'd much rather have tarot cards and a 17th century herbalist than any of your new-fangled nonsense. (Strangely enough, they change their minds after Mave has twins, a post-partum haemorrhage and a near-death experience and only survives thanks to modern medicine.)
Mrs Jenkins in the first Christmas special also fits.
Alternate Continuity: While many of the cases of the first two series are drawn directly from Jennifer Worth's memoirs, the television series is not a direct adaptation of the books, and aspects of the characters and their storylines have been changed.
An Aesop: Mature Jenny is rather given to these. Lampshaded in the 2013 Red Nose Day special.
The Whole Cast: NOT NOW, VANESSA REDGRAVE!!!
Anger Born of Worry: Sister Evangelina is quite prone to this trope. The more worried she is, the more she snaps.
Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Sister Evangelina, despite sparring with her throughout the series, becomes distraught at the thought of potentially losing Sister Monica Joan to pneumonia in the Series 1 finale, and nurses her back to health.
Battleaxe Nurse: Sister Evangelina, but the goodhearted variety. She doesn't enjoy hurting her patients, but she has absolutely no issues doing so if it's for the patient's own good — and she doesn't have much sympathy for them, either.
Bechdel Test: Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, Call the Midwife passes — with every single episode, and usually within the first five minutes. To wit, a) there's a whole cast of named female characters with actual, distinct personalities who b) talk to each other, about c) subjects ranging from enemas to motorbike acquisition, via standards of housing provision and the will of God. Oh yes, and babies—and not their own babies as children they have or would like to have, but other women's babies as patients (and therefore exempt from the sometimes-included caveat that the women can't talk about babies, either). Men are definitely present, and a number of the ladies of Nonnatus House like to talk about them, but the real focus is on their relationships with each other and with the women they serve.
Birds of a Feather: Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette, both incredibly kindhearted healers devoted to a common cause and very much cut from the same cloth. The results are predictable. That whole 'nun' thing, however, proves a bit of a roadblock...
Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Happens often. The most notable, though, is probably in Series 2, Episode 6, when Julia Masterson gives birth across the corridor from her father on his deathbed; he dies with his newborn grandson in his arms.
It actually becomes a plot point in Series 3 Episode 8, in which Jenny weighs up the appeal of delivering babies and nursing the terminally ill, and leaves to take up a job doing the latter. Also in that episode, a baby's birth is juxtaposed with the death of Chummy's mother.
Black Sheep: Chummy and Sister Monica Joan are regarded this way by their respective upper class families, for working as midwifes in the East End, not mention Chummy marrying a policeman and Sister Monica Joan becoming a nun.
Blatant Lies: "Well! That's all tickety-boo and marvellous!" says Dr Turner when he hears that Sister Bernadette is writing to everyone except him from the sanatorium. Especially since he'd already sent her half a dozen letters. It doesn't take a genius to see that absolutely nothing is 'tickety-boo and marvellous' in his world, especially since he spends the entire scene doing what can be most charitably described as 'moping'.
Blood from the Mouth: This is what alerts Dr Turner to the fact that there's a tuberculosis epidemic in Poplar. He manages to get the entire community an x-ray screening van to allow medical intervention before the disease turns fatal, but it gets personal when Sister Bernadette is diagnosed with TB. Fortunately, this was the age of antibiotics, and she lives.
Brand X: Averted, despite this being the BBC. In series two, episode one, a box of condoms is explicitly said to be a very reliable brand. The name on the box is very clearly Durex, which is still the UK's market leader in real life; it's actually genericised in much the same way Trojans are in the US, which is probably why it got past the BBC's ban on Product Placement.
Horlicks (see below) is also a branded product, as are Babycham (Trixie's tipple of choice) and The Glenlivet (which Chummy mentions by name in the second episode). And Nivea, and Brylcreem...
British Accents: Naturally, as the series is set in the East End of London, but the variety of accents on display, which are used to enhance characterisation and denote social class, are worthy of note —
Sister Evangelina has a brisk south east London accent, which suits her no-nonsense demeanor. Nurse Cynthia has the same accent, although she is far more softly spoken.
Sister Bernadette speaks with a very gentle, soft Scottish accent befitting her sweet character.
Nurses Jenny, Trixie and Patsy all speak with a moderate, middle-class RP accent (Patsy's is a little more clipped and jolly-hockey-sticks; Trixie's is slightly forced), which provides great contrast with their cockney-accented clientele, and emphasises the palpable class chasm between nurse and patient.
The same goes for Doctor Turner, who's very well-spoken, the effect heightened by being The Stoic as well.
Chummy, as the most patrician of all the characters, speaks with a marvelous heightened RP accent, and peppers her dialogue with old-fashioned, typically rah expressions like "what-ho", and "old bean", and refers to her mother as "mater" (characteristic of aristocratic children sent to boarding school, as Chummy was).
Sister Julienne speaks with a soft, mostly-RP accent slightly influenced by her actress's West Country origins.
Call Forward: From the very first episode, referencing some technology that had not yet become widely available at the time:
Sr. Evangelina: There are between 80 and 100 babies born each month in Poplar. Soon as one vacates its pram, another one takes its place. And thus it was, and ever shall be, until such time as they invent a magic potion to put a stop to it.
As it happens, they invented that magic potion that very year—1957—but it wasn't approved for wide use for some time later.
The Cast Showoff: Possibly the most understated use of this trope in the history of television. Sister Bernadette leads the hymns for prayer, and that's Laura Main, a trained soprano, actually singing. All the vocal solos are hers.
Cheshire Cat Grin: Sister Julienne has one. It's the smile she uses when she's oh-so-politely "asked" someone to do something, and it basically says, "You are going to do this thing, and you are going to like it. Or else."
Christianity is Catholic: Notably averted. Sister Julienne and her fellow nuns are Anglican. The Anglican Communion really does have religious orders like the one depicted; the Order of St. Raymond Nonnatus is Jennifer Worth's fictional renaming of the Community of St. John the Divine.
Chocolate Baby: A classic case with the heartwarming twist that Ted, the husband, accepts what happened and dotes on his newborn son, even though the kid couldn't be any more obviously unrelated to him.
Comfort Food: Well, Comfort Drink. Anything and everything can be solved or celebrated with a mug of Horlicksnote a malted milk beverage similar to Ovaltine - both brands existed as rival products in the UK then and still do today.
Composite Character: The Sister Bernadette of the television programme appears to also have elements of Novice Ruth, a character from the books who is not present in the adaptation.
The Confidant: Sister Julienne for Sister Bernadette, particularly during the second series. Unsurprising given that Julienne is essentially Bernadette's mother figure.
Costume Porn: There are some nice dresses, but most of the characters are too poor to afford really lovely clothes. Well either that or they're nuns.
Crazy Cat Lady: Mrs. Jenkins in the Christmas episode. Notably, once Sister Evangelina and Jenny are able to clean her up and persuade her to go to the doctor for her various medical problems, she becomes significantly more outwardly sane.
Creepy Physical: Played for Drama when Dr Turner has to conduct a physical on Sister Bernadette, with whom he is desperately (and mutually) in love, in order to confirm her diagnosis of tuberculosis. The UST is incredibly thick, he has to open her dress and put his stethoscope on her bare skin, and all three hearts in that room — his, Bernadette's, and Sister Julienne's — are visibly breaking. Their desperate attraction only makes the situation worse, as not only can they not act on it due to Bernadette being a nun, but he is confirming a diagnosis that might very well be a death sentence. It's a true testament to how much he not only loves her, but respects her, that he is absolutely, 100% professional, despite the ridiculously powerful sparks flying between them.
Drink Order: Horlicks, of course, for everyone. The nurses also smuggle in small bottles of whatever they can into Nonnatus House, but Trixie has developed a fondness for Babycham sparkling perry, and Cynthia and Jenny join her (historically accurate; Babycham was very popular among young women in the late 50s). It also seems that both the nuns (on the rare occasions they tipple; it seems that whisky sours before carolling are a Nonnatus House tradition) and Peter Noakes like whisky.
Dr. Jerk: Mr Tracey, the surgeon at The London in 2x03. Portrayed somewhat sympathetically: he probably has Parkinson's, and that can affect temper.
Earn Your Happy Ending: Dear God. After months of heartache, a bout of tuberculosis, and the agony of love that couldn't be spoken as Bernadette was torn between her vows to God and the man she loved, all was said and settled in about sixty seconds on the side of a foggy English country road. She said yes before she even knew his first name.
Edited for Syndication: PBS, as is its wont, cut scenes for the American release. Fans, as is their wont, were enraged.
Neither Sister Bernadette nor Dr Turner can put their feelings into words. Dr Turner's I Kiss Your Hand (see below) is a declaration in and of itself, but Sister Bernadette is torn between her love for Dr Turner and her vows to God, and Dr Turner loves her far too much to speak of it when she is so obviously struggling. Judging by the look on Sister Bernadette's face when she finally reads his letters while she's in the sanatorium, however, it seems that, at least in writing, he's un-tongue-tied himself.
Jane, basically all the time, but especially with The Reverend Appleby-Thornton.
End of an Age: The show covers, or at least hints at, a lot of aspects that will change things irrevocably for the people of the East End, and indeed society in general:
Some of the changes are good, such as the NHS, increased availability of painkillers that make birth much easier and the future invention of the Pill, allowing women at last to fully control their fertility, and thus their sexuality.
Some will be disastrous, like the impending clearing of the East End and moving residents to council flats, the decrease in importance of midwives as the result of fewer births thanks to the Pill and, as outright stated in the show, the fact that fewer young women are choosing to become nuns each year, leading to the decline of nunneries.
English Rose: Sister Bernadette stands out as an archetypal example; modest, petite, Silk Hiding Steel, gentle, fair-skinned blonde, and after leaving the convent, a devoted wife and mother.
Everybody Smokes: Pretty much all the characters have a casual smoke every so often — it's even a bonding moment for Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette, who share a smoke after a particularly difficult delivery. He does seem a bit surprised when she takes him up on his offer, but it's likely that's only because he's never seen her smoke before. Justified, though, given the time period.
Dr Turner: We're like an officer and a sergeant the morning after the Somme! And that's not to say I see myself as the officer. [takes a smoke] I feel as though I should offer you one.
Sister Bernadette: Just a puff.
Dr Turner: Of this?
Sister Bernadette: Quickly, just a wee one. [takes a puff] What kind are these?
Dr Turner: [watching her admiringly] Henleys.
Sister Bernadette: Oh, Henleys! I loved Henleys. They were the kind my father used to smoke. I used to sneak one out of his desk sometimes when I was about fourteen. [hands back] Thank you.
Dr Turner: You've earned it.
Everyone Can See It: Everyone notices what's going on between Chummy and Constable Noakes. Except, unfortunately, the two people involved. Luckily, Sister Evangelina gets rather exasperated and solves the whole matter.
Facial Dialogue: Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette are past masters at this, saying volumes without speaking a word. Most notably, when he asks her to marry him, her answer is completely nonverbal — the word 'YES!' is blazing on her face to the point where words are entirely superfluous.
Fairytale Wedding Dress: Shelagh gets one in the 2013 Christmas special, after a near-brush with a very neat but not at all bridal grey suit. Snow-white, poofy skirt, lace sleeves, a chiffon veil — she ticks all the boxes.
Averted for Chummy at the end of Series 1. After delivering triplets—and being forced to shed more and more of her uniform to clothe the babies—she wearily rides to the police station and informs Peter that under her coat, she is "practically naked." She calls her mother the next day to inform her that the wedding is on again. She also insists that the wedding dress be simple, "preferably Crimpline." Her mother asks if at least the wedding dress will be white, and she replies: "Sorry, Mater. No longer entitled."
Fascinating Eyebrow: Jenny Agutter's eyebrows deserve their own award for all the acting they do — Sister Julienne can snark up a storm while her words are never anything less than unfailingly polite.
First Name Basis: Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette, after their Relationship Upgrade. Let it be noted that the first thing they bothered to establish after she'd been released from the sanatorium was that they are, in fact, absolutely certain they're quite desperately in love with each other. Then they told each other their first names — Patrick and Shelagh.
Friendship Moment: Quite a few between Dr Turner and Sister Julienne, who are not just colleagues but old and solid friends.
Foreshadowing: Earlier in the season 2 finale, Jenny makes a comment about liking the star cluster the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, because she liked the idea of "a cluster of girls all clinging to each other in the heavens". Later, while Chummy is having complications while in labour, seven of the Nonnatus women are silently knitting a quilt together while waiting for any news.
Fully-Clothed Nudity: Shows up from time to time, when one of the men (most typically Fred) runs into one of the nurses in their dressing gowns; there's also a rather amusing incident when Peter walks into the kitchen to complain about a nun holding up the bathroom while Trixie is in her dressing gown and wearing a thick layer of mask cream.
Girls Need Role Models: Stephen McGann has remarked that while his character (Dr Turner) plays an important role in the cast, he's quite peripheral to the core of the story, which is the relationships between the almost-entirely-female main characters. Despite being set in the 1950s, Call the Midwife has been hailed as "the torchbearer of feminism on television."
God Before Dogma: Sister Julienne and her fellow nuns live this trope, caring far more about helping their patients as best they can than about passing judgment on them. Sister Julienne in particular makes her opinion very clear when Jenny lets her upper-middle-class morality get in the way of doing her job, and that opinion can be charitably phrased as "Get over yourself."
Averted tragically with Nora Harding in the second series. The result is one of the most heartbreaking episodes to date, although after a lot of heartache and suffering, everything turns out all right, largely thanks to a gut-wrenching performance by guest star Sharon Small.
Mary the teenage prostitute leaves the life she was stuck in because she knew she'd be forced by her pimp to have an abortion. Sadly, it doesn't turn out well even after she escapes and has her baby.
Grande Dame: Chummy's "Mater" Lady Fortescue-Cholmondeley-Browne is the spitting image of a Grande Dame of the last era of their dominance. Made even more typical by virtue of being married to a former India Office official (Chummy was born in India!) and very religious to boot.
Sister Monica Joan gives every indication that she would be one of these were she not a senile nun.
Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Despite working for years in the worst slums of London's East End, young, lovely, devoted, soft-spoken Sister Bernadette remains as kind and hopeful as ever, her spirit shining as brightly as her seldom-seen golden hair. After enduring a crisis of faith over her calling when she falls in love with Dr Turner, she comes out of it radiantly in love and determined to continue serving God as a wife, mother, and midwife.
Happily Married: A number of cases, most notably with the Warrens. The mother can't speak a word of English, the father can't speak a word of Spanish, they have twenty-four children with a twenty-fifth on the way, and their home is a complete mess, yet they still are madly in love.
Held Gaze: Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette, particularly in the second series. Put those two in the same room and they can't seem to take their eyes off each other for more than ten seconds at a time! Taken up to eleven in the second series finale; they are actually, physically unable to tear their eyes away from each other for more than five seconds at a stretch, and those stretches are few and far between.
Heroic BSOD: Mary, in the second episode, when her baby is put up for adoption without her consent.
Hidden Depths: Not one character on this show is exactly what they appear at first glance, whether it's the seemingly soft-spoken Sister Bernadette's surprisingly sparkling wit or the outwardly frivolous Trixie's dedication to her profession. Basically, Hidden Depths is this show's bread and butter.
Honorary True Companion: Dr Turner, to the nurse-midwives of Nonnatus. He's not quite One Of Them, as he's a doctor with different responsibilities, but he is still their firmest friend and is just as deeply committed to serving the residents of Poplar.
The House of Windsor: Princess Margaret shows up (in a non-speaking role) in Series 3, Episode 1, to open the Poplar Community Centre.
Huge Schoolgirl: Though not actually a schoolgirl, Chummy fits the character archetype in every other way.
After cleaning up a scrape on Sister Bernadette's hand, Dr Turner gives in to his feelings for her and tenderly kisses her palm in an incredibly charged scene. The devoted nun jerks her hand away:
Turner: I'm sorry. That was unforgivable.
Bernadette: Who is it who decides what is forgivable or unforgivable?
Turner: I think you know that better than I do.
Bernadette: At this moment I only know that I'm not turning my back on you because of you. I'm doing it because of Him.
Turner: And if I didn't accept that, I wouldn't deserve to live.
Three episodes later, Turner does it again — this time after she says 'yes' to marrying him. For bonus points, they're in the exact same place he did it last time. Only this time, she's smiling.
I Need a Freaking Drink: Horlicks makes everything better... but sometimes that Horlicks needs a little something extra.
Cynthiato Trixie, shortly after her near-rape: Drink this *gestures to a mug of Horlicks* and I can either put some advocaat in it or fetch you a couple of aspirin.
Jennyas Cynthia gets up to bring the advocaat: And bring the whole bottle!
In Love With A Nun: Dr Turner falls head over heels for the kindest, sweetest, most good-hearted character in the entire cast, and she falls just as desperately in love with him. Unfortunately for them both, that character is devoted nun Sister Bernadette. Her struggle to choose between her vows and the man she loves is a major subplot of the second series.
Improbable Food Budget: This is 1950s Britain. Nobody is rolling in money, least of all, as Sr Julienne likes to point out, the Convent. Nevertheless, its inhabitants eat like kings - all of the time. (Except Tuesdays, when Mrs B, the unseen housekeeper, has a well-deserved day off). The thing is, this trope might be averted; Mrs B might just be one of those amazing old-fashioned cooks who can produce incredible meals from absolutely nothing, which is hardly improbable given that she likely had a great deal of experience managing with what was probably a very limited budget during The Great Depression and then rationing during the war. They might also get a sizable amount of foodstuffs via donations. Or they might just be spending all their cash on food and that's why they can't take taxis, or have a water heater, or any of the other things Sr Julienne says they can't afford. Either way, these midwives eat a lot.note Also justified — they cover eight square miles on bicycle, which is going to burn a lot of calories.
ITV: One second season episode features a star from ATV London (then the London weekend franchise holder), who is invited to judge a baby fair. He also tries to rape one of the midwives.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sister Evangelina is, underneath it all, as kind as the rest of the nurses. Part of this is the fact that she comes from the same stock as the people Nonnatus House is serving, and therefore is naturally suspicious of those midwives who come from somewhat more privileged backgrounds than she does, thinking of them as dilettantes and unqualified for work in the trenches. However, once they've proven themselves, she softens up significantly.
Jewish Mother: Mrs Rubin in Series 3, Episode 4 is a classic example. She even drums up the courage to leave her flat to nag her daughter about the baby.
Journey to Find Oneself: Though it doesn't involve travelling, Sister Bernadette describes her time in the sanatorium recovering from TB as this, calling it her "wilderness". It's this that forces her to confront what she really wants from life; she calls it her "test of what [she] felt" regarding her blooming love for Dr Turner. In the end, she decides to "open the window", leave the Order, and be with him.
Sister Bernadette: I need your strength, Sister [Julienne]. I don't have enough of my own because I don't know if God's given me a window and I'm just staring out of it because I'm afraid to open it.
Language of Love: Len & Conchita Warren. He's from Poplar, she's from Spain. He speaks only English, she speaks only Spanish. This does not, however, stop them from having 25 children together, most of whom are now old enough to provide a free translation service.
Leitmotif: Several by series composer Peter Salem, notably "In the Mirror" for Sister Bernadette and "The Letter" for the relationship between Sister Bernadette and Dr Turner. They can all be found on "Call the Midwife: The Album".
Lethal Chef: Chummy, for all her skill as a nurse and in needlework, can't try to bake a pie without overcooking the filling or burning the crust.
Longing Look: Dr Turner casts too many of these to count at Sister Bernadette. She's just as bad, giving him the calf eyes right back.
Love Hurts: Oh, God. Poor Sister Bernadette! Dr Turner, too, to a (slightly) lesser extent.
Love Triangle: Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette are desperately in love with each other, but Sister Bernadette is torn between her love for Dr Turner and her love for (and more importantly, her vows to) God.
Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette. Stephen McGann is nearly two decades older than Laura Main, and the age gap between the characters is similar. Surprisingly, this provides absolutely no angst for the pair; they're a bit too busy worrying about her status as a nun to bother with the age gap, and once she's decided he is exactly what she wants, neither of them have any interest in wasting time worrying about it.
Winnie in 1x03 who marries Ted, an older man she likes but doesn't love for the sake of her kids from a previous marriage, and Len and Conchita Warren.
Meaningful Echo: At the beginning of 2x05, Sister Julienne asks Sister Bernadette to "Change nothing. Go nowhere. Stay exactly as you are. I really don't think I can do without you." At the end of 2x06, after Sister Bernadette has been diagnosed with tuberculosis and Sister Julienne is called away on a delivery but doesn't want to leave her, Sister Bernadette tells her gently, "Sister, if you continue with your work as normal, nothing will be out of sorts. Nothing will have changed."
Sister Bernadette, on multiple levels. First, there's 'Bernadette' — like the saint whose name she took (and who, incidentally, is the Patron Saint of the sick and poverty-stricken), Sister Bernadette only speaks of her agony — in this case when she's torn between her vows and the man she loves — to her most trusted confidante, Sister Julienne. She also comes down with tuberculosis (though not of the bone, and it's not fatal). Secondly, her birth name, which she returns to when she leaves the Order, is 'Shelagh', the Irish variant of Cecilia. St Cecilia is the patron saint of music. Sister Bernadette is the soloist for the nuns' plainsong.
The Warren family, with 25 kids all crammed into a normal-sized house. As a "warren" is a rabbit's den, it's apt.
Meaningful Rename: When Sister Bernadette calls Dr Turner after she's been released from the sanatorium, he calls her 'Sister Bernadette'. She gently replies that she can't answer to that name any more, as she has decided to leave the Order. When they finally meet on the side of the road and commit to each other, she reveals her pre-Order name for the first time as they upgrade to First Name Basis. His is Patrick, and hers is Shelagh.
Meganekko: Sister Bernadette! Laura Main is adorable to begin with, but with the glasses? No wonder Dr Turner's so smitten! The nurses go positively giddy when she gets a new pair of frames at the beginning of the second series.
Missing Mom: Timothy Turner's passed away prior to the start of series 1. The impact of this on his life and his relationship with his dad (Dr Turner, the local physician) is definitely not shied away from.
Model Couple: Tom Harewood and Trixie in Series 3. The dark, handsome curate and the glamourous (if coquettish—and by that point short-haired) blonde nurse. To quote Mad Men on the subject of a near-contemporary couple across the pond: "They look like they could be on [a] wedding cake." Sort of the opposite of Chummy and Peter.
Mood Whiplash: Let's go from the horror of a bloody back-alley abortion to a cheerful fete! And that's just one example. However, as had previously been noted about Cranford (also written by Heidi Thomas), it never devolves into a melodramatic mess.
Mouthy Kid: Timothy Turner is a mild example. He's quick to (accurately) point out his dad's foibles and does plenty of snarking, but really does love him and want him to be happy.
National Health Service: The nurses—whether or not in holy orders—are directly or indirectly employed by the NHS, as are all the doctors who appear. The arrival of the NHS and the changes it brings to the East End are a significant running theme in the series.
Naughty Nuns: Wholly averted. Despite one of them being Jenny Agutternote aka She Who Has Got Naked In Six Films To Date and another one running off with the local GP, the Call the Midwife nuns are definitely of the serious, non-fetishised variety. The long habits, sensible shoes and actual prayers are a dead giveaway.
No Hugging, No Kissing: Played around with. What's absent from Call the Midwife isn't so much romance as sex. The show is absolutely full of the consequences of said act — be it babies, syphilis, abortion...you name it, Call the Midwife features it, usually in wince-inducing detail — but crucially, almost none of the main characters are engaging in it. Probably Truth in Television here, since it's set in the 1950s and the main characters are almost all young single women or, erm, nuns. The effect is heightened by the fact that most romantic subplots (and they do exist, as demonstrated by this series page...) seem to go to shy secondary characters; not so much All Love Is Unrequited as All Love is Tentative, Chaste, or Happening Offscreen. Airing on BBC One before the Watershed also limits what can be shown. It's not a bad thing — it's actually rather sweet — but it is noticeable in a show that's all about reproduction. Seriously, the closest we get is Chummy becoming pregnant in the second series, and even then, she's already Happily Married, and we still don't get more than a kiss from her and Peter.
Noodle Incident: Sister Julienne mentions an incident in which "four young men were found in the broom cupboard at St Thomas's". Who they were, what they were doing there, and what happened next is never explained, mostly due to the fact that Sister Julienne and Sister Evangelina are laughing too hard to speak and nobody else knows what happened.
Sweet, gentle Sister Bernadette always does her best to put a brave face on things, but when she's forced to confront her feelings for Dr Turner, she's brought to tears twice over. Luckily for her, Sister Julienne is there for her both times.
Sister Julienne is moved to tears exactly once; when she has to say goodbye to Bernadette, who is leaving the Order to marry Dr Turner. It's never been more clear that as far as Julienne is concerned, Bernadette is the child of her heart.
Nuns Are Funny: Sometimes, especially Sister Monica Joan. Sister Julienne also has her moments, as she's an accomplished Deadpan Snarker — the words never come out of her mouth, but her face speaks volumes. And finally, Sister Evangelina's no-nonsense style leads to a good number of snarks.
Nuns Are Spooky: Jenny is bit freaked out when she first arrives, but this is averted mostly.
Obfuscating Insanity: No one is quite sure how sane Sister Monica Joan actually is. This becomes a plot point in the last episode, where it's revealed that she is a kleptomaniac.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette go up against a group of them in their efforts to get a tuberculosis screening van to Poplar. The bureaucrats lose. Spectacularly.
Official Couple: Chummy and Peter in the first series, Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette in the second.
Oh Crap: When Winnie gives birth in 1x03, she's been suffering from a quiet but prolonged case of this, and it becomes clear why as soon as her son is born; he's black. Cynthia, Trixie and Dr Turner silently but clearly share the 'oh crap' reaction, but surprisingly Winnie's husband, Ted, accepts the baby without comment and with a lot of joy.
The One Guy: Doctor Turner and Fred the handyman take turns at being this.
Parental Substitute: Sister Bernadette lost her mother when she was very young, so it's not surprising that, while Sister Julienne is the Team Mum to pretty much all of Nonnatus, her interactions with Bernadette are far more overtly maternal — she's obviously stepped in to fill that gap over the years. They may call each other "sister", but that's not how they see each other. This really comes to the fore during the second series. The 2013 Christmas special all but makes it explicit: when Shelagh walks down the aisle to marry Dr Turner, Julienne is sitting in the front left pew of the church, in the seat closest to the centre aisle — the place reserved for the mother of the bride.
Parents as People: Dr Turner really does love his son, and really does try his best — but being a single dad while working full-time as an on-call physician is not the easiest thing in the world, resulting in a lot of missed parents' nights, fish-n-chips for dinner, constantly running late, etc. Lampshaded by Timothy himself whenever he gets the chance.
Parent with New Paramour: Dr Turner, the doctor who works with the nurse-midwives of Nonnatus House, was widowed prior to the start of the first series. Then he fell desperately (and mutually) in love with Sister Bernadette. His son, Timothy, adores her and is so on board with their romance that in a roundabout way he winds up doing the proposing; see Shipper on Deck.
Picky Eater: Despite the Improbable Food Budget at Nonnatus House, Sister Monica Joan finds plenty to complain about. Foodstuffs she objects to include swiss roll ("I cannot excite myself about a fatless sponge"), ginger nuts ("...and we are faced with ginger nuts, AGAIN") and avocado pears ("On reflection, I would rather have had spam"). She also (quite literally) Does Not Like Spam. In fact, she only really seems happy when in possession of her Trademark Favourite Food, cake, which she will go to almost any lengths to get.
Politically Correct History: Although the rampant poverty in the 50's is not skirted over, no characters remark when a pregnant woman reveals that not only is the child not her husband's, the father is black. This was at a time when casual racism was very widespread in Britain, and most people had very conservative attitudes towards marriage. Her husband not saying anything is justified as he is desperate to have a child, as both of them are getting older, and does not mind if it not his.
An aversion of this occurs S2 Ep7 when the show portrays the cruel and racist treatment of a Jamaican immigrant woman by her neighbors (they insist that Jenny "come to us first"), although one of the neighbors eventually comes round and helps the Jamaican woman when she goes into labor.
Portmanteau Couple Name: The pairing of Sister Bernadette and Dr Turner has officially been christened "Turnadette". Also, "Shulienne" seems to have been adopted for the Shelagh/Julienne mother-daughter relationship, if fanfiction.net is anything to go by.
Preppy Name: Ahem: Camilla Fortescue Cholmondeley-Browne. If her name was any posher, it'd have a seat in the Lords. (Not Chummy. Her name.)
Present Day Past: The Girls' Brigade feature fairly frequently in the show - but they weren't called that until 1964 (when the English, Scottish and Irish organisations merged), being known in England as the Girl's Life Brigade at that this time.
Pretty in Mink: When Princess Margaret arrives to see the center, she is wearing a light brown mink cape.
Pride: Wounded pride (from being called a stuck-up bitch) keeps Mrs. Margaret Jones in Series 1, Episode 4 from seeing the nurses. This prevents the diagnosis of her eclampsia, and both she and her baby die.
Put on a Bus: Chummy, who goes off to do missionary work for a while. In her case, however, it's made clear at the start that she'll be coming back.
In episode 2x05, Sister Evangelina is literally put on a bus to go on holiday and then doesn't appear for the rest of the episode.
Real Life Writes the Plot: The demolition of Nonnatus House was due to Barnet council deciding to redevelop the area where the show was filmed.
The Reliable One: Sister Bernadette, who blessedly gets some more screen time in the second series.
Sister Bernadette: What can I do to help, Sister?
Sister Julienne: Change nothing. Go nowhere. Carry on exactly as you are. I really don't think I can do without you.
Saintly Church: This programme may very well be the single most positive depiction of Christianity to hit the airwaves in the last decade, largely thanks to the nuns' selfless God Before Dogma service of the residents of Poplar. Even the storyline where Sister Bernadette is torn between her calling and her love for Dr Turner is played out not as Bernadette turning her back on her vows, but as God having a different plan for her life.
Sarcasm-Blind: Sister Monica Joan is, as a result of her senility. This typically manifests in a failure to understand the Deadpan Snarking of Sister Evangelina.
Shaking Her Hair Loose: When the young nurses go off to a dance in the first series, Sister Bernadette wistfully watches them go, then returns to her room, removes her veil and cap, and unpins her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders, obviously reflecting on the sacrifices she's made for her calling and wondering what might have been if she'd not taken holy orders. This is very early foreshadowing (the fourth episode of the programme!) of her storyline in the second series, where she's torn between her vows and her love for Dr Turner.
2x08 sees Sister Bernadette finally ditch the habit after leaving the Order. When she's in modern fashions with her hair all done up, Dr Turner visibly has the breath knocked right out of him. Then asks her to marry him — although he was planning that bit before he saw her. Note, though, that she was still in the habit in 2x05, when he was so overcome with his feelings for her that he gave in and kissed her hand quite passionately — clearly, the habit wasn't much of a roadblock.
Some of the nuns enjoy a spot of matchmaking. Sr Evangelina clearly ships Chummy/Peter with all the fire of a thousand suns and even goes so far as to set up their first date. Meanwhile, Sr Bernadette not only wants all the gory detail from Chummy, but also goes out of her way to make sure that Jane and the Reverend Appleby-Thornton spend as much time together as possible. Amusingly, it's implied they do it for very different reasons: Sister E just can't take any more Longing Looks and explicitly states that the whole thing makes her 'glad [she] took vows'. Sister B, on the other hand, is definitely living vicariously — especially since she can't, at that point, say anything about her feelings for Dr Turner. She's quite clearly making sure that those two have their happy ending, and it's all the more important to her because she thinks she can't have her own.
Timothy Turner ships his dad with Sister Bernadette so much that he's the one who ends up doing the proposing, in a manner of speaking; when Dr Turner asks her, he does so with a ring box wrapped in paper, on which Timothy had written, "Please will you marry my dad?" She was lost for words, but her face said everything.
Showrunner: Heidi Thomas, who also writes most of the episodes herself.
Silk Hiding Steel: Sister Julienne. Proper, ladylike, a nun, and capable of making any character in the series do exactly what she wants with nothing more than a few words, an eyebrow, and a polite smile.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: More towards the cynical side, but still somewhat idealistic. The East End is full of terrible, terrible things (poverty, disease, abuse, filthy living conditions, prostitution, enormous families...) but there are people willing to attempt to make living there possible (such as the midwives).
Chummy isn't concealing her upper class origins, but seems to view them as being unimportant to her current situation. Her mother disagrees.
Sister Monica Joan is revealed to come from a fairly well-off family, as well (although, being a nun, almost no one knew this). Then again, even she forgets it at times.
Spell My Name with an S: Former-Sister Bernadette's first name is pronounced "Sheila", but spelt "Shelagh", per Word of God. No surprise there; "Shelagh" is the traditional Scottish spelling, and it would appear from her accent that, like Laura Main, she is Scottish.
Spoiled Sweet: Chummy comes from a much more privileged background than any of the other characters, being a member of the upper class. However, she is also one of the kindest characters in the show, at no point putting herself above the poor and low-class members of the East End. Her mother, on the other hand... Chummy is especially notable when compared to main character Jenny Lee, who also comes from a significantly well-off background. Jenny is constantly horrified by the conditions around her, whilst Chummy more often than not just goes with it and tries to do the best she can with what she's got.
Chummy, during the breech pregnancy. This has previously been established as being incredibly dangerous and incredibly difficult for a midwife to do (and Chummy herself mentioned fainting the last time she saw one) but Chummy is able to explain calmly and clearly to the mother everything that needs to be done, hiding her own fear masterfully.
This is Sister Julienne's modus operandi. It doesn't matter what gets thrown at her, she keeps calm and carries on while barely blinking an eye. Upon encountering a day which consists of, among other things, a prenatal clinic, a community tuberculosis X-ray screening, a Birth-Death Juxtaposition, and her own Sister Bernadette being diagnosed with tuberculosis, while she's visibly fraying at the edges, she holds it together, manages with cool competence, and merely has this to say:
Sister Julienne: Oh, Lord, You are having a very, very busy day.
Sister Bernadette does her level best to meet everything thrown at her with a smile and a kind word. Including her tuberculosis.
Survivor Guilt: Julia Masterson in Series 2, Episode 6, the only one of her father's seven children not to die of TB (which took her mother as well). She explicitly tells her dad, "I'm sorry I'm the one who didn't die."
Taking the Veil: The nuns of Nonnatus House all feel the religious life is their vocation; even Sister Bernadette, who leaves the Order to get married, is incredibly conflicted, and it's possible she'll have some sort of relationship with the Order later on (potentially as a Third Order sister. On the other hand, Chummy, a devout Anglican, seriously considers joining the Order when her mother tries to shoot down her plans to marry Constable Noakes; she thinks better of it, and instead marries Peter and takes a six-month trip as a midwife-missionary in Sierra Leone.
They Do: Chummy and Peter. Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette.
Time-Compression Montage: Call the Midwife loves a good montage. It might be a Good Times Montage (2x05 has a ludicrously cute fete-preparation one), a Falling in Love Montage (witness Jane and the Reverend Appleby-Thornton in 2x04) or even a Training Montage (watch Constable Noakes, the poor man's Rocky Balboa, in 2x02). The type and the mood vary from episode to episode, but insanely catchy 50's pop songs appear to be compulsory.
Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Chummy and Constable Noakes - when they're seen on the street together, the top of his helmet barely reaches her forehead. At one point, the midwives and their respective beaux all go out to a local dance hall, where Noakes attempts to spin Chummy on the dance floor. Given that she's a good six inches taller than he, the maneuver looks passing ridiculous.
Trademark Favourite Food: Cake, for the nuns. Sister Monica Joan is the main offender here and will demolish any quantity of cake on sight. The others, however, are clearly not immune, as they go to a good deal of trouble to hide it from her. Jenny Lee's first introduction to Nonnatus House is Sr Monica Joan finding the coconut cake that Sr Evangelina has hidden inside a saucepan. Sr E is Not Pleased, and it is implied that this is not an isolated incident. Cake goes on to feature in almost every episode; notable mentions include Srs Julienne & MJ's spat over a plate of spotted dick note Get your mind out of the gutter. It's a traditional British pudding. And also not strictly cake, but it definitely counts. and Sr Bernadette's expression of pure rapture in 2x08, when she gets an almond sponge from Mrs B. Sr MJ sadly ate its friend, the cherry slab.
The Troubles: A bit of foreshadowing: in 3x06, the Doyles are a Belfast couple who eloped to London because he was a Catholic and she a Protestant and their respective families wouldn't let them get married. They technically aren't married at the beginning of the episode, and have an argument about whether they should have a church wedding (her position) or a civil one (his); they eventually agree to do a civil wedding, but he returns the favour when their son has trouble breathing after being born, and promptly runs for the (Anglican, i.e. Protestant) curate to baptise him immediately in case the worst happens.
True Companions: The nurses/midwives of Nonnatus House. The young nurses and Sister Bernadette are like sisters, with Sister Julienne as the Team Mum, Sister Evangelina as the cranky-but-good-hearted aunt, Fred as the wacky uncle, and Sister Monica Joan as the eccentric grandmother.
Twice Shy: Chummy and Peter. Sister Evangelina eventually gets so annoyed with it that she summarily takes care of the whole matter.
The Vicar: The Rev. Appleby-Thornton displays the stereotypical eccentricity—in his case, amiably not knowing when to shut up.
The curate, Tom Harewood, is something of a subversion; he's the very model of a handsome, modern, actually-with-it young CoE cleric of the age—the kind who just a few years later would be utterly bewildered by what had changed.
Wham Line: "This... has my name on it." That's Sister Bernadette, looking at an x-ray that's positive for tuberculosis.
Fish, for Trixie, which proves a problem when she's a midwife to a fishmonger's wife — and it's a home delivery. Luckily, the mum-to-be is more than understanding, confiding to Trixie that she "feels the same way about chickens."
Yiddish as a Second Language: The Jewish family in Series 3, Episode 4: when the little girl is born, the younger woman tells her mother, "You've become a bubbe!" Justified in that they're actual Yiddish-speakers and quasi-Holocaust survivors (they hid in a cellar, but never saw the camps)—so really it's more like Yiddish as a First Language.
You Must Be Cold: When Dr Turner finds Sister Bernadette on the side of a foggy country road after she's been released from the sanatorium (she'd caught the wrong bus), he wraps her up in his overcoat and then he does not let go, holding it closed around her while they're busy admitting that oh, yes, they're quite desperately in love with each other and they're both absolutely certain they want to spend their lives together. While never looking away from each other's faces. Then they get round to telling each other their first names.