Posts Tagged ‘Call the Midwife’

Today is the Great American Smokeout, a day when the American Cancer Society encourages people to make a plan to stop smoking. So of course my mind turns to British TV and some of its characters who could probably use a little help kicking the habit. Granted some of them come from period dramas set in a time when the deleterious effects of smoking were not fully known.

Perhaps they can take a page out of Sherlock’s book and stock up on nicotine patches?


1.Thomas from Downton Abbey

Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) with the ubiquitous fag hanging from his lips image credit Carnival Film & Television and ITV

Villain-ish Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) with a ubiquitous fag hanging from his lips. You may recall he used to take smoking breaks with his partner in crime O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) before she left Downton for warmer climes
image credit Carnival Film & Television and ITV


2.  Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect

DCI Tennison's (Helen Mirren) high pressure job surely takes a toll for which smoking (and drinking) provide some temporary relief image credit Granada Television

DCI Tennison’s (Helen Mirren) high pressure job surely takes a toll for which smoking (and drinking) provide some temporary relief
image credit Granada Television


3.  Bernard Black from Black Books

Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) might be happy if he could just smoke...and drink  and read. image credit Assembly Film and Television and Channel 4

Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) thinks he could be happy if he could just smoke…and drink and read.
image credit Assembly Film and Television and Channel 4


4.  Eddie and Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous

Hedonistic Eddie (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are rarely seen without a ciggie or a drink. (Is a pattern emerging here?) Image credit French & Saunders Productions and BBC

Hedonistic Eddie (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are rarely seen without a ciggie and a drink. (Is a pattern emerging here?) Addiction is a way of life for these best friends.
Image credit French & Saunders Productions and BBC


5. Dr. Turner from Call the Midwife

Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann) and the former Sister Bernadette, now Shelagh Turner (Laura Main) share a smoke. Even though it's the late 50's/early 60's, you'd think medical professionals would know better image credit Neal Street Productions, BBC

Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann) and the former Sister Bernadette, now Shelagh Turner (Laura Main) share a smoke. Despite being set in the late 50’s/early 60’s, you’d think medical professionals would know better, especially our good doctor.
image credit Neal Street Productions, BBC


Wishing the best of luck to all those who are attempting to quit smoking today! It road is hard, but the benefits are undeniable.


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BBC New Broadcasting House image credit Luk MacGregor

BBC New Broadcasting House
image credit Luke MacGregor

In case you haven’t heard, the BBC’s Royal Charter is up for renewal next year. What is this charter, you may ask. According to the BBC’s own website, it ” is the document that allows the BBC to exist. It provides a framework for what the BBC does and how it is organised – it is the constitutional basis for the BBC. It is the document that spells out what the BBC needs to do to serve the public (its ‘public purposes’), guarantees the BBC’s independence, and outlines the duties of the people that run it – the Trust and the Executive Board.”

The charter renewal process appears to be a multi-step affair that consists of a public feedback phase, Government inquires and reports, responses to the inquires by the BBC with their own documentation and then, finally, a negotiation between the BBC and the sitting Government agreeing to a new charter.

Apparently in some circles there is a question if the UK even needs the BBC any longer. The always unpopular license fee assessed on any home with a television  whether they actually watch BBC channels or not is a perennial bone of contention of course. The perception that the Beeb is left leaning is also a problem for those with other political viewpoints. Add to the those already existing issues the new challenge posed by the huge shift in viewing habits thanks to growing satellite and streaming options and you can see why proponents of the BBC are worried about its survival.

And just in case you think all this fretting is alarmist, look what has happened to Sesame Street. The premium cable channel, HBO, will have exclusive rights to new episodes of the preeminent children’s educational program for nine months before PBS TV viewers have access to them. Ironic for a show that was created to prepare children in undeserved communities for school and was funded by public donations and ever decreasing government funds. My point here being, if the BBC is weakened financially or administratively to the point of not being able to fulfill their remit, it may create a situation where arguments to axe the institution altogether may become valid.

As an American, some may ask why I care what happens to the BBC. All I can say is I would not be the person, or the Anglophile, I am today without the Beeb. Therefore, I thought for this week’s Five for Friday, I’d share five BBC series that were influential in the development of my fascination with the British people and their culture. I’m not saying they are the best of all time or even my favorites though they surely were at one time. It’s a walk down memory lane of sorts to witness the path that formed my obsession.

1. Monty Python

Most Americans with a love of all things British will say that Monty Python’s Flying Circus had a huge impact upon them. I remember watching the sketch show on the black and white set in my bedroom when I was about twelve years old, in awe of what I was beholding.  Men dressed like ladies, speaking with squeaky voices; references to famous artists, playwrights and philosophers and historical events like the Spanish Inquisition; silly walks, fish slapping dances and bizarre animated sequences. I didn’t understand it all, but I knew it was funny. Mostly I remember thinking I wanted to go to England because they must have the best sense of humor in the world if shows like this were made there.

2. The Young Ones

The 1980’s represented my high school and college years. I was more into music than television at that point in my life, but my interests were British all the same. MTV was just getting started and many of the new bands they promoted were from the UK (Duran Duran, The Police, Culture Club, Madness). Besides music videos, the channel also broadcast a British sitcom about a mismatched group of roommates.

The Young Ones lived in student-y squalor, constantly arguing and engaging in violent slapstick. The musical performances (which I understand were required by the BBC in order for the show to be considered a variety program and thus receive a bigger budget) were novel as well. I was intrigued and thought it cool for its time since I was in a college student myself.

 3.  The Office

The Office came along when my children were a bit older and I had time to watch something that wasn’t The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. I saw Ricky Gervais accept the Golden Globe for the show and when he said “I’m not from these parts. I’m from a little place called England. We used to rule the world before you, ” I knew I had to get my hands on this series. I reserved a copy from my library and my life has never been the same again. The Office reawakened my interest in UK comedy and television in general. I rooted for Tim and Dawn, I treasured every Gareth and Tim skirmish and, in the end,  I came to like David Brent despite his many, many faults.

4. Life on Mars

This sci-fi, cop drama infused with comedy is my all time favorite British show, BBC produced or otherwise. I can’t recall where I heard about it, but once again I borrowed a copy through my library and found what, in my opinion, is TV perfection in story, character and tone. I know it doesn’t make sense, but one thing that attracts me to this series is the nostalgic element of 1970’s England despite the fact I’m not from England nor did I live there in the ’70’s.

I don’t take time out to re-watch anything much these days, but every time I hear Sam Tyler’s mini-soliloquy about his predicament, I’m ready to pull my box set from the shelf and return to 1973 Manchester again.

5. Call the Midwife

My final pick is a period drama about midwives and nuns in the impoverished London neighborhood of Poplar. I chose it mainly for its heart, but don’t assume that means that Call the Midwife is sentimental drivel. Rather it’s a beautiful study in compassion and tolerance. While cast comings and goings have tampered with the original chemistry a bit, there are still few episodes that leave me dry eyed.

I’m a fan of gritty crime series, but there aren’t many quality dramas out there that can make you feel hopeful about humanity. The BBC has room for those types of programs too.

If you were to make a list of your own, which BBC series would make the cut? In your opinion, is the BBC worth saving or is it an out of date institution? I’m looking forward to your comments!

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After the presents have been unwrapped and the delicious dinner consumed, what will you and yours be doing for the rest of Christmas Day?  Setting up your complicated new gadgets, going to church, playing board games, snoozing perhaps?

I can tell you what most Americans won’t be doing this evening and that’s watching television.  After checking over the network TV schedules, I see there will be re-runs of Kelly Clarkson and Michael Buble’s Christmas specials, episodes of fan-favorite sitcoms like Modern Family and your run-of-the-mill police detective dramas.  And of course there’s the annual 24 hour marathon of The Christmas Story broadcast on cable.  Boring!

I can tell you there will be nothing near as adventurous and exciting on offer as this:


Or as tender-hearted as this:


Or as grand and theatrical as this:


In the UK, Christmas (and Boxing Day) programming is actually exceptional and highly anticipated.  For example, this year’s Doctor Who special will be a fond farewell to the 11th Doctor and an introduction to the 12th.  Really major stuff.

Matt Smith will regenerate into Peter Capaldi tonight

Matt Smith will regenerate into Peter Capaldi tonight

On the day after Christmas,  a classic and well-loved sitcom, Open All Hours, returns after almost 30 years for a exclusive holiday episode, Still Open All Hours.

Still Open All Hours will air the day after Christmas

Still Open All Hours will air on Boxing Day


This is a phenomenon I remember only happening once on American TV in my lifetime – the classic and very cheesy, A Very Brady Christmas.


Christmas Day is reserved as must-see TV in the UK while across the pond it’s a throwaway day since I guess everyone is ostensibly spending quality time with family.  I would contend that some of the best quality time I’ve had with my family has been taken place gathered around the telly.  Perhaps I’m spending Christmas in the wrong country?

As I conclude this series please let me wish all of you a very Happy Christmas!  I look forward to a new year full of new shows and lots of telly talk in 2014!

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As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a royal watcher.  Oohing and aahing over babies is not really my style either.  But as the Duchess of Cambridge’s due date draws near, the inescapable royal baby frenzy grows so I figured I’d better address it.

At this very moment, journalists are stationed outside the maternity wing of the hospital where Kate is supposed to deliver. And it would seem that the offerings of royal baby memorabilia are multiplying  at a very healthy profit…I mean, rate.  Here’s my favorite…pity I don’t own an iPhone.


Royal Baby iPhone cover image credit guardian.co.uk

Royal Baby iPhone cover image credit guardian.co.uk


It goes without saying that there was a bit of baby fever going on in the UK even before the new successor to the throne was conceived.


Presumably the people of Great Britain have a communal interest in this regal child.  He or she symbolizes the continuation of tradition and the preservation of the monarchy.  No doubt this little tot will be privileged, protected and, judging from a genetic standpoint, pretty as well.  The heir will be trained up in preparation for the day when he or she will ascend to the throne and become the figurehead of an entire nation.

Sounds like an awful lot to expect from a newborn, I know. The question on my mind, however, is how will Kate and Will’s little one stack up to these remarkable British telly babies?


1. Alfie Owens aka Stormageddon


Big expressive brown eyes, pinchable chubby cheeks and the ability to converse intelligently with the Doctor is just the beginning of Alfie’s exceptional skill set.  Armed only with a strong pair of  lungs, Alfie was able to save his father’s life.  A plaintive cry was enough to trigger a love so strong that Craig Owens (James Corden) was able to reverse his “conversion” and destroy the Cybermen with his powerful emotions in the process.


2.  Eve Sands  aka The War Child


Eve is the child of George and Nina, two werewolves who died trying to protect their daughter and all of humanity come to that.  She has been left in the care of Annie, a fiercely protective and motherly ghost.  Along with her supernatural comrades Tom (another werewolf) and Hal (a recovering vampire), Annie has sworn to protect Eve who is not just the child of her dearly departed friends, but according to prophecy, the savior of the world.  A terrible burden for such slight shoulders to be sure.


3.   Neil Noel Edmund Smith aka Baby Neil


Oddly enough this is the second baby on the list to play a child of James Corden…but I digress. What makes this baby extraordinary?  Admittedly, he is adorable and seems a good-natured and happy sort of tyke.  Isn’t that enough?  Yet this child, this wee bairn, was able to achieve the unthinkable.  He united two people who could barely stand to look at one another…his parents, Nessa and Smithy.  I don’t know of any modern royal progeny who’s been able to pull off that feat, do you?

So as we await the blessed event (what choice do we have really?) I’ll take this time to think about how much I treasure my own babies , both who are in their twenties now.  Whether you’re a pauper or a prince, all parents experience a fierce, almost overwhelming love for their newborns. Will and Kate have no idea how their lives are about to be transformed.

I’ll leave you with this thought provoking quote from Call the Midwife‘s Sister Monica Joan- in one of her more lucid moments:


Sister Monica Joan image credit bbc.co.uk

Sister Monica Joan image credit bbc.co.uk


“When do you suppose babies became so very precious?  Are they more valued now because they can survive or do they survive because they are more valued?”

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Red Nose Day draws near and the excitement is palpable.  However, as it is with most of my telly experiences, this special event will happen second hand for me. I won’t be able to watch any of the sketches, challenges or donation appeals live.

For example, I won’t learn what has horrified the midwives so…

image credit radiotimes.com

image credit radiotimes.com


Or discover what this man has been up to for the past ten years on the actual Red Nose night…


Much of the telethon’s content is eventually made available thanks to the BBC and other YouTube contributors who share clips of the evening’s highlights.

But in the end, what’s important about Red Nose Day is that it inspires people to get involved and do their share.  From school children…


To fundraising suggestions for grannies…


What I admire about Comic Relief’s efforts is the attempt to unite a country through laughter and, in so doing, inspiring them to engage their humanity locally and globally. This is the true meaning of Red Nose Day!


You don’t have to live in the UK to participate, so if you’d like to make a donation, click here for more details.

I wish a Happy Red Nose Day to everyone and hope you find yourself doing something funny for money on March 15th…and beyond!

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In the course of a television viewing week, I have many British encounters.  Some are sublime and some are a bit of a let down and most are somewhere in between.  The following is the expert assessment of what my eyes saw and my brain processed in the past seven days or so.   Kudos and grumbles will be awarded according to my personal whims and tastes.  It is also probably helpful to understand that when I claim something is “new”, I  mean new to me, but possibly not to you, especially if you hail from the UK.

My first kudo goes to my friend Paula for telling me about a fantastic “new” series  Supersizers Go… , a historical yet comedic look at how the people of Britain lived and, most importantly how they ate, in bygone eras.  Every evening for the past week, my husband and I have sat huddled around our laptop to watch an episode of this info-larious program (available on YouTube).  From the opulence of the Regency period to the strict rationing of WWII, we have delighted in joining  actress/presenter/funny person, Sue Perkins and food critic/presenter/apparent tosser who delights in seeing his ignorant comments discussed on social media, Giles Coren as they immerse themselves in the dress, customs, and cuisine of each era.

Giles and Sue tuck in for a Victorian specialty – an entire boiled calf’s head

Just a word of warning, it’s best to avoid the Supersizers whilst eating your own tasty fare.  Even I got a bit squeamish watching the chef prepare an authentic eel pie.

Kudos also go to Timothy Spall for bringing me to tears in his series 3 performance on The Street.

Spall co-stars with another all-time favorite of mine, Ruth Jones, in this final episode of The Street

As I’ve mentioned before, the concept of this drama is individual, virtually unconnected stories about residents living in the same Manchester neighborhood. As Eddie McEvoy, the only character to be featured in all three series, Spall delivers a moving eulogy that touches his neighbors and heals his family. I found series 3 to be particularly memorable with other stellar appearances by Stephen Graham as a lonely alcoholic who learns he has a 16-year-old son with Down’s Syndrome and Bob Hoskins as a pub landlord who risks his safety to stand up to a threatening neighborhood thug.

Turning from tragedy to comedy, I name the stand-up special Simon Amstell: Do Nothing as my biggest LaughOutLoud experience of the week.  Amstell works through his insecurities and most embarrassing personal experiences on stage and somehow comes off being honest, enlightening and remarkably funny.  If  you like this smart, self-deprecating type of humor, the special is currently airing on BBC America:

My final praise is for the show I most looked forward to watching this week and it didn’t let me down.  So far, Call the Midwife has had three excellent episodes and there’s no reason to think the quality will falter.  They continue to develop the main characters, introduce interesting new ones and no matter how many babies are born, each delivery finds me sitting forward just every so slightly on edge willing everything to turn out all right for mother, child and nurse.  Last week introduced old friends and new for Nurse Lee, taking us out of the birthing arena to get a more balanced picture of the lives of the midwives. This series, currently showing on PBS, has gone over well with my library co-workers and my Anglophile group so I proclaim it a bona fide hit amongst intelligent, British-liking folk.

I have a harder time being critical as I can usually find something to like in most things I watch and more to the point, what makes me qualified to say what’s good about a show, let alone what’s lacking?  With that in mind, on to the grumbles.

As you might recall, I was very enthusiastic about Karl Pilkington’s maiden travelogue, An Idiot Abroad and was impatient to see the next installment.  Well, I finally got to see the first episode of  AIA: The Bucket List and am sad to report that I was underwhelmed.  Sure, it was Karl on a desert island, land diving and arse boarding with a South Pacific tribe who worships Prince Phillip.   But it seemed like a rehash of the original and not quite as funny.  Karl is on his way to being a man of the world accustomed to exotic food, native dancing and people who wear leaf pants.  But I’m afraid the more comfortable he becomes, the less entertaining the show will be.  I haven’t given up on the series yet, so fingers crossed, future adventures find Karl back in the corner being poked by a stick.

Our Cleveland PBS channel, WVIZ, has recently been adding more hours and a wider variety of British fare. Sounds like this should be kudos, right? And it is in the cases of Doc Martin, Miranda, and Two Old Guys along the always excellent Masterpiece programs.  Last night I noticed they had added a new program to the Saturday night schedule and more than that, a series I had never heard of!  I was eager to check out Born and Bred, one of those quirky village dramedies that the British do so well.

I have nothing witty or otherwise to say, so unimpressed was I by the introductory episode of this series.

I was even more interested when I saw that Chris Chibnall, a Doctor Who writer, was a creator on this series.  Well, my grumble is that Born and Bred, or the first episode at least, was something of a yawn.  Not enough quirk and not very compelling.  Halfway through I picked up my laptop and started checking Facebook and my email.  It has potential I suppose – a Manchester doctor returns to his hometown to take over his father’s cottage hospital.  It takes place in the 50’s in the early days of the National Health Service so there are lessons to be learned there as well.  It’s just I’d rather see something more like Clatterford or Wild West or Kingdom – village eccentricity with heart and humor.

Feel free to share what you’ve found to be kudo or grumble worthy this week, or any time.   Sharing is how we learn and grow as telly connoisseurs!

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Without getting too graphic I think we can safely assume that the manner in which babies are conceived is exactly the same on either side of the pond.  Unless of course, you’re having sex in the TARDIS…

Much more accurate than peeing on a stick.

If you are time traveling during intercourse, then you will be a likely candidate for that program where none of the women knew they were pregnant until they make an urgent trip to the bathroom and find they’ve delivered a full-term infant into the toilet. But that is only a very small percentage of us so let’s crack on.

In general, conception can be categorized as a human process not dictated by cultural differences. Once an embryo has been established, the British and the Americans again differ very little in regards to the order in which pregnancy progresses: mother-to-be throws up a lot, gets fat, buys baby name books, shows her ultrasound scans around, and of course every man’s favorite, the hormone induced mood swings which baffle and quite frankly frighten the father-to-be.  In addition, if you are a resident of tv land, it is required that the child be born in some unusual locale like a pub (Louisa and Doc Martin’s son) or at your father-in-law’s CBE party (Howard and Mel’s daughter on Worst Week of My Life).

Of course one can’t forget the classic frenzied rush to the hospital…

It would appear that teen pregnancy is also an Anglo-American phenomenon. As the cautionary tale, Pramface shows us, one night of drunken partying mixed with teen-age hormones can detour your life in the blink of an eye.

Clever and at times heartwarming as it can be, Pramface takes on the issues faced by teenage parents, their families and friends.  Yes, Laura is a spoiled college-bound girl looking forward to escaping her embattled, unhappy parents and Jamie is a sweet, but directionless 16-year-old boy, but together they lurch their way towards accepting their responsibilities and become friends in the process.  It may not be “reality”, but I’d take Pramface over this any day.

So if pregnancy is a fairly universal condition, what about the childbirth experience?  Here is where the two countries start to diverge. There’s still the pushing and screaming and crying, but on British television shows at least, the woman in labor is far more likely to be attended by a midwife than mothers in the US might be.

Of course I’ve done all this so I could have a reason to mention Call the Midwife. I’d heard about this show at Christmas time and was chomping at the bit wondering when we’d have the chance to see it here. (Yes, this truly is my life.) Well, those wonderful people with such good taste at PBS got it to us in less than a year from its UK broadcast date and I’m very happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode on Sunday night.

All midwives are issued a medical bag and, you guessed it, a bike.

Set in East London in 1957, it follows new midwife, Jenny Lee through her first on-the-job experiences. She learns not only how to put her training to use but, while living and working with an order of midwife nuns, Jenny is quickly exposed to a world very different from her sheltered, more privileged upbringing.  The only thing that disappointed me about the first episode was the absence of Miranda Hart, but I’ve since seen that she will make her rather awkard entrance in next week’s episode.

Their equipment may be antiquated and perhaps a little scary, but the midwives of Nonnatus House do what women have been doing for all of human history – assisting other women in delivering their babies.  While the popularity of midwifery in the US is slowly on the rise, it’s still considered a slightly hippy-dippy, alternative medicine sort of thing.  In the UK, it appears it never went out of fashion.  British midwives deliver babies in home settings, but they also play a prominent role in hospital births, taking on the lower risk deliveries while the obstetricians concentrate on the more complex cases.  Midwives may actually visit you at home for your antenatal (prenatal, to us Yanks) care.  Most are employed by the National Health Service and there is a critical shortage of practicing midwives at the present time.  My readers in the UK, feel free to correct me if my internet research has led me astray.

I first became aware of the role of modern-day midwives by watching William and Mary.  Mary (Julie Graham) worked not only as an NHS midwife but, after butting heads with her superiors, also tried her hand at private independent midwifery as well.  I’ve found no short clips of Mary doing her thing but if you’re interested, whole episodes exist on YouTube. It’s a series worth watching, also starring Martin Clunes as an undertaker.  Did you catch the symmetry there?

So in conclusion, reproduction is universal,  pregnancy is similar in most consumer cultures, teenagers the world over can’t resist the forbidden fruit, and the professional who’s there to catch the baby at the other end of the bed may have something to do with the way you pronounce the word “aluminum”.  As a reward for reading this entire post, please enjoy this fact filled clip from the people at the UK documentary series, One Born Every Minute, another reality series we nicked from the Brits.

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