Call the Midwife: Season 3
The 1950s style bicycles with the large baskets are as essential to capturing the flavor of the times in which the show is set, as the songs we hear played in the background. The baskets of course were a vital accessory to the midwives of the time, as they were needed to carry their large leather bags which contained the necessary equipment for conducting a home birth delivery.
The baskets weren't, however, big enough to transport the newly introduced special apparatus through which gas and air was inhaled to ease the pain of child birth. The apparatus was far too cumbersome. So in 1959, when Season 3 begins, a motion was brought up in Parliament that midwives be provided with cars instead of bikes. The Minister of Health turned down the petition maintaining that it was a "question for local authorities". Not long afterwards home births gave way to hospital births and the bike riding midwife became virtually obsolete.
During the 1960s one in three births took place at home, but by the Seventies, the majority of births were in hospitals. Unlike today, however, fathers-to-be were banned from the delivery room. Also different today are the attitudes towards unmarried mothers, who at one time were segregated from the married mothers and their newborns.
The outfits worn by the midwives also went through a change during the 1960s. They were allowed to wear trousers as part of their uniform. Uniform rules still remained strict and included a set color for stockings (grey) and shoes (black).
The contents of a midwife's bag.
As you can tell, a great deal of attention is given to making Call the Midwife as accurate as possible period-wise. In fact, some of the medical equipment used in the show is so old that the actors have to be especially careful. The blood pressure measuring devices for instance date back to World War II. Even the badges you see pinned to the uniforms are authentic State Certified Midwife badges, borrowed from retired midwives. The newspapers which protect the mattresses during delivery are also actually from the 1950s, as is the vintage clothing – including the midwives underwear.
"It was stockings and suspenders, big knickers, petticoats, conical bras...the whole lot", says actress Helen George who plays Trixie. "It meant it took ages to get dressed. I got sick of putting them on at six o'clock every morning. It wasn't just like pulling on a pair of pants. It's a whole mission to get them on and get them done up. I had to stuff my bras with tissue paper too, to get that proper pointy shape and make them stick up. And going to the loo was a nightmare. You have to take three things off and then put them all back on again."
George isn't the only "midwife" who has trouble with her costume. For Miranda Hart who plays Chummy the seamed tights proved somewhat of a challenge.
"Every morning I get in a muddle putting them on getting the line right at the back, laddering them within seconds. Me and the tights are not friends", she says sounding just like the character she plays.
Call the Midwife returns to MPT Sunday, March 30th at 8pm.
To contact Heather:
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117