Real life veteran midwife goes for realism in BBC1’s Call the Midwife

by Lynn Connolly

New BBC1 drama Call the Midwife has proved to be an instant hit with viewers, and has been branded as being “more realistic” than even fly-on-the-wall show, One Born Every Minute.

And according to the Sun’s TV Biz, that’s thanks to the input from long-serving midwife Terri Coates, who serves as the show’s adviser.

Terri, who’s delivered thousands of babies, also consulted with Jennifer Worth, the author of the hit book series of the same name.

Speaking to the paper, Terri said, “In previous TV dramas, midwives have found it irritating that babies seem to come out with a grimace and a grump…

“Or when a woman’s waters break it is like a bucket of water being thrown over someone.

“In reality, it is nothing like that. Or women talking during a contraction. That would never, ever happen in real life.

“In Call The Midwife, when they were filming the final take on the birth scenes, the director would look at me and if I cried they would keep it.

“I couldn’t help it as it was so real. I have been at thousands of real births and not cried but on set, when it was right, it was such an overwhelming emotional experience and I would find I couldn’t stop myself.

“On One Born Every Minute it is edited and people are playing for the screen. I don’t think they ever really forget that the cameras are there.”

Terri went on to reveal that she chose the shade of the fake blood that’s used on the show, and she oversees the use of both prosthetic and real babies during filming.

Of that, Terri said, “We had lots of real babies. They would be anything from four days to two weeks old.

“Once babies are a few weeks old they start straightening out. We wanted them all curled up. There is a look of brand new babies that you can’t replicate.

“The cords and the blood are all fake. There are about 60 or 70 different colours of blood and most of the ones they wanted were too orange.

“They wanted to put blood on top of people’s legs and I would say, ‘How would it get there?’

“Some of the actresses were absolutely terrified but I talked them through it, the way I would a new student.

“Poor Miranda [Hart, who plays Chummy] really did suffer. It was such hard work for her.

“We spent an awful lot of time on our knees doing all these takes. I don’t think they realised how awkward the positions we get into are.

“Miranda worked so hard on that and she was as nervous as any junior student I have had.

“She put everything into it. It was her first drama and it was quite magnificent.”

Of working the late Jennifer, who contacted Terri after she saw an article she’d written, Terri said, “Lots of people wrote about doctors and nurses but not midwives.

“My article sparked Jennifer’s imagination. She wrote to me and said she would really like to write her memoirs.

“Lots of people sent me sample chapters but Jennifer came up with the goods.

“She wanted me to correct the clinical aspects of the story. It wasn’t that her stories were wrong, it was just looking at things 45 years back.

“I made her more plausible to other midwives and that’s why these books are being handed around labour wards from midwife to midwife.”

Call the Midwife continues on Sunday nights, but in the meantime, here’s a clip from the show…

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.