One of the BBC’s most successful Sunday night dramas, Call the Midwife has brought the intertwining messages of faith, hope, humanity, love, and compassion to millions of audiences worldwide. Originally taking the stories from the popular books by Jennifer Worth, it is now about to move onto its sixth series where it continues to tackle important medical and social events of the early 1960s. Rising from the unprecedented success of the series comes Dr Turner’s Casebook, a mixture of storytelling and fact based on the first five series. Written by Stephen McGann – more commonly known as Poplar’s own Dr Turner – as well as Heidi Thomas (the writer of the series, and McGann’s wife) it brings a personal and factual insight into life and social conditions at that time.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned before at how much I love Call the Midwife but it is one of the series I do re-read and re-watch a lot because it combines a lot of the messages and interests that are important to me. This companion tome is no exception.Split into different chapters, it charters multiple aspects of life in the East End of London following the introduction of the National Health Service. Whilst detailing the specifics of certain high profile common occurrences – childbirth, vaccinations, screening programmes, Thalidomide… – we are privy to Dr Turner’s own personal thoughts about some of the series’ events through multiple diary excerpts.
This is what I really like about this book because it brings the personal responses of the time to the forefront of our consciousness and humanises them. Whilst they are undoubtedly fictionalised, the emotion and understanding that Stephen McGann creates in that narrative feels real, and I end up taking a few seconds to step back, rethink, and change my mindset about what human life means to all of us. There’s one excerpt in particular that struck me, talking about Turner’s experiences with the unique and surprising relationship between Sally Harper and Jacob Milligan. Originally ignorant to their own place in society (Sally having Downs Syndrome, and Jacob having what I assume is cerebral palsy) he realises that he himself has been ignorant to the valuable and valid lives that both those characters lived:
These so-called ‘defectives’ demonstrated a unity of human feeling as functional and sincere as any I had seen. My language had been inadequate, not theirs.
Perhaps our society’s lexicon can’t permit words of human desire to exist between those we’ve declared mute and senseless. It would mean that those we exclude from the vocabulary of full humanity possess a language as full and as sensuous as our own – and what would that say about the rest of us?
It shows how fallible we are as humans and that each experience makes us grow in ways we can’t imagine. In the case of Dr Turner, the compassion that his character possesses grows, and I love that his development that has happened over the course of the entire series. It has made him one of my favourite characters and with him being a completely fictional entity, the growth that the writers and Stephen McGann can provide to his character development is endless. As well as Dr Turner himself it also gives us an insight into some of the other characters that make this series incredibly strong.
Moving on, what else is great about this tome is all the images and details that are scattered throughout. On every other page there are stills from the episodes, snapshots of archived photos, articles and advertisements, bringing these blights and the 1960s to life. And on most of the diary entries there are stained coffee or tea marks, and blotches from typewriter ink that again make those pages feel authentic and real.
Altogether it is a fantastic tome to hold. The mixture of fact and fictional narrative is superb and I don’t think there is any other book out there with such a winning combination. Similarly to the books and tv series, you will feel comforted, laugh, and also cry, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is just as worthy as Jennifer Worth’s original books.
If you are a fan of Call the Midwife and haven’t yet picked this up, I highly recommend that you do so.