Here’s the Story of the Real Nurse Behind ‘Call the Midwife’
Did you know? The popular show is based on a real person.
It might surprise you to learn that the popular show Call the Midwife is based on a true story. The television series follows the work of midwife Jenny Lee and her colleagues in London’s East End—“Lee” was the maiden name of Jennifer Worth, who wrote the memoir upon which the show is based.
Worth’s memoir is actually a trilogy of books. The first in the series is Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s, which was published in 2002 and recounts Worth’s work as a midwife and nurse in London. The second, Shadows of the Workhouse, was published in 2008, and the last, Farewell to the East End, was published in 2009. All tell true stories about the challenges and triumphs Lee encountered while engaged in the work of midwifery. (You can find the books at Amazon or via Indiebound.)
Jennifer Worth (née Lee) was born September 25, 1935, and got her start in Reading, England, where she trained at the Royal Berkshire hospital before relocating to London. That's where her work as a midwife—and the stories retold in the memoirs and subsequent television series—began. Worth worked at several hospitals with the Community of Sisters of St. John the Divine, which in the memoir is called “Sisters of St. Raymond Nonnatus,” and in the television show goes by the name “Nonnatus House.”
Several of the Call the Midwife cast members are playing characters based on figures from Worth’s memories, though many names have been changed. All but one, as reported by the U.K.’s Radio Times: “Cynthia, on account of her close connection with Worth, is the only midwife who keeps her real name. [Worth’s daughters] Suzannah and Juliette never knew ‘Chummy,’ the enormously popular character played by Miranda Hart.”
Worth had several careers over the course of her life. As reported by Eva Park in The Guardian, “Jennifer married Philip Worth in 1963, and their two daughters, Suzannah and Juliette, were born. Having decided to embark on a musical career, Jennifer gave up nursing in 1973.” Then, after a decades-long singing and teaching career, Worth wrote her memoirs, which became the now-eight-season-long series Call the Midwife. According to The Guardian, “After her retirement from nursing, with the East End she had known long gone, [Worth] decided to put her reminiscences down in writing, so as to preserve the old ways of life, the people and the poverty.” Worth passed away at age 75 in 2011, a year before the Call the Midwife series first premiered.
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What are your favorite series that are based on true events? Will you tune in when Season 8 of Call the Midwife premieres this spring?