‘Call the Midwife’ interview: Dr Turner actor Stephen McGann looks back at 1969

The thirteenth season of Call the Midwife welcomes back Dr Turner for more medical drama!

Following last month’s Christmas special, the BBC’s hit period drama about a group of nurse midwives in the East End of London is back with eight new episodes.

We return to Poplar in 1969, with storylines set to explore issues surrounding Cerebral Palsy, Congenital Hip Dysplasia, Tetanus, Porphyria and TB, as poor housing continues to blight areas of Poplar presenting complex social and health challenges to the Nonnatus team.

Brand new Call the Midwife is airing in the UK at 8pm on Sunday nights on BBC One and streaming on BBC iPlayer.

Season 13 will premiere in the US this spring on PBS Masterpiece.

Here, original cast member Stephen McGann chats about returning as Dr Turner, working with the show’s two new midwives, his favourite set to film on, and his own memories of 1969:


What happens to Dr Turner in the new season?

“There is a lot of emotion. Thinking back to 1969 I was a boy of six years old. It is Apollo, we are putting people on the moon.

“We’re getting to the end of the Sixties and the world is full of change. There is a sense that the era is coming to an end and something different will arrive in its place.

“The NHS has infiltrated more and more into the work of Nonnatus House and the way childbirths are done. It feels more and more like it’s an invasion of what has always been before.

“So that is an overarching theme; it is not always change with a big smile on its face – sometimes it can feel like a bit of a threat as well.”


What are some of the medical and social issues he has to deal with?

“Dr Turner always has to deal with mysteries that come in. Some he’s never seen before, and others are like the old devils from times ago.

“One of them we are involved in is TB in a very emotional way. Without give too much away, it is a reminder of the immediacy of the horror of a disease that was once, not so long ago, so common. And if neglected, it pops up again.

“This is one of themes of the show. And it felt like going back to my childhood because I am of a certain age. I remember being a child and the mass vaccinations for TB and they’re not done by default nowadays which surprised me – when my son grew up, he didn’t get them in school like we used to.

“And it is weird to think that not so long ago TB was a real threat and it comes into the show.

“There are more subtle stories too. Very painful ones where we meet some young and vulnerable people in a situation with some unsavoury truths.

“There is this pastoral side to Dr Turners work – all the time he is aware there are issues which should be gone but can still linger and cause trouble in the community he lives in.”


And there are some new midwives for him to work with – what has that been like?

“One of my favourite things to happen is that we are a training place. People who know the show well know that nurses move in, others move out.

“We have two brand new midwives and they are fabulous. They fitted right in with all of us and their characters are really interesting.

“These young midwives are enthusiastic and they are pretty good at their job but in true Call the Midwife style we learn about the different sides to them that don’t come out straight away. Both the actors have such intelligent approaches and they have brought so much to it.”


Were they fans?

“Witheringly, for a man who is now 60, I said to Natalie [Quarry, who plays Rosalind], ‘Did you watch the programme before?’ and she said, ‘Oh yes, I watched it when I was a child with my mum and dad.’

“And, of course, it has been on so long now that children have grown up and can be in the series and while I was in my 40s when it started, I’m now an old man.

“But that is just another sign of how far we’ve come and I love the sweet idea that Natalie would sit there watching with her parents and has now joined it.”


Can you touch on how some of the storylines are relevant today?

“We do not intend for this to happen but every year somehow it does. What’s interesting about the late Sixties is that so much of what was happening then has made us who we are now.

“Whether that’s the nuclear veterans’ story we did in the last series who are still fighting for justice now. We find things from back then which are still a challenge now and one of them is related to nurses’ pay.

“Now you could say this is all a bit 2023, but it really was a big deal back in 1969 along with other stories about women’s rights.

“It doesn’t mean that it’s being placed in there as a talking shop – but the thing about Call the Midwife is you can hold a mirror up to society and say, ‘This is only the recent past, what have we got better? What have we got worse?’

“Sometimes people talk to me and say we should have come on a bit further on certain things and then other people talk about how it’s nice women don’t need to ask their husband’s permission to get a loan or a mortgage. So that is progress.

“We are not quite the same but there are similarities because society hasn’t changed that much.”


What can you remember from 1969?

“There is a whole generation of boys and girls like me who grew up nuts about space because the Apollo programme was everywhere.

“When we came up to 1969, I said to the writer of this series, who lives in my house, ‘We have to do Apollo, we have to do Apollo!’ and she said, ‘Yes we are going to do Apollo 11.’

“The lovely thing for me is the Turner kids are as taken up by it just as I was – and talk about nostalgia. There is a moment during the series when we are watching it – I remember my parents brought me downstairs to watch Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.

“It was late at night. By the time they left the spaceship it was really late and I still have this memory of watching these ghostly figures moving across the moon. There was this lovely circularity of it.”


Do you have a favourite set and why?

“Absolutely, it has to be the Turner set. Everyone is jealous of it because it’s like the 1960s ideal home.

“It is a dream; a dream of a new consumer society. It reminds me of the series Bewitched – you see Laura moving through the house with the same hairdo as Samantha from Bewitched, with a similar kitchen. It takes me back!

“It is a reminder of a time when the British were beginning to get more wealth and shop for the ideals of a home, of a car. That home represents what it was to be a young, thrusting, middle class family.”


How important is the accuracy and authenticity within the drama?

“When we do the medical stuff, it has to be done accurately but at the same time we are a drama and there is a tension between the two.

“For example, if we showed a true birth we would need at least eight hours and no one wants to see that. So, you are not being inaccurate about the birth – simply shortening it.”


Call the Midwife is available on DVD on Amazon.