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Stephen McGann talks ten years of Call the Midwife ahead of the Christmas special

The indefatigable Dr Turner actor spoke to HELLO! as part of our Christmas Digital Issue

Eve Crosbie
Eve CrosbieTV & Film Writer
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Christmas isn't Christmas without the Call the Midwife festive special, and we can't wait to wind down this Christmas Day with our families to catch this year's episode.

MORE: The ultimate Christmas Day TV guide: top picks from BBC, ITV and more

As part of our Christmas Digital Issue guest-edited by Martine McCutcheon, we spoke to one of our favourite Poplar residents, Dr Turner, who is played by the wonderful Stephen McGann. He revealed what inspired him to pen the new official behind-the-scenes guide, Call the Midwife - A Labour of Love, which is available in all good bookshops now. A must-have for fans of the show (and a perfect stocking filler, might we add) the lavishly illustrated hardback celebrates the ten years of life, love and laughter that have gone into creating the BBC drama with new interviews from the cast and creators and never-seen-before images from set. 

Of course, Stephen also divulged what it's really like working closely with his wife Heidi Thomas - who writes and produces the hit show - and what we can expect from season 11 and beyond...

WATCH: Are you looking forward to the Call the Midwife Christmas special?

Congratulations on yet another Call the Midwife Christmas special! You've been doing these for the best part of a decade. How does it feel knowing that you're such an integral part of Christmas Day for so many viewers?

It feels like a privilege and responsibility at the same time. When I was a kid, Christmas TV was this massive thing. If you got to appear on TV at Christmas, you were a part of a national fabric, and you had a real responsibility to deliver. In a way, you're it, you're the entertainment, so it is a huge thing!

ctm xmas 1© Photo: BBC

The much-loved BBC drama has been a part of the Christmas Day line-up of almost a decade

You have the much-desired Christmas Day slot. Does that put any pressure on you and the team when it comes to creating the episode?

When we got our first ever Christmas special just before we did series two of the show, we felt it very heavily. Heidi [Thomas, Stephen's wife and the creator of Call the Midwife] is something of a Christmas special expert because she's worked on Christmas specials before but it's so, so different from a series episode. It's longer from the start, but it also has a different flavour and you have so much more to do. You don't want to be too dark, you don't want to be too fluffy - so how we've managed to do so many, I don't know. I can understand why on other shows they might say, 'Look, we've done enough Christmas specials. I don't think there's any more Christmas stories to tell,' but when your story is centred around babies being born - there are always more stories to tell.

Saying that, I found it to be one of my favourites because it has everything going on, all of us have got our hands completely full and we bring out the best in all of the characters and it just really works.

MORE: Ralf Little reveals secrets of Death in Paradise's first Christmas special

Viewers all over the world love the show. What do you think it is that makes it so enduringly appealing to audiences?

There is and there isn't a secret formula. The only see formula is not a secret at all. And it's as simple and as hard to achieve is this: it's compassion. We don't make people cry, people make people cry. And the material makes us cry when we do it and it makes Heidi cry when she writes it. 

What we're all coming together to do is to share a feeling of goodness. And that's a universal thing, people want to feel goodness and to see how goodness operates in a world full of problems. The show starts with childbirth which is just the most brilliant starting point to look at women, then at family, and then neighbourhood and community. And everyone around the world can understand that and can find themselves moved by that.

ctm xmas© Photo: BBC

The Call the Midwife Christmas special is set to air on Christmas Day at 8pm

You're obviously given a brilliant script by your wife Heidi, who knows women's stories inside and out and you have female directors and producers… 

We have women of all ages working on our show, whether that's behind the camera, in front of the camera, writing, directing, producing, all sorts of crew. And we've also had a generation of female guest actors in the UK who have come along and been able to play fantastic characters, even for just one episode. They're not the token girl, the body washed up on the beach, they're of all different ages and sizes.

And that's why people like Miriam Margoyles rhapsodise about the show. That's why she saw it and was dying to be on it. She and Jenny Agutter are Hollywood queens but they love this show because they see what it's doing for women. And I see what it's doing for women and it makes me very, very happy. And for me, it is an absolute joy to work on. 

Call the Midwifes indefatigable Dr Turner talked to HELLO! as part of our Christmas Digital Issue© Photo: BBC

Will you be watching on Christmas Day?

You've now aired a whopping 86 episodes. Do you have any exciting plans on how you plan to mark the milestone 100th episode?

When we get to the 100th, we'll have to mark it in some way, yes! We've currently signed off on 96 episodes, including [season 11] which we have just been doing and it's over a hundred hours of television. It really makes you sit back and go: 'What?!' because when you think about every painstaking hour of that it's more than four days and nights. And every one of those was blood, sweat and tears and it's quite an achievement so I'll think I'll mention it to Heidi. Thank you for the idea! 

MORE: Stephen Merchant talks frozen turkey, Samuel L. Jackson's love for The Office and A Boy Called Christmas

Let's talk about the book, Call the Midwife - A Labour of Love, what inspired you to write it?

It started with a conversation with our producer Pippa Harris. She came to me and we realised that ten years had come around. We thought, 'Well, we've got to celebrate this in some way but there's a pandemic raging. What can we do?' and so way back at the very beginning of the year we came up with this idea for a book.

ctm book

Call the Midwife - A Labour of Love, £20 Amazon


I wrote Doctor Turner's Casebook a few years ago, so they said, 'Well, we naturally are coming to you because you love all these things,' but we still had no idea what the book would look like. I went away and I came back and I said, 'I think we need to go through the years. I think we need to go back pulling things out from each year'. But I said, 'We're going to need everybody's voices. I think we need to go back and talk to people who've left, talk to people who study and talk to people behind the camera'. And as soon as I started, it just became the loveliest project. The material that came back was just so moving and positive. 

ctm reunion© Photo: Facebook

The cast, current and old, recently reunited to celebrate ten years of Call the Midwife

You've interviewed the likes of Miranda Hart, Charlotte Ritchie and Emerald Fennell for the book. Was it quite a nostalgic experience reaching out to them and would you like to see any of them return to Nonnatus House?

It's the loveliest thing of all. We are like an old family and I was so moved. I loved what they've written in the book, I love what they talked about.

If I had my way, I'd have them all back! But actually, I don't think Heidi ever really brings characters back. But Miranda is one of the most quietly intelligent people I've ever worked with and Charlotte Ritchie I adore and I miss like hell because she was so funny, so wonderful and sincere. Emerald I also miss everyday because Emerald is just like a bright firework. But all of them I adore.

call the midwife 4

Stephen McGann alongside his on-screen son, Max Macmillan

MORE: What the former stars of Call the Midwife are up to now

Lastly, what does Christmas look like in the McGann/Thomas household? Aside from watching your own show in the evening!

Well, Heidi always cooks. We get up and open presents mid-morning and in recent years, I've got really into having Christmas lights outside in the garden and I'm starting to collect light-up Christmas deer. Don't try to be nice, it's getting weird! I've got quite a collection. I think I'm going to get madder as I get older. That's my part.

My son is also going to be coming home to see me this year with his partner and I've got some great presents for him. He actually got me one of the best gifts I've ever received a few years back, a stargazing telescope. So last Christmas we did a lovely thing, and we went out and looked at the stars, and hopefully, this year we'll be going out into the garden, turning the deer off and stargaze together again. And that's what it's all about, family and spending time together.

Call the Midwife Christmas Special airs Christmas Day at 8PM, BBC One. Series 11 starts in January. Call the Midwife - A Labour of Love: Celebrating ten years of life, love and laughter by Stephen McGann is published by W&N in hardback at £20 and is out now.

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