Miriam Margolyes is back for the festive special of Call The Midwife, in which a number of our favourite characters head to a remote part of Scotland where there’s a desperate need for nurses and midwives.
The evergreen star, 78, chats to Georgia Humphreys about her love for the BBC period drama – now in its ninth series
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT PLAYING MOTHER MILDRED?
In some ways, she’s not very far from me; I’m not sure how much acting is required. The piety is not mine, that is hers. But the directness and the enthusiasm, I like – and that’s part of who I am. I think she’s a very engaging character, actually.
But nothing can surpass my surprise at being cast. I wanted to be in it, but I thought I would be a kind of Jewish Poplar housewife, or decrepit of some kind. It never occurred to me that I would play a religious person.
THIS YEAR’S FESTIVE SPECIAL ISN’T JUST SET IN POPLAR, BUT THE OUTER HEBRIDES TOO. HOW WAS IT FILMING THERE?
That is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and I’ve been to many, many places. It’s memorable, really. So, I urge you to go – and go before it gets spoilt.
YOU STAYED IN A STATELY HOME DURING THE SHOOT. WE HEAR THERE WERE FORMAL DINNERS EVERY NIGHT…
There were! It was a throwback to a more gracious and a more moneyed time. The BBC has no money, and so normally we don’t get that kind of place! But it was elegant, it was sophisticated.
And they have a gin distillery on the island, which I would love to be an ambassador for, because it’s delicious gin, and we used to have it every night. I won’t say we were tipsy nuns, but we were jolly…
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT CALL THE MIDWIFE?
I love the common humanity of it, and it’s honourable. I think in this scummy age of ours – the lack of generosity, and the divisions that our nation is going through – the world of Call The Midwife is a decent world of decent people, and that’s admirable. And I adhere to that.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO MORE SERIES IN THE FUTURE?
Of course I would. I love it because I think it’s good for people. It’s morally good. I believe in morals, I don’t believe in religion and I don’t need God to tell me what is right and wrong. Some people do, perhaps.
It’s a very good programme and they get good people in it, the quality of acting is superb. Those girls, they’re just fabulous.
The difficult thing is the costume – the wimple. I never thought that I would ever be in a wimple for any period of time. It’s restricting, and it’s difficult to hear people because it covers your ears.
YOU LIVED IN LONDON IN THE 1960s. DO YOU REMEMBER SEEING THE DEPRIVATION DEPICTED IN THE SHOW?
I left Cambridge University in 1963. I had to find somewhere to live. I went to live in Plaistow, which was where my father had been a doctor before the war. And I knew poverty – personally I knew it – because I didn’t want to take money from my parents.
I lived with the vicar of East Ham, who was Reverend Griffin, and his family. I had a room in the vicarage for 35 shillings a week, and they were good Christians. They lived their faith and they were wonderful to me.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR MEMORIES OF THE SWINGING SIDE OF THE 60s?
I missed out on that completely – I’ve never been a swinger at all. I don’t like noise, so I don’t like pop concerts, and I didn’t like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or any of that. I like them now, but then I just thought it was awful.
WERE YOU INTO THE FASHIONS OF THAT ERA?
Well, darling, I don’t know what to say about fashion… it’s passed me by. I noticed it – and I think I would have been a rocker rather than a mod.
But I’ve always been fat, so I couldn’t go into a shop and buy the sort of clothes that they were wearing. And the models were people like Twiggy, you know? So that had no relevance to me at all.
HOW WILL YOU BE CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR?
My partner (Australia-born Heather Sutherland) and I talk to each other, read books, watch television, go for a walk, try not to let the tyranny of Christmas overcome us.
I think the problem with Christmas is that it isn’t Christian enough. If it were really Christian, it would be wonderful. But it is too much commercialism; it is all about advertisements and presents and that sort of thing, and that I don’t approve of.
However, I am doing readings for four charities (at Christmas carol services) in the run-up to Christmas.
I always try to do that, because they raise money for charity and that, for me, is what Christmas is all about – compassion and charity.
Watch Call The Midwife on BBC One on Christmas Day.