Who is the narrator in Call the Midwife, was the character a real person and how did she inspire the hit BBC drama?
If you’re wondering about the narrator in Call the Midwife you’re probably not alone as her wise words open and end each emotional episode…
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The narrator in Call the Midwife is the one constant in a show filled with emotional changes and given the historical setting some might be wondering if she was a real-life person.
Whether you still can’t forget the tension over who died in Call the Midwife season 11 or found yourself in tears as you watched Lucille leave Call the Midwife you’ll know that this long-running drama really makes an emotional impact. The narrator in Call the Midwife couldn’t be more important for this and she has helped frame each episode since season 1. But whilst we’ve seen her on the show at a different stage in her life before, many might’ve forgotten her identity as we haven’t actually seen her on screen for almost ten years.
Here we reveal the actor and the character who is the narrator in Call the Midwife, whether she was a real person and how she inspired the rest of the show…
*Warning: spoilers ahead!*
Who is the narrator in Call the Midwife?
Just like we saw leading up to, and of course, in The Wonder ending and in the Yellowstone 1923 prequel, narration can make all the difference and the narrator in Call the Midwife certainly adds extra emotion and insight into each episode. The actor behind the soothing voice on the BBC period drama is Oscar-winning actor Vanessa Redgrave who plays an older version of Nurse Jennifer Lee.
Vanessa has been the narrator in Call the Midwife since the show first started in 2012 and the show wouldn’t be the same without her dulcet delivery of observations about love, life, death, birth and other significant values.
She even made an on-screen appearance as her generally-unseen character in the Call the Midwife Christmas special in 2014. Though Vanessa Redgrave has otherwise remained unseen as the narrator in Call the Midwife.
Opening up about her time on the show and the process that leads to her narration, Vanessa told RadioTimes.com (opens in new tab) in 2021, "I see my introduction, and we look at the themes and the footage that’s been shot, and a wonderful hands-on producer fills me in. It’s about times I can remember: I put myself into it."
She continued “They’ve got some lovely actors, not only the nuns in Nonnatus House who are brilliant, but all the characters. I believe in them, I trust them. It is passionately human about the rights and dignity of the poorest and least regarded.”
Who is Jenny Lee in Call the Midwife and was she a real nurse?
Jennifer ‘Jenny’ Lee was a Nursing Sister in Call the Midwife from seasons 1-3 and was also a real nurse in the 1950s in London’s East End. She was played in the show by the brilliant Jessica Raine, who some might know from her roles as Queen Catherine Parr in Becoming Elizabeth. Sadly for Jenny fans she now only appears in her later life via Vanessa Redgrave as narrator in Call the Midwife and not as a regular character in the show’s current timeline. Jenny Lee left Call the Midwife in the season 3 finale but she didn’t leave the nursing profession.
Instead, after helping to care for fellow nurse Chummy’s mother Jenny decided to work providing end-of-life care. She also wanted to start a new life with Phillip Worth - the same man who went on to become the real Jenny Lee’s husband. This provided the fan-favorite show character with a glimmer of hope for a new life after Jenny was left shattered by the death of her boyfriend Alec Jennings earlier in Call the Midwife season 3.
Revealing her decision to leave to her friends at Nonnatus House, Jenny said, “I’m moving away to take up a position as a Staff Nurse at the Marie Curie Hospital. I want to work with the dying.”
Asked if she was sure, she responded that it was what she felt “called to do”. In the closing stages of the episode she departed on a blue bike decorated with balloons, with Phillip walking alongside her as the rest of the Call the Midwife cast bid her a fond farewell.
Quite appropriately given that older Jenny is the narrator in Call the Midwife, she affirmed that she “never lost touch with the convent or the friends she made there” or lost her desire to tell their stories - hence her continuing narration.
“It’s been a real privilege to help bring Jenny Lee’s story alive and amazingly satisfying to see how the public have embraced the series, but as is in keeping with Jenny’s story, it’s time for me to explore pastures new,” actor Jessica Raine said at the time, as per The Independent (opens in new tab).
In real-life Jennifer Lee was also a nurse who worked in the East End of London in the 1950s and went on to marry the real Phillip Worth in 1963. She too desired to chronicle her and her friends’ life’s work and she did so - releasing multiple memoirs about her time nursing.
Jennifer sadly passed away in 2011 before Call the Midwife had started. According to The Guardian (opens in new tab)'s obituary for the extraordinary nurse and author, Jenny had been a staff nurse at the London hospital in Whitechapel and lived with an Anglican community - the Sisters of St John the Divine. Like her on-screen counterpart the real Jennifer also went on to work at the Marie Curie Hospital in Hampstead.
She later reportedly gave up nursing in 1973 and later became a licentiate of the London College of Music and a decade later was awarded a fellowship.
How did Jenny Lee in Call the Midwife inspire the BBC show?
The real Jennifer ‘Jenny’ Lee, also known as Jennifer ‘Jenny’ Worth after her marriage, was a huge part of the BBC show’s journey as her volumes of memoirs inspired the Call the Midwife drama. One of her memoirs was actually titled Call the Midwife and she went on to release three more, all chronicling her life as a working nurse and midwife in the East End of London.
"So many of those great characters have stayed with me," Jennifer previously said, discussing the publication Call the Midwife. "Most people in London at that time didn't know the East End - they pushed it aside. There was no law, no lighting, bedbugs and fleas. It was a hidden place, not written about at all."
In the opening credits of the BBC show credit is also given to Jennifer, as it reads, “Inspired by the memoirs of Jennifer Worth” ahead of the first scene.
As reported by the BBC (opens in new tab) in 2013, Call the Midwife’s screenwriter Heidi Thomas confirmed to RadioTimes that the show would go beyond Jennifer Worth’s memoirs. Instead it would continue to draw inspiration from the world she described as Heidi said she’d received permission from Jennifer to carry on.
“Don't worry. It doesn't mean the show will end [after the memoir material ran out],” Heidi said. "The characters will be well developed by then and Jennifer was happy for us to continue.”
She also previously told Fast Company (opens in new tab) about how she approached adapting the memoirs, revealing that sometimes a single moment could inspire entire episodes.
“When you have memoirs, they tend to be quite fragmentary, and with Jennifer’s memoirs, you might get half a page of memories that give you a whole episode, or you might find three or four chapters that are very, very slight and won’t give you half an episode,” she said. “So it was a case of mixing and matching material and changing story order, and then, of course, we did a great deal of medical research and that led to new dramatic pathways, new characters, and new situations.”
So inspired by Jennifer Worth and her memoirs, the BBC show has continued and is now in season 12, complete with Vanessa Redgrave’s Jenny as the narrator in Call the Midwife.
Emma is a Senior Lifestyle Writer with six years of experience working in digital publishing. Her specialist areas including literature, the British Royal Family and knowing all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and every streaming service out there. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, you can find Emma cooking and watching yet more crime dramas.
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