Call the Midwife Christmas special: Behind the scenes with Miranda Hart

Gerard Gilbert meets the scene-stealing Miranda Hart - and finds she is relishing being in someone else's series ahead of her own arena stand-up tour

It's the first scene to be shot after lunch and Miranda Hart's Call the Midwife character, Camilla "Chummy" Noakes, has to lift her baby son Freddie from his cot. It's a sequence that is supposed to convey Chummy's re-connecting with her offspring after returning to her nursing job, except that 14-month-old George (one of the four sets of twins to have played Freddie since the current series began filming way back in the summer), is not ready yet for such a touching scene. In fact, he's bawling his head off.

According to his mother watching nearby, George had been up all night teething – but by dint of jigging and whispering soothing noises in George's ear, Hart soon has the toddler mollified. "Motherhood is lifting a heavy baby," she says afterwards. "It's new muscles. He was very well behaved, actually.

"Chummy wasn't loved emotionally and physically as a young child and so she's pouring out that need on to her son – in a healthy way, I think," Hart says of her character's journey in the forthcoming new series. "But she's also got that real yearning to get back to her vocation. So the beginning of the series is quite an interesting place, which is motherhood and juggling the prospect of going back to work."

The last time I visited Hart on the set of Call the Midwife, she had been huddled beneath a blanket in a vast deep-freeze of a hall that doubled as the Poplar community centre. In the intervening 12 months the former Jesuit missionary college in Mill Hill, north London, that was used as the set of Nonnatus House, the fictional home of Call the Midwife's 1950s health-workers, has been sold for re-development as a luxury housing estate. Production was forced to move to its current home, a somewhat dilapidated Gothic mansion on the western fringes of the M25 that used to house the officer's mess at a local RAF base.

Hart expresses surprise at the spate of news stories when they had to switch production bases in the summer. "But then when you're in a show, you forget there are fans of it… people are interested," she says. "I'm fanatical about other shows and you suddenly remember 'of course people love it'. You just can't get fanatical about something you're in."

Call the Midwife is not just big in Britain – beating even the mighty Downton Abbey in the ratings – but a hit in America (where it screens, like Downton, on PBS) and the rest of the English-speaking world (Spanish-speaking countries have also taken to it, says writer and executive producer Heidi Thomas, "perhaps because I had a Spanish character in the very first episode".) Hart's scene-stealing performance as Chummy is consistently singled out for praise by the US critics.

"I'm so thrilled she (Hart) keeps coming back again and again because the thing about Chummy in the books is that she jumps off the page but there isn't a great deal of depth to her," says Thomas, who adapted Cranford and the re-booted Upstairs Downstairs, before Call the Midwife. "She's an actress of some depth and complexity and I find myself writing for that part of her rather than the comedic part.

"She's very intuitive and intellectually clever but she also has this light spirit. Quite recently I was on set and it was a tough day, and Miranda was singing, dancing and laughing – she keeps the energy up between takes. Apparently yesterday she had all the cast on the steps singing "2 Become 1" by the Spice Girls, with Miranda very much as the ringleader."

"Miranda is just one of the girls now," agrees Jessica Raine, who plays Jenny Lee, the young character based on Jennifer Worth, author of the original memoirs of midwifery of the East End of London in the 1950s. "We're just a gang." And there is no doubt that Hart remains committed to the show. Part of the reason, I suggest, is that unlike with her hit BBC sitcom Miranda, Hart does not have to bear sole responsibility for Call the Midwife – she can be part of team. I recall her telling me once that "writing doesn't come naturally to me in what it involves… sitting on your own… I like to play, I like being with people."

"Yeah, absolutely," she says now. "Particularly with a hit show and you know that people are longing for it to come back. It's great when you're not shouldering that burden and, more to the point, somebody else is writing it. It's lovely just to be the actress."

So when can we expect a new series of Miranda? "I'm doing my tour first so this year I've been writing that and doing Call the Midwife," she says. "I think once you do something different and step away from a big project like the sitcom then I get a sense of what I want to do creatively with it and how much I miss it and all that. So hopefully we'll do a couple of specials next year and then go from there."

Hart's arena tour, her first set of stand-up comedy engagements in seven years, begins at the end of February and continues until mid-April, before resuming briefly again next October. Will she be changing the nature of her material to suit the sorts of large venues that she couldn't have hoped to fill in her pre-Miranda stand-up days? "Whatever venue I was in I would to make it as theatrical as possible… as big a show as possible for people," she says. "It's just slightly bizarre that stand-up comedians can play Wembley but hopefully it will be quite an experience.

"I started doing some warm-up gigs in the summer and actually within three or four gigs I felt reminded of how I am on stage and it was nice to have a warmth from the audience because they know me from the sitcom. So I then felt confident quite quickly which was nice and a bit of a relief."

Meanwhile, Hart jokes about potentially being in series nine of Call the Midwife, when the action has moved on to the late 1960s, and the possibility of Chummy starting to experiment with drugs. "She's probably not the most progressive person," she says. "There's something about Chummy in the Sixties which feels hilarious. Perhaps it should be a spinoff sitcom: 'Chummy'!"

For the time being, however, we're still in the late Fifties. What does Hart believe to be the essential appeal of the show? "It's so subjective what you take away from it," she says. "For me, it's a sort of simpler life… real community and the family and friendship that sort of doesn't always really exist now. We're much more isolated and communication is virtual." Hart herself has well over a million followers on Twitter, to whom, in October, she broadcast an appeal after her laptop, containing unspecified new material, was stolen from her home in west London (she never did get it back). "I hate Twitter," she says. "I am on it and I do occasionally say 'Do you want to buy tickets for my tour?' and then I feel a bit embarrassed."

Interestingly, in a year when President Obama has struggled to pass his health-care legislation, critics in the US have flagged up the political aspects of the show, with the LA Times calling it "a timely Valentine to socialised medicine". Hart's younger co-star, Jessica Raine, reckons Call the Midwife is also a feminist drama. "I am very proud to say that it is," she says. "It's rare… too rare… that you see a big series with so many women characters, women of all ages as well."

Pam Ferris, who took the role of Sister Evangelina "thinking it would be a nice little job… ha-ha-ha", agrees with Raine. "I love it on set sometimes when we're sitting around that table we can have eight women," she says. "And we have great conversations, which wouldn't happen if there was mixed gender… there would be games and chat and silliness. We get into quite serious conversations."

Hart is clear about what she sees as the appeal of Chummy – an upper-class character in a drama that consistently champions the lower orders. "Because she wasn't particularly loved when she was younger she's really empathetic," says Hart. "She's been through stuff herself, which gives her the perfect emotional intelligence for her job. She may have been a bit clumsy to start with, but she has the best bedside manner of any of the nurses. I just love the fact that when people have been through rubbish times in their life they are always the ones who are the most compassionate.

"I love Heidi's writing… I loved Cranford and I think she's an absolute genius. But you don't know she might suddenly decide to kill Chummy… you don't know what she's thinking. But I would hate the thought of never playing Chummy again."

Call the Midwife is broadcast on Christmas Day at 6.15pm on BBC1. The new series starts in January

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital