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
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
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.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells