SENIOR POWER: The people of Poplar and the residents of Nonnatus House

By Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Thursday July 03, 2014 - 01:18:00 PM

I dipped into my Senior Power milk crate. A year ago now, the July 4, 2013 column began: “If you enjoyed PBS’ ‘Call the Midwife’ and want to know more about Jennifer Worth, RN RM, read on. You can also go to YouTube for an April 14, 2009 interview with her plus lots of related photographs.”  

Call the Midwife is back on PBS, and now there are numerous vignettes accessible via YouTube. 

Jennifer Lee Worth (1935-2011) was a British nurse, midwife and musician who trained at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and moved to London for midwifery training. She was hired as a staff nurse at London Hospital in Whitechapel, a poor and working-class East End neighborhood, known for the infamous Jack the Ripper murders in the late 1880s. Today’s residents are of varied ethnic origin, primarily Bangladeshi Bengali

With an Anglican community of nuns, she worked to aid the poor and wrote about her work as a midwife practicing in the poverty-stricken Poplar Docklands of the 1950s. Later, she became a ward sister in London hospitals, focusing on caring for the terminally ill and treating patients nearing the ends of their lives.  

She married in 1963, and had two daughters. In 1973 Jennifer Worth retired from nursing to pursue her interest in music, performing as a soloist and with choirs throughout Britain and Europe. And she began writing. Worth was 76 years old when she died of esophageal cancer.  

Call the Midwife, the first volume of her memoirs, was published in 2002. A bestseller when reissued in 2007, the trilogy sold almost a million copies in the UK. The plot follows newly qualified midwife Jenny Lee and the work of midwives and the nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent, part of an Anglican religious order. The sisters and midwives carry out many nursing duties across the community. Their primary work was to help bring safe childbirth to women in the area and to look after the many newborns. Between 80 and 100 babies were born each month in Poplar. 

In 2012, BBC One commenced broadcasting the Call the Midwife television series, created by Heidi Thomas and based on Worth’s three books: Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, and Farewell to The East End. The fourth volume of memoirs was originally titled In the Midst of Life and was published in 2010).  

Sister Julienne, head of the Nonnatus House midwives and nuns is played by Jennifer Ann “Jenny” Agutter (1952- ). Agutter began her career as a child actor, starring in The Railway Children BBC TV series and the film adaptation of the book. Her lead part in Walkabout, a 1971 film drama set in Australia, also novel-based, was memorable.  

Pamela E. “Pam” Ferris (1948- ) plays Sister Evangelina, the gruff and strong sister who climbs the rope ladder on the side of a ship moored in the Thames River to get to her patient. It is she who brings the Constable and Chummy together. For local PBS viewers, Ferris is Laura Thyme in TV’s Rosemary & Thyme. 

Jessica Raine, the actress who portrayed narrator Jenny Lee in the program since its launch, is seen leaving her job as a midwife to take up a new position as a nurse in a Marie Curie cancer hospice. Her character will continue to narrate the story with the voice of Vanessa Redgrave (1937- ).  



CALIFORNIA SENIOR NEWS: Nursing Home Care May Be Out of Reach for Many Aging 'Boomers': Study," (HealthDay, June 30, 2014). 

JAPAN SENIOR NEWS: "Nursing care hike set for high-income elderly," by Takeharu Yasuda and Naotaka Kobayashi (Yomiuri Shimbun [Tokyo], July 1, 2014). 

"Imagine 10,000 people with dementia going missing and never being found," (JapanToday, July 1, 2014). 

"Pension benefit ratio seen below 50%," (Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2014). 

NEW ZEALAND SENIOR NEWS: "Robots on the march into retirement homes," by Anne Gibson (New Zealand Herald [Auckland], June 28, 2014).