Call the Midwife Christmas Special (2)

Part one of this quiz was about nurses.  This is part two aimed more at film and TV buffs.

CtM was really well filmed – something new for the Hebrides?

Nope. Two of the greatest cinematographers cut the their teeth there with documentaries  in the middle of World War Two. First in the frame was Jack Cardiff with the Western Isles (14 mins) It was shot in the using new-fangled Technicolor and has Gaelic voices speaking and singing. Watch the film here or via the British Council.

Who was the other?

Kay Mander who made Highland Doctor (1943, b and w, 21 mins) which tells the story of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service.  She did everything, including a very brief cameo role as a cycling district nurse. The main character, the island GP wearing checks loud enough to be visible from space, is played by Alex  Mackenzie making his professional acting debut at the age of 56. Watch here or at the Moving Image Archive

Click on the picture to view the film

What’s this got to do with Joseph Goebbels?

The British government thought the Western Isles would be a gift to the  Nazi propaganda minister and tried to stop it going out. Kay Mander got her first break in films in 1935 at an international conference in Berlin organised by Goebbels.

Kay Mander

What happened next?

Jack got his break into feature films with Powell and Pressburger, gloriously filming The Red Shoes (1948). No such luck for Kay largely because she was a woman in an industry totally dominated by men. She made more documentaries but her later feature work was in continuity, a huge waste of her talents, as chronicled by the BFI here.

What else happened on TV in 1964?

The BBC’s first prime-time television drama Dr Finlay’s Casebook was also set in in rural Scotland. In its heyday it attracted record audience figures on a Sunday night and with Christmas specials, as CtM is doing now. Both have high production values, a talented cast and scripts, and a blend gritty social realism blended with a measured dollop of sentimentality.  In other words, great television drama. Dr Finlay’s Casebook continued to run for decades both on radio and later as an ITV series.

Lead actors in Dr Finlay – Barbara Mullen, Andrew Cruickshank and Bill Simpson. The formidable district nurse midwife, Mistress Niven, was played by Effie Morrison

Who wrote it?

It was based on stories written by AJ Cronin, a doctor who took ill then headed to a Highland cottage with his wife and two young sons to try his hand as a writer.

Didn’t he inspire the creation of the National Health Service?

Pretty much so,  Cronin was the JK Rowling of his era. His novel The Citadel  attracted instant Hollywood interest with a King Vidor film. It was based on his time working in Tredegar in South Wales, home of Nye Bevan, the Labour minister who established the NHS. Alas, there is no evidence that Cronin and Bevan actually met….

And finally…..

Enjoy your Christmas and New Year or as they say in the Hebrides ….

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr

Categories: gems from the archive, history on the web, medical and nursing, nursing history

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1 reply


  1. Call the Midwife Christmas special | The History Company

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