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Call the Midwife delivers drama and period detail

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 26, 2013

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Call the Midwife was by far the best drama at Christmas for me, leaving Downton Abbey standing when it came to a good script and compelling performances.

So it was nice not to have to wait long for a new, second, series to start.

Call the Midwife (BBC One, Sunday) seemed to have caught everyone on the hop first time around. It looked, on the face of it, like any other period drama. But it married all of that 1950s detail with really sharp dramatic content.

The second series began in much the same vein as the nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House set about caring for families in the East End of London.

I was surprised by how much drama was packed into one hour-long episode.

We had the labouring mothers of Poplar enthusiastically embracing Dr Turner's new gas and air system for pain management.

It offered some comic relief in the form of a demonstration by Chummy (the marvellous Miranda Hart) which left her, well, sleeping like a baby.

But there was some sobering storylines too. Our heroine, Jenny (a lovely performance from Jessica Raine), had to treat an expectant mother who had a brute of a husband who – we later discovered – forced her into prostitution.

And Trixie (Helen George) and Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) had to go on board a ship on the docks where a Swedish captain's daughter was in advanced labour.

He was using her to keep the crew happy, so pregnancy was pretty much inevitable. Different cases but with similar themes and well executed.

The cast work well together and the overall production values are high. It's amazing what you pick up if you pay attention – the knitted cardis, the furniture, the crockery; everything evokes a memory.

There were some touching moments – the girls seeing South Pacific with Chummy newly wed to her policeman hubby and positively glowing because, like Nellie Forbush, she knew what true love was. Or Sister Evangelina's begrudging admiration for Trixie – a girl she had dismissed as a lightweight.

A hugely entertaining and engaging series.

This is more than can be said for the dreadful Bob Servant Independent (BBC Four, Wednesday) which had been billed as "Scotland's answer to Only Fools and Horses" – presumably by someone who hadn't actually seen John Sullivan's classic comedy.

I didn't find a single thing to laugh at in the entire half hour (which really dragged).

Bob (Brian Cox) is a burger van entrepreneur in a suburb of Dundee – "Remember Broughty Ferry's own cheeseburger wars" he reminds a radio presenter.

He decides to stand in a by-election as an independent with campaign manager Frank (Jonathan Watson) coming up with what he thinks is a winning slogan "Vote for Bob Servant because you know him and he's OK."

Being an independent allows Bob to come up with solutions to everyday problems, without the constraints of party politics to bind him.

A trillion pounds of debt? "We're just going to have to tighten our belts a little bit". Dog mess in Dawson Park? "Ban all dogs". People who want to walk their dogs in the park? "Pay them £5,000 to walk elsewhere". What if they won't? "Shoot the dogs".

You get the picture. Brian Cox is woefully under-employed here and the whole show left me cold.

Luckily, there was plenty of cheer this week in the form of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off (BBC One, Monday to Thursday).

It was a heady mix of comedy, competitiveness and cakes. I loved Newsnight's Kirsty Walk and Countryfile's Julia Bradbury pretending to be in it for the charity, while pulling out all the stops to win.

In the end it was Kirsty who took away a coveted Bake Off apron – thanks to a gravity-defying reproduction of the rocky edifice that is The Old Man of Hoy. I must admit I gave a little cheer...

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