After spending the weekend binge watching three seasons of this amazing BBC show and wanting to write about here the whole time I watched, I finally get to. This show is a must watch. If you have not seen, run, don’t walk, to go watch it. It will make you laugh, cry and of course, since it is a 1950’s period drama, there is lots of smoking. It isn’t quite as overt and in your face as Mad Men, but for me that made it better. In Mad Men, you get the sense that for the most part, smoking is no big deal, everyone smokes and after awhile, it definitely seems very normal and almost less special. In Call the Midwife, smoking is much more intentional and for me, that made it that much more wonderful to watch. So if you don’t want to be spoiled. Stop reading now and go watch it.
The only regular smoker of the female characters is Trixie. She smokes Sobranie Black Russians which I had to look up because I wasn’t even aware of what they were. With Trixie, smoking is very glamorous and fits very much with her character of being the daring, outgoing, somewhat brash nurse. While I appreciated her smoking, she is not the character that inspired me to write this post. For the life of me, I have not been able to find any pictures of any of the stuff I’m going to talk about so you’ll just have to go watch to show when you are done reading this.
At various points in the show, you see most of the non-nun female leads smoke although sometimes it is in the background and none of them are regular smokers.
For me, the most fascinating of these occasional smokers is Sister Bernadette/ Shelagh. She starts the show in the first season as a nun. By season 2, we she her start questioning her calling and by the end of season 2 she decides to stop being a nun and pursue a relationship with Dr. Turner, the chain-smoking doctor that answers to the midwifes when they need him. The first time we see her smoke is with him. They have just finished with a difficult delivery and they step outside where Dr. Turner is about to smoke a cigarette:
Dr Turner: We’re like an officer and a sergeant the morning after the Somme! And that’s not to say I see myself as the officer. [takes a smoke] I feel as though I should offer you one.
: Just a puff.
Dr Turner: Of this?
Sister Bernadette: Quickly, just a wee one. [takes a puff] What kind are these?
Dr Turner: [watching her admiringly] Henleys.
Sister Bernadette: Oh, Henleys! I loved Henleys. They were the kind my father used to smoke. I used to sneak one out of his desk sometimes when I was about fourteen. [hands back] Thank you.
Dr Turner: You’ve earned it.
The next time we see her smoke she is no longer a nun, but Shelagh and she is married to Dr. Turner. They are having a discussion in their house when the doctor offers her a cigarette.
Dr. Turner: Do you want one?
I always want one. But you don’t always ask. (Takes a cigarette and lights up)
I found this super intriguing and related to it. I almost never get offered a cigarette by smokers. Probably because I am perceived as non-smoker, which is probably how I want to be perceived (as we find out later, so does Shelagh.) But being perceived as a non-smoker, one often gets left out of smoking activities. Case in point, my current co-workers did not know of my occasional smoking status. I also didn’t know for sure that some of them were occasional smokers. So my co-worker and a few other say they need to go get something from her car and come back reeking of smoke. Needless to say, I got to smoke with them later, however, I missed the first opportunity because of how I was perceived by others. Can I blame them? No… there is nothing that would make them think otherwise, even though I don’t actively hide the fact that I have smoked in the past/ occasionally indulge, I also don’t volunteer that information.
The last interchange happens rather rapidly, almost to give us the sense of normalcy, and that this is not the first nor will it be the last request. They are discussing a upcoming choir competition (Shelagh is the choir director) and Shelagh asks for a puff.
Shelagh: Puff, please.
Dr. Turner: You can always have one of your own.
Shelagh: No, because that would make me a smoker.
Both me and Dr. Turner laughed a little at that. The way she smokes, the way she enjoys it, to me says she is a smoker. To Shelagh, a smoker is someone that smokes every day and has there own cigarettes. To me, a smoker is someone who enjoys smoking. They may not smoke all the time, but they both enjoy smoking when they do it and desire to smoke when they are not smoking. People who smoke everyday are simply smokers that smoker more often than I do. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I can hardly say I have quit, because I know I will smoke again, given the opportunity. But I’m not exactly smoking either. The way I see it, I am a smoker with super long interval between cigarettes. Some people might call those “relapses” but to me they are not since I have never said that I was quitting or trying not to smoke.
Why wouldn’t Shelagh want to be seen as a smoker? I don’t know enough about the 50’s to really to guess as to why, however, I am wondering if even in the ;’50s smoking was still considered a bold maybe even a little bad thing to do. In this case, being a smoker definitely would not fit with Shelagh’s image. Regardless as to why, it was fun/ interesting to see a show actually address smoking directly. I definitely plan on re-watching this series as it was good on many more levels than the fact that it contained some killer smoking. Until next time… smoke em’ if you got them and if you want to.
January 12 Edit: After much searching (and believe me- people like to cut away/remove the smoking as if it doesn’t exist) I found a couple of images to add to the post. Enjoy!