Midwives at Edge Hill University celebrated their graduation in style by meeting the woman behind period TV drama Call the Midwife, of which a special episode will be premiered on BBC One on Christmas Day.
Dubbed the ‘Queen of primetime TV drama’, multi award-winning screenwriter Heidi Thomas, who penned the high profile series, met trainee midwives for real when she was awarded her Honorary Doctorate for Literature at the University on Saturday 7th December.
Speaking about what it was like to meet the University’s newly qualified midwives – a cohort of 21 who all graduated with first class honours degrees – she said: “Meeting them today was a wonderful experience because I have so much admiration for them, it’s a vocation to be celebrated.”
Speaking about her fascination with healthcare, Heidi said: “I grew up in Liverpool, which has excellent hospitals and provides first-class care to its patients. I also had a brother who was very ill as a child and who was in and out of hospital a lot, so I was constantly surrounded by nurses. I felt so humble being around them because they do such an amazing job. In fact, I actually wanted to be a nurse but wasn’t given any encouragement, which is why I turned to writing because I loved to read and write as a child. But health has always been a big passion of mine and if something fires you in that way, you have to follow it, which is why a lot of my work focuses on these themes.”
Heidi’s writing reflects on matters of public and social discussion and her television work regularly achieves record-breaking audiences, which is why the University decided to recognise her achievements.
She said: “When I was given Call the Midwife to read I loved it. Coming from Liverpool and with strong working-class roots it was a world that I could relate to and I knew I could do something with it. The popularity of the TV series really took me by surprise, I knew we had a great cast and story to tell but the way in which people have warmed to the series has been stupendous – it has been the loveliest reaction I’ve ever had to my work. In fact, applications to study midwifery have gone right up as a result of the show, which is something I’m proud of because I’m able to show what a wonderful profession it is.
“My advice to students today actually comes directly from a quote from Mother Teresa, who once said, ‘it does not matter what you do but how much love you do it with.”
Talking after the ceremony, Heidi said: “I was surprised and delighted to receive an honorary from Edge Hill University, and very humble too. It has such a fantastic reputation and is at the cutting-edge of education.”
Professor Roger Shannon, who nominated Heidi for an honorary, said: “Honorary doctorates at Edge Hill University are an important way in which we can acknowledge the best of achievements. Heidi has demonstrated this in so many ways, achieving at the highest level in the world of writing. Her accomplishments demonstrate what an excellent role model she is for this University and for its students, hence why we are delighted to mark her many successes with this award.”
After meeting Heidi, newly qualified midwife Lauren Shaw, who graduated with a first class honours degree, said: “It was such a privilege to have her here as she has helped us to see how midwifery was many years ago and how the profession has changed so much.”
Heidi was born in Garston, Liverpool, and began her career in 1984. She won a National Youth Theatre New Play award for her first work, All Flesh Is Grass and her writing drew national attention when in 1985 her play, Shamrocks and Crocodiles was awarded the John Whiting Prize. Then the Royal Shakespeare Company included her play, Indigo, in their 1987/88 season.
Her screen adaptations include feature film I Capture the Castle and she has gone on to produce BBC dramas including Upstairs, Downstairs and Call the Midwife, achieving record viewing figures for the channel. She has received numerous awards for her work including Best Writer at both the UK Royal Television Society and UK Broadcasting Press Guild Awards. She was also nominated for two BAFTA TV Awards and received the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain award for Best TV Series for Cranford. In 2012 the annual UK Women in Film and Television awards presented her with the Technicolor Writing Award in recognition of her contribution to the industry.
Her creative ability to make strong connections with her audience, especially with themes that address issues such as community life, families, health and education has placed her amongst the most in demand of screen writers for television.
Her next project is an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s last novel, The Buccaneers, and a new version of the musical Gigi, which premieres on Broadway in spring 2015.