Stephen McGann plays Dr Turner in Call The Midwife.
If you met Dr Turner in real life, do you think you would get on with him?
Yes, absolutely. He’s a decent man to whom problems happen. He has always been someone who cares passionately. He’s a trier, and I like to think that whether I succeed or fail in life, at least I will always have a try. Dr Turner is also very keen, he is an enthusiast, and anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a Jack Russell kind of enthusiast about stuff. So I think I’d like the guy from what I know. He sets out to do things, but he doesn’t always achieve them. He’s only human, trying to do his best – that’s why people sympathise with him. That’s certainly why I sympathise with him. On a one-to-one basis, he’d be a nice guy to have around.
What you learned from playing this character?
I’ve learnt about the idea of doing good, even when you really tired. I have also learnt an enormous amount of what it actually means to be in medicine – and not just the science-y bits of medicine. It’s the spirit of medicine and how you still try and care, however tiring it is. I’ve learnt, too, how hard it is to do something to the best of your abilities and never be able to do quite enough, to work in a place where people are so poor. Things may be tough and you can never solve all of life’s problems, but it’s always worth trying.
Can you please expand on that?
For me, over the years, it’s just been an incredible privilege to stay in the head of someone like that and to watch the world change from the 1950s to the 60s, and to change with this man who’s part of the war generation. He’s okay with watching the world get better, but still trying to help the people who get left behind. What I’ve learned above all is that the world is still full of Patrick Turners. I’m not one, but I have a great admiration for those people who are.
What’s it like working with the babies?
It’s wonderful. The lovely thing is whenever the babies come in, everything stops for them. Everybody’s got to be very quiet. The mum is always very close by. The mums know me so well by now that they say, “All right, Steve, you want to hold the baby?” “Yes, yes!” And I am walking round holding the baby all the time.
There’s something beautiful in the idea that you are nowhere near the most important thing on set. Even if you had an idea that you were – and I don’t – the fact is that all the grown-up actors have to play second fiddle to a baby who will do whatever he or she wants to do. That’s a really sweet thing. When you make drama around something more important like a child, it teaches you something. It teaches you to be a bit more patient, to get over yourself, and that makes the whole thing better.
So it’s fair to say you’re a fan of babies?
I just love the babies. More of them! They always say never work with animals or children. I haven’t mastered the animals bit yet – I need to do a circus drama – but the children bit I think I can do! I am baby crazy! Everybody knows that. You’ve got all these wonderful women working on this drama, and I’m the broodiest person on set!
My boy’s 21 now. So for me, having all these tiny babies coming on set, I just go to pieces. If I were 30 year-old mum now, I’d want another kid straightaway. I must be ready to be a grandad. Let’s face it, that’s what it is!