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Toffee Apples and Quail Feathers: New stories from Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth and Suzannah Worth

25 November 2022

These latest memoirs of the East End are a joy, says Lyle Dennen

ANY of you who have read the books or seen the television series Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth, will be delighted that there is now a fifth book: Toffee Apples and Quail Feathers. If you do not know them, this new book is a great way to enter this remarkable world of the East End of London in the 1950s.

Worth writes beautifully of her memories of that period’s poverty and suffering, mixed with great joy, humour, and compassion. She has an eye for detail and social history, and, above all, for the extraordinary characters that she brings vibrantly alive. Worth, when a young nurse, came to Poplar as a midwife, attached to an Anglican community of nuns, serving the poor as midwives. Worth’s daughter Suzannah, during lockdown, remembered that there was a folder of a manuscript uncompleted by her mother before she died.

Suzannah has edited it brilliantly, and woven in some chapters already published to give the context of these stories. For example, Fred the handyman’s hard early life, his falling in love with his wife, and then the horror of her and their children’s being killed by bombing during the war. The title is taken from two of Fred’s many schemes for desperately earning some money. They mostly fail: he crashes the boat, he wants for river tours, and his pigs escape to destroy the allotments. But Fred’s East End courage is indefatigable.

Jennifer and Philip in 2005, a photograph supplied by the authors

Behind the harsh realities of all of Worth’s stories is this indefatigable search for love and compassion: the remarkable inclusive love of the religious Sisters, the pursuit of genuine love by Jenny Lee, or the unexpected, caring love between Chummy and the policeman whom she had crashed into when riding her bicycle.

Underneath these attractive, amusing stories, Worth had a profound moral sense that people could use their difficulties and suffering creatively.

The Ven. Dr Lyle Dennen is Archdeacon Emeritus of Hackney, in east London.


Toffee Apples and Quail Feathers: New stories from “Call the Midwife”
Jennifer Worth and Suzannah Worth
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49

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