When the first series of Call The Midwife aired in 2012, actress Jenny Agutter confesses she was taken aback by the show’s success – but not surprised.
“It was the closest I’ve had to the reaction to The Railway Children – people approach me and want to talk about it and say how touched theyare by it, which is lovely,” she says. “Men, women, young people, old people, they talk about it very personally. But it has all the ingredients for success. Great scripts and great casting too.”
Call the Midwife thrust Jenny back into the limelight at the age of almost 60 when she took on the role of Sister Julienne, but she has no regrets. “I still love working on the series. Heidi Thomas and her team of writers are so clever and every time a new script comes, the stories seem to get stronger and stronger,” says Jenny.
Jenny’s character, the gentle and all-knowing Sister Julienne, is often called upon to mediate between her fellow sisters. It’s a role that was heaven-sent for Jenny, whose acting career spans 50 years.
The daughter of an Army officer, she was just 17 when she starred in the film version of The Railway Children. This was followed by the highly-acclaimed Walkabout and a 17-year stint working in Hollywood starring in films such as Logan’s Run, The Eagle Has Landed and An American Werewolf in London.
More recently she’d been busy with television work, such as the BBC series Spooks and the occasional role in British films, but had nothing left to prove and was happy to fit work around her family life. And then along came Call the Midwife. But family still comes first for Jenny, who is married to Johan.
“He is my stay-young secret,” smiles Jenny who turned 63 last month. “He definitely keeps me on my toes and we still have lots of fun together.”
So much fun, in fact, that to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary to the handsome Swede this year, the couple travelled to the Arctic Circle to go sailing for a fortnight in the farflung Lofoten Islands in Norway.
“I had a two-week break from filming Call The Midwife in July and so we decided to travel somewhere special. The Lofoten Islands are a rather amazing place – extraordinary rocks and natural beauty. It was midnight sun, there wasn’t any dark – it was light the entire time. It was really quite lovely.”
Jenny says that one of the main ingredients of their happy union is that she laughs at her husband’s bad jokes: “I think humour is so important in a long-term relationship, it binds you together.” Jenny married hotelier Johan (70), in 1990 when she was 37. They met at an arts festival in Bath and fell in love.
“For whatever reason, by the time I got to my mid-30s I was pretty settled in single life,” she recalls. “But Johan got under the guard and wasn’t going to take any resistance!”
The couple had their son Jonathan when Jenny was 38. He turned 25 on Christmas Day last year.
But she is honest enough to admit it is not always plain sailing in a long-term relationship.
“Marriage is a commitment. It’s all a journey,” she reveals. “You don’t know what is coming at you and the thing is that you have to take the good moments, the bad moments and enjoy it all. What is lovely is that Johan and I share a great many things that we both like – we enjoy music, theatre, good food, travel – common interests.”
Jenny is also committed to her charity work and in 2012, she was awarded an OBE for all her dedication over the last 20 years. But of all the many charities that Jenny is involved with – from Ovacome, the ovarian cancer support network, to Action for Children to the St Giles Trust, which helps to integrate offenders back into society, it is the Cystic Fibrosis Trust that she is most passionate about due to family connections; her niece Rachel suffers from the condition.
“It’s the hardest for me emotionally, because of Rachel,”says Jenny who is the charity’s patron and trustee. Jenny decided to have herself tested for CF when she became pregnant with her son and the test revealed that, like her brother Jonathan, Rachel’s father,she was also a carrier of a faulty gene which causes CF. But a test of her husband revealed he didn’t carry the mutated gene, which meant their children would not be at risk.
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