Orchestra calls the midwife

Actress Jenny Agutter at official opening of the Cystic Fibrosis Ward at the Northern Gerneral Hospital, Sheffield. Picture by Chris Lawton.
Actress Jenny Agutter at official opening of the Cystic Fibrosis Ward at the Northern Gerneral Hospital, Sheffield. Picture by Chris Lawton.
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In 2011 Jenny Agutter narrated Benjamin Britten’s the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and on Saturday returns to it at the Victoria Hall in the company of Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra.

“There is something lovely about standing on stage surrounded by all these musicians,” says the actress who admits “not being musically inclined.”

She remembers as a child listening to Peter Ustinov performing it as a prose piece to introduce the orchestra whereas she will again be reading a new version by poet Wendy Cope.

The concert is in aid of aid of Sheffield Hospitals Charity to support Cystic Fibrosis patients, a cause close to Agutter’s heart. She is an ambassador for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and opened the £2.4m adult ward at the Children’s Hospital.

“It’s a fantastic benefit,” she says. “When my niece was born with cystic fibrosis 34 years ago we were told she wouldn’t live to be a teenager and then wouldn’t get into her twenties. But because medicine has been getting better anyone born now has a chance of living into their forties.

“The adult ward is a huge boon and the work of the Sheffield Trust is terrific but the NHS can only do so much and there’s no better or effective way than getting people to make donations.”

Jenny Agutter, whom people of a certain age still associate with teenage roles in Walkabout and The Railway Children, has latterly been introduced to a new generation with Call the Midwife on BBC TV whose success has surprised her.

“You always know when you work on something and get a good feeling and this had drama and characters from a wonderful book but I did wonder who the audience would be.

“That was the most surprising thing, that it didn’t fall into one sector but it was across the board. I get approached all the time by young women, young men, the middle-aged - customs officers when coming through an airport. It seems to have reached every age and walk of life.”

And she doesn’t mind being reminded of The Railway Children. “It was a lovely film which I did when I was 17 - and I was 19 at the premiere - and that was that, really. I went off to America at 21 and didn’t realise until I came back that it had become part of national life. By then it had been on TV and was perenially shown and had become a classic.

“It came out on video and been introduced to a different generation and by that time I was separate from it. I had done Logan’s Run and a lot of other things.

“I have been lucky all the way through but The Railway Children comes up a lot. I am sad, though, that it has focused on me and that people like Dinah Sheridan and Bernard Cribbins who were so good tend to be forgotten.”

* Jenny Agutter’s event is part of the A Boy Was Born festival which celebrates the 100 birthday of composer Benjamin Britten at the University of Sheffield’s Concert Series A Boy was Born