A mainstay character in one of the most popular TV dramas of recent years, “Call the Midwife”, turns 65 today.
Born in Taunton, Somerset, on December 20th, 1952, Jenny Agutter has appeared in more than 35 feature films and countless television roles over a successful career spanning more than five decades. She has played the role of Sister Julienne in the BBC’s “Call the Midwife” since it began in January 2012.
As the daughter of a British Army officer and entertainment organiser, Jenny Agutter had a well-travelled early childhood, with periods living in Singapore, Cyprus and Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. From the age of eight, in a bid to provide a more settled education, she attended Elmhurst Ballet School, in Surrey, where students studied classical ballet alongside conventional lessons.
It was while at Elmhurst that a casting agent first spotted Agutter and recommended her to the producers of a 1964 adventure film, “East of Sudan”. Although slammed by the critics, the film got Agutter noticed and more offers followed, leading to her first starring role in a 1969 thriller, “I Start Counting”. One of her most memorable teenage roles was as Bobbie in the 1970 film “The Railway Children”, having already played the same part two years earlier in a BBC TV adaptation of the book.
More grown-up roles followed, including the controversial but critically acclaimed 1971 film “Walkabout”, set in the Australian outback and including nude scenes for Agutter, who was only 16 at the time of filming. At the age of 21 and now in strong demand, Agutter moved to Hollywood and appeared in a steady stream of successful films throughout the 1970s and early ’80s. These included “The Eagle Has Landed”, “Logan’s Run”, “Equus”, “The Riddle of the Sands” and “An American Werewolf in London”.
In the late 1980s she met her future husband, Swedish hotelier Johan Tham, at an arts festival in Bath. It prompted her move back to the UK in 1990, with the couple married in August of that year and their son born on Christmas Day.
Since then Jenny Agutter has become a regular face in many British TV dramas, ranging from cameo roles in popular shows such as “Heartbeat”, “New Tricks” and “Poirot” to more substantial roles, including a main character in BBC spy drama “Spooks”. In 2000 she was cast in a new TV adaptation of “The Railway Children”, this time playing the mother three decades after playing the elder daughter. She also continues to appear regularly in feature films made both in the UK and USA, including recent blockbuster superhero films “The Avengers” and “Captain America”.
Away from the screen, she has been actively involved for many years in promoting awareness of cystic fibrosis, an illness she holds responsible for the early deaths of two of her siblings. She is a stalwart supporter of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and various other charities, and in 2012 was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in recognition of her charity work.
It was at Jenny Agutter’s suggestion that the writers of “Call the Midwife” focussed on cystic fibrosis as the subject for an episode of the popular drama. Her role as Sister Julienne has brought renewed prominence and popularity to an actress who has continued to work at a high level throughout her career and shows no sign of easing off as she turns 65 today. We wish her a very happy birthday.