Actress Jenny Agutter is appearing with Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra next week to support a cause that’s very close to her heart.
Jenny, who shot to fame in the 1970 film The Railway Children and has recently been on our TV screens in Call the Midwife, is narrating a performance of Benjamin Britten’s work, A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The event is raising money for the Sheffield Hospitals Charity to support Cystic Fibrosis patients in Sheffield.
Jenny is an ambassador for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and in 2011 opened a specialist ward for young adults at the Northern General Hospital. Consultant Frank Edenborough is a member of the orchestra.
Jenny said: “My niece has cystic fibrosis and 34 years ago, when she was diagnosed, the median age for people to survive was eight years. It was not expected that someone with cystic fibrosis lived to be a teenager. Now the median is 41. The medication and care is so much better. The trust has worked hard to see the best possible care and all those things have made a huge difference.”
She added: “I was so delighted when I came up a couple of years ago and opened the ward, paid for by the trust, for young adults.
“It’s a big part of our focus, apart from trying to find a cure. They can’t be put in an ordinary ward and mix with each other as any cross-infection can be fatal.
“It’s so terrific this ward, with really original designs for the rooms, and their spirits are lifted. That makes such a difference to people’s health, continuing to fund it in the way CF Trust does. It’s brilliant.”
Jenny first did the piece, which she is performing in as part of the University of Sheffield’s A Boy Was Born celebration of Benjamin Britten, at the Last Night of the Proms.
She said: “I was very nervous as an actor standing up in front of an orchestra delivering beautiful pieces of music. You have to be sure you don’t fail them.”
Britten wrote the piece for a film that introduces children to the instruments in the orchestra.
Jenny is about to start filming the third series of Call the Midwife, which follows midwives and nuns working in the deprived East End of London in the 1950s.
Jenny plays the head nun, Sister Julienne. She said: “There will be lots of changes in the new series. Things weren’t looking good for the building we were in and we have got to face all that.”
She said: “It’s great fun to work on. It’s a very eclectic group of people from very different kinds of backgrounds and the work they do.”
Her character is based on a real nun, Sister Jocelyn. She said: “I met someone who knew one of her nieces and got in touch with her. She sent me four pages and a wonderful note about her aunt that gave me a much better understanding.
“Faith is a particular thing, the absolute faith of a nun as Sister Jocelyn had. There was very little that would shock her. It helped me in trying to find the real person in there.
“She was described as always having a smile. She’d enjoyed the foibles and peculiarities of people.
“In the show it’s the young women who are most shocked by characters and their defects. For Sister Julienne it’s not about being shocked or your own attitudes, it’s just being very accepting of people and dealing with them.”
Jenny admitted: “She’s very different from myself. I’m impatient and want things my own way!”
She is very modest about The Railway Children, talking about how the limelight could just as easily have fallen on actors like Bernard Cribben and Dinah Sheridan or producer Bryan Forbes, who she said launched her career. He died earlier this month.
She said: “Lionel Jeffries created a film that people just want to go on looking at. The book has been in print every year since 1905. It plays a huge part in people’s lives.
“The story’s about holding on to innocence, something we always want to do. Lionel Jeffries caught it perfectly.
“It’s delightful and funny. It’s all that kind of innocence, seeing things from a young person’s point of view and believing everything is going to be alright in the end.
“When I did the Railway Children aged 17 the Edwardian era seemed very far away. I was wearing hotpants and the Vietnam war and drugs and everything going on. Now I look at it and think that’s quite close. We’re quite affected by those changes.”
Jenny Agutter and Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Lo, perform A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra next Saturday (June 1) at 6pm in Victoria Hall, Norfolk Street, Sheffield. Box office: 0114 2565567 or go to www.arenaticketshop.co.uk