The BBC says it has ordered three additional, eight-episode seasons of its "Call the Midwife" drama series.

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Starring Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Laura Main, Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris, Judy Parfitt, Helen George, Bryony Hannah, Stephen McGann, Cliff Parisi and Emerald Fennell, the show will now continue through at least Season 9, taking its ensemble of nuns and midwives into the mid-1960s.

Season 6 is to premiere in early 2017.

"Like a truly supportive parent, the BBC has nurtured our series from conception onwards, and this exceptional three-series commission further demonstrates their care and commitment. It's a testament, too, to the passion, skill and creativity of Heidi Thomas, and to the dedication, talent and brilliance of our cast and crew," Pippa Harris, executive producer for Neal Street Productions, said in a statement.

"I'm privileged to have Britain's most popular drama series on BBC One, and this new three-series commission underlines our commitment to the show. 'Call the Midwife' continues to raise the bar with each new series and is really valued by audiences. The quality and ambition of the storytelling is credit to the excellence of writer Heidi Thomas, who has successfully brought the show into the 1960s with a diverse range of subjects," added Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content.