It started with a phone call and ended up with MHA being involved in a TV show storyline that has been lauded by fans and critics alike for its accuracy and realism.
For almost two years, we’ve been advising ITV’s long-running Emmerdale show on its storyline involving village vicar Ashley Thomas (played by John Middleton) developing stroke-related vascular dementia.
From that initial call and then meeting, through to John and Charlotte Bellamy (who plays his on-screen wife Laurel) visiting our Ilkley care home Glen Rosa as part of their research, commenting on scripts and advising on story developments, we’ve been impressed by the commitment by ITV to tell Ashley’s story as accurately and realistically as possible.
And it’s not just Ashley’s story the programme has portrayed well. They’ve captured how dementia affects family and friends. Over the past 18 months, viewers will have seen how his dementia has affected wife Laurel and their children, Gabby, Arthur and baby Dottie, as well as Ashley’s father Sandy and their circle of friends.
And, as Emmerdale’s series producer Iain McLeod said, the show couldn’t have done a storyline like Ashley’s without the input from MHA. He added: “It is such a sensitive subject and something that is close to people’s day-to-day experiences as so many hundreds of thousands of people and their families live with it.
“We took great care and spoke to the best people we could to make sure we got the detail right.”
And his comments were backed up by John, who told us: “You have been the touchstones in terms of the research. We have been very, very aware that there had to be an immense amount of integrity to the telling of the story. We absolutely needed your support and your knowledge and the way in which you could introduce us to people who could tell us their stories.”
Added Charlotte: “It’s been so appreciated the fact you have had script approval on scenes, given us stories, supported us and steered us in the right direction because it’s given the storyline weight and truth and that has had an immediate effect on our audience.”
Regional director Linda Zaidi said: “For us, it’s been about using our expertise in the field of dementia care to make sure that they got the storyline as accurate as possible, from Ashley’s diagnosis through to his admission to a care home and his eventual death.
“We have been impressed by Emmerdale’s research and dedication to making sure the storyline about Ashley developing dementia and the effect it has on his loved ones was as accurate as possible.
“What has also been great was the courage of ITV to screen such a storyline and tackle the issues that come with it.”
Added Director of Quality Annie Webber: “Many of our residents and their families have similar stories to Ashley’s and have commented, as have the show’s legion of fans, on how well the show has portrayed someone living with dementia.
“We’ve been able to feed into the show information that has then been used in episodes, such as how using stairs become difficult for people living with dementia which was featured in the December programme from Ashley’s perspective.”