With Hollyoaks being the latest soap to broach the subject of disability we take a thumbnail flick through the world of serial and soap to find some of those other popular disabled characters.
“Freda” – Coronation Street – played by Ali Briggs
Freda arrived in Weatherfield as Emily Bishop’s niece and it wasn’t long before the soap won an award from the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation in 2005 for the portrayal of deaf Freda.
The character was devised by writer for the soap Debbie Oates – who wanted to introduce someone with a disability to the long running ITV show. Coronation Street has always prided itself on character-led drama rather than issue-lead plots; however they did deal with some issues while Freda was in the series. These include various characters reactions to a deaf person, and how they treated her face to face.
The character sadly wasn’t a long runner, and it seems in more recent years Coronation Street writers have forgotten all about Emily’s family – especially as a recent storyline saw Emily leaving her house to annoying lodger Norris. Maybe they just don’t want it inherited by a deaf person or an eco warrior?
Sandy Richardson – Crossroads – played by Roger Tonge
Crossroads couldn’t be accused of ditching their disabled character quickly – he had been with the soap since episode one in 1964, however only became wheelchair bound after a car crash in the storyline back in 1972.
Sandy had a past history, and so the character didn’t change – but how he lived did. These issues won much praise at the time and more importantly lead to major changes in the real world too.
In the storyline it became apparent that the families of disabled people were often left to ‘fend for themselves’ day-in-day-out with little in the way of support or help. In the soap a caring scheme was set up, which saw professional help given to Sandy and also one of his friends. It also gave these soap families a break from their care roles.
In 1974 ITV helped found and launch the ‘Crossroads Caring For Carers’ scheme, which turned this fictitious caring scheme into a reality. Caring For Carers is now one of the biggest schemes in the world.
Roger died aged only 32 in 1981 – however his legacy in soap continues everyday with the Crossroads Caring For Carers.
CAD Officer Dean McVerry – The Bill – played by Luke Hamill
Dean first appeared in the long running ITV police serial back in 2003 having ended up paralysed from the waist down following an accident a few years before being seen on-screen.
Making a change from the typical car-crash story; Dean was left without the use of his legs after diving into a river having misjudged the depth. He had already applied to the Metropolitan police before the accident and he made the decision to continue to work for the force in some capacity. He worked in CAD as a civilian clerk.
The story showed that just because someone wasn’t able to walk it didn’t mean they had to become inactive. Dean enjoyed going to the gym and being “one of the lads” down the pub. After three years at Sun Hill he moved onto bigger challenges.
Chris Tate – Emmerdale – played by Peter Amory
Just like Sandy Richardson, Chris Tate had also had a life before disability on-screen. Chris was left disabled after the infamous 1993 plane crash when the Woolpack fell on him. He had been seen in Emmerdale since 1989.
Chris’ new found life in a wheelchair didn’t change his character at all, if anything he became even more twisted and evil than ever before. While some may reflect upon their life and consider themselves lucky to have survived such a terrible disaster, that just wasn’t his way. Tate plotted, offended and continued to care only for himself.
His final act of spite, and some may say with plenty of reason, was when his third marriage was starting to fall apart. Upon discovering he had only months to live he began spending all his fortune – in order that his unfaithful wife would be left with nothing.
Most people would be content with that, but not Chris Tate. When he wanted revenge he made sure it was big. Alone with his wife he poisoned himself so that she would be accused of his murder. Nice.
Penny Branning – EastEnders – played by Mia McKenna Bruce
A recurring character to Albert Square; Penny is the daughter of regular Jack Branning. Penny is paralysed from the waist down after a car was deliberately driven into her and mother Selina while they waited at a bus stop.
The incident stems from the years when Jack was a police officer; a revenge attack by a drug dealer who once released from prison took the action against Jack’s family.
Vanessa Lockhead – Eldorado – played by Julie Fernandez
Noted as the first long running disabled character and actress to appear on BBC One, Julie appeared in the majority of the 157 Eldorado episodes.
Again the character of Vanessa was not shoe-horned into the soap just for the sake of showing someone in a wheelchair.
In fact the character had to often deal more with the problems of others than any issue she may have had. These include her father’s alcohol addiction. The character, just like Chris Tate, was not all sweetness and light. She was once described as a “petulant brat.”
Ben Mitchell – EastEnders – played by Charlie Jones
The son of Phil and the late Kathy Mitchell, Ben (unfortunately for him) is the half-brother of Ian Beale.
Ben is a creative young boy, who enjoys dancing and artistic hobbies – all the thing his father hates. While Ben would rather be on the stage acting or tap dancing Phil would rather he be beating up some other boys. Ben became deaf through meningitisis but is able to partially hear thanks to a hearing aid.
Dean West – Holby City – played by Paul Henshall
Student Doctor Dean arrived at Holby in his forth year of study back in 2005. The character has been described as a “Zagger”. Dean, who has cerebral palsy, took control of his life and set about making a career for himself in medicine. Even when things went wrong or his disability seemed to be getting in the way of his progress he never felt sorry for himself.
He would often put others at ease by making jokes at his own expense. He showed dedication to his job and was highly competitive with not only his own goals but those of the Holby City hospital too. He left the wards in 2007.
Nina Paget – Crossroads – played by Nina Weill
Back in 1983 the press went into overdrive when Crossroads hired soaps first Downs syndrome actress. Nina Weill even made News At Ten for her part in the long running motel based Midland saga.
In the story we saw long running character Sharon Metcalfe – played by Carolyn Jones – take care of Nina when her real-life mother Denise Paget – played by Margaret Nolan – couldn’t cope. Sharon later decided to take up a career in caring for downs children.
Crossroads was issued with much praise from parents in similar situations for the portrayal of how their lives on a daily basis were accurately reflected in the serial.