A. The Coronation Street character Alma Halliwell, played by actress Amanda Barrie, died from cervical cancer last week, only a few months after discovering she had the disease. She apparently had no significant symptoms, but the disease was undetected because she missed a smear test. Barrie herself has criticised the programme makers Granada TV for its 'cheap ratings ploy', but the storyline has prompted thousands of women to rebook their smear tests.Cancer specialists have criticised inaccuracies in the storyline and also the speed with which Alma died.
Q. What other medical issues have been raised by soaps
A. One of the most heavily criticised deaths concerned EastEnder Cindy Beale, played by actress Michelle Collins, who died in childbirth. Walford's bad girl died alone in prison, giving birth to her Italian lover's child. Doctors at the time said death during childbirth was extremely rare. However, fellow EastEnder Mark Fowler, actor Todd Carty, significantly raised HIV awareness when his character was diagnosed with the disease in 1991. The storyline has addressed prejudice and safe sex and Mark's illness is thought to have prompted more people to have HIV tests than the entire government public health campaign of the late 80s and early 90s. A 1999 survey found most teenagers got their information about Aids from watching EastEnders.
EastEnders has also addressed breast cancer. Former landlady Peggy Mitchell, actress Barbara Windsor, had a mastectomy after she found a lump. The storyline came under fire, because Peggy received her results after six days, prompting cancer charities to warn not all women would get the same treatment. Coronation Street's Judy Mallett died of a deep vein thrombosis after a car accident, heightening awareness of blood clots.
Q. What about mental health in the soaps
A. Mental health is a favourite with script writers. Back in the 90s, EastEnders tackled the subject with Arthur Fowler. In Brookside, the Close's favourite failure, Jimmy Corkhill started acting oddly last October. Past problems - his heroin addiction, his son's death from an overdose, the slaying of a neighbour's son and his ludicrous role as a teacher - got too much and Jimmy held his pupils hostage and attempted suicide. He was eventually sectioned. In EastEnders, heart-throb Joe Wicks suffered schizophrenia. The BBC worked closely with the National Schizonphrenia Fellowship to make the teen's illness as realistic as possible and after actor Paul Nicholls left, the Fellowship was flooded with calls.
Q. What other medical issues have been raised
A. Coronation Street is currently tackling infertility, and addressed meningitis in young babies when eight-month-old Shannon Tattersall died of the disease suddently. Radio 4's long-running soap The Archers has tackled cancer in a 33-year old mum. Other ailments are certainly on their way in soapland.
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By Katharine MacColl
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