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The continuing soap opera of Johnny’s MS

Martin Baum

In 2019 I wrote a blog about how disposable and convenient it was to introduce my MS illness of almost 40 years into a made-for-tv storyline. 

Filled with clichéd tropes and tired stereotypes, the producers of Coronation Street did their best to ‘push the envelope’ by making the character Johnny Connor an MSer.

Condensing MS symptoms       

Over the course of several episodes Johnny fell over twice and was diagnosed within a week. And to cap it off, there was a histrionic life or death ‘Johnny needs his medication’ scenario. That melodramatic touch was as misleading as it was unnecessary. But it was how I watched a soap opera MS story arc play out to over 6.5 million viewers.

And now, twenty four months later, with scarcely a nod towards Johnny’s MS, not only is his hand now shaking but he is also losing his eyesight.

MS and Charles Bonnet Syndrome

According to the MS Society there are over 130,000 people (and growing) with MS in the UK. This would suggest that out of an audience of over 6 million, the most anyone would know about MS would be a wheelchair. Yet given how MS symptoms are condensed to facilitate a soap opera, when the writers returned to Johnny and his MS, they gave him visual hallucinations.

This is called Charles Bonnet Syndrome. While the connection with MS is out there, hallucinations are so rare that the MS Society, the MS Trust, MS-UK and OMS search engines come up empty.

Yet this inclusion to take Johnny’s MS to the next level is irresponsible as it is unnecessary. Worst of all, to make an unwitting audience even more ignorant of MS really does no service to the illness I have no choice but to live with.

Using illness for entertainment

After trying and failing to get a quote of explanation from the producers, while also leaving countless tweets on the Coronation Street twitter feed, I am left exasperated. Because now, in addition to the symbol of a wheelchair, non MSers will be able to add ‘dementia by association’ to the list of MS symptoms.

So moved am I by this thought I want to release my inner Howard Beale (from the 1976 film Network) who, while on air, lets out all his frustrations by ranting “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” - leading to his tv audience to open their windows and do the same.

Thanks to Coronation Street this fictional speech feels more relevant now than its release nearly 40 years ago. And should the producers and writers continue to carry on using my illness as a means to an end as an excuse for entertainment, I might very well do the same as Howard Beale because...

“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

#LiveLifeNotMS #msshine

Martin is an MS blogger and influencer. You can read more of his blogs at