The Leeds-based ITV soap has won acclaim in recent times for its sensitive and moving portrayal of long-standing character Ashley Thomas’s struggle with stroke-related early onset vascular dementia.
And, on Friday evening, viewers should have their tissues at the ready as Ashley, played by John Middleton, loses his fight for life.
A preview screening of Friday’s episode at Prime Studios on Kirkstall Road in Leeds yesterday was followed by a press conference attended by representatives from the Alzheimer’s Society and MHA (Methodist Homes) charities as well as Mr Middleton himself.
The actor, 63, has said he hopes the heartbreaking climax to the story will help change people’s attitudes to dementia. He told Radio Times: “My hope is that Emmerdale has at least been able to embed the issue of dementia into the public’s consciousness.
“We’re all guilty of looking the other way, but we ignore this at our cost. It could well happen to each and every one of us. It’s possible that we could find a cure, but we need more money going into research to turn that possibility into a probability. The good news is that we’re all living longer, but because of that, we’re more likely to die of this disease. And there’s no point in living longer if we can’t live well.”
Kathryn Smith, director of operations at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Storylines like this can help people raise awareness of dementia and help them to understand how dementia can impact a person’s ability to think, communicate and process new information and [can also] break down the stigma that is still associated with the disease.”
Emmerdale fans will be put through the emotional wringer again next week, with Ashley’s funeral being shown on Thursday, April 13.
The programme recently also earned praise for its handling of the story of Faith Dingle, a character who has undergone breast cancer surgery. Its run of powerful plotlines was recognised last month when it took the Best Soap and Continuing Drama prize at the Royal Television Society Awards.