MS featured in story lines on both the large and small screen

bad days

Multiple sclerosis was introduced as a story line in top UK soap Coronation Street four months ago. That was when Johnny Connor (played by Richard Hawley) received a diagnosis of the disease. And that got me thinking about other portrayals of people with MS on film and television.

But let’s start with Cornonation Street. It’s Britain’s longest-running soap opera, first broadcast in 1960, and has never shied away from social issues. These have included drug abuse, wrongful imprisonment, and even murder.

Writing about the diagnosis on its website, the MS Society commented: “Leading up to this revelation, Connor had struggled with his balance and appeared tired and impatient. He agrees to see a doctor at the insistence of his daughter Kate (Faye Brooks), but then tries to keep his MS a secret from her and from his fiancée, Jenny Bradley (Sally Ann Matthews).”

He eventually admits the truth to his daughter but calls off his wedding to Jenny, as he doesn’t want her to feel obliged to be his caregiver.

Trainwreck, a romantic comedy with Amy Schumer, tells the story of a woman afraid of commitment who finally meets Mr. Right, played by Bill Hader.

The movie features Colin Quinn as Gordon Townsend. He is a fictional version of Schumer’s real father, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Amy was 12. In the movie, Quinn’s character has MS and struggles with complications of the disease.


Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet in The West Wing.

Fans of the award-winning TV show The West Wing will know the main character is the, a President of the United States played by Martin Sheen. He had relapsing-remitting MS while in office. The show’s producer researched illnesses that could be debilitating but not fatal and that could be difficult to diagnose.

Sheen’s character, President Bartlet, managed to keep his symptoms under control in the public eye. But MS became a central story line when he failed to make his disease public during his election campaign.

MS story line presidential in West Wing

The West Wing’s portrayal of multiple sclerosis through Bartlet was applauded by Mike Dugan, then president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Dugan, now president emeritus, said the group was pleased the character was a world leader. The society welcomed the fact the show educated viewers about MS and made it clear the disease is not fatal.  It was also pleased that Bartlet was shown as to take advantage of medical breakthroughs to treat his condition.

Dugan said: “Since fiction often becomes more real to people than fact, President Bartlet’s life with MS has potential for great good. The public will become more accepting of individuals with MS. And individuals with MS will become more accepting of themselves and their abilities to lead fulfilling lives.”

Chicago Hope was set in a hospital in Chicago. In 1995, it featured the role of an MS patient for comedian and movie star Richard Pryor, who had multiple sclerosis in real life. In the episode, Pryor played Joe Springer, a character embittered by his MS and hoping to find some kind of miracle surgery that could enable him to walk again. Needless to say, he doesn’t find what he’s looking for.

I am encouraged that film and television programme makers continue to include MS, and other illnesses, in their stories. The more publicity, the greater public awareness, the better.

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* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

MS takes centre stage on television soap



First, I have a confession to make, I don’t watch soap operas on television but the fact is they do attract huge and often passionate audiences.

They develop different story lines from time to time, and the newest such story in one leading TV soap in the UK is one of its main characters being diagnosed with relapsing MS.

In a recent episode of Channel 4’s Hollyoaks soap opera, set in a fictional suburb of the English city Chester, character Nancy Osborne met with her neurologist to hear the results of an MRI scan. In previous months, viewers had seen the character, played by actress Jessica Fox, experience a series of unexplained symptoms including weakness, tremor and spasms.

Nancy is a young mum in her late 20s who’s been involved in numerous main storylines since 2005. She’s married to Darren Osborne and is the deputy headteacher at Hollyoaks High.

Doubts have already been expressed about how well the television company will treat the story. Some comments on Facebook questioned if such a serious disease would be handled in the right way and if it would be true to life, but I am reassured that the programme makers are trying their very best.

The country’s leading multiple sclerosis charity, the MS Society, has confirmed that it has been consulted and has cooperated with the programme makers.

On its website, the charity says: “The scriptwriters got in touch with us to ask for advice about MS. We were happy to give them accurate information about MS and its symptoms, but we know it’s up to Hollyoaks to decide how they use our feedback.


Kirsty and Lottie (Pic: Kirsty, via MS Society).


“We also introduced the scriptwriters to people with MS who shared their own experiences of the condition. One of the people we asked was Kirsty, who’s a 32-year-old accountant and mum to four-year-old Lottie. She was joined by her close friends, sisters Kat Garner and Vicki Bithell, whose parents have MS.”

Kirsty told the MS Society: “This was the first time I opened up to such a large group of people about how I feel about my MS.

“At one point, I got quite choked up, but we really wanted to show what it’s like living with MS and how it feels to watch someone you love battle often debilitating symptoms every day.”

It will be interesting to see how the storyline progresses and how well Nancy can cope with living with MS.

strap-new is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

Building up to Christmas – part two

Our new HD Smart TV. On the right is our new small broadband tv box.

Our new HD Smart TV. On the right is our new small broadband tv box.

On towards Christmas we go, with part two of our somewhat different, if not unusual, preparations for this year’s celebrations.

The guy who runs his own TV satellite business arrived late on Friday afternoon to install what we need to get good television reception here.

We already get a feed from a satellite dish but that only provides the free channels and we want much more, so we had already opted for his services. Not knowing whom to contact, we took advice from our neighbours and this man, named Bob, came highly recommended.

He gave us the choice of a new box that would give us the paid for satellite channels, like most of our neighbours have, or a brand new box that works via the internet and brings us all that and more. And the ‘more’ includes more than 850 films, free ‘pay per view’ channels, catch-up, and even channels you have to pay extra to see in the UK. It even includes the BT channels at no extra cost.

Of course, we chose the best package – at the same price as the other box – and he set it all up for us. And we still have our ex-UK Sky box connected to the satellite dish so we would still have some television even if the internet was to fail.

It seems OK, so far, but I am always a bit suspicious of new technology. That being the case, I’ll reserve judgement until we have had it for a little while. The programmes available for just 250€ a year, yes a YEAR, are all the ones offered in Sky’s most extensive package including sport and movies, plus the ‘paid-fors’ such as the football clubs’ own channels, BT and ESPN. Then there are the other services not available via Sky such as the 850 films, free pay-to-view and, he was at pains to point out, some rather graphic porn channels which make’s Sky’s ‘adult’ channels look like kids’ comics.

To be honest, I am not sure how much that would actually cost in the UK but, based on my old Sky subscription in Wales, it must be £80 or more every month or close to £1,000 a year. Meanwhile, here we are paying just 250€, and that is about £185, for a year. Now that is a pretty good deal in any language.

As far as Christmas itself is concerned, we did not bring anything like decorations with us. That, of course, means we have to buy new and that is exactly what we plan to do but not until the after-Christmas sales when they will all be reduced. So, this year, just for once we will not have a tree nor put up any festive decorations.

Christmas dinner will either be what we regard as traditional, as long as the new cooker is installed by then, or it will be at a restaurant in the afternoon. We will just have to wait and see how things develop on that front.


Building up to Christmas – part one


It’s a bit of a strange way to build ourselves up for the Christmas season this year.

You see, after Lisa and I decided to move to Spain, and had been here and found the home of our dreams, then came the difficult part.

We bought a furnished property but without any kitchen items such as crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, microwave, toaster, kettle, teapot – the list goes on. We also knew that we needed a new washing machine and wanted to replace the working but old traditional cooker with a more modern range one.

So, it has been a busy time and something like a newly married couple goes through when setting up their home together for the very first time. I am sure that Lisa and I have gained just as much pleasure from doing this as any newlyweds. In fact, as this is the first home we have really set up together, the whole exercise has been more fun than a chore.

Then, as each box arrived with no indication of what it contained, it was just like opening wedding presents. Although we had ordered and paid for everything, discovering the contents as we opened each box was a surprise.

Actually, although I am using the past tense as most items have now arrived, there are still a handful that have yet to arrive – so the fun goes on, lol.

We ordered the washing machine from the local branch of Euronics and it was delivered and installed inside 24 hours. At first, though, it would not go into the spin cycle so an engineer came out and spent about 30 minutes here. We have no idea what was wrong but the important thing is that it has worked properly ever since.

Our new range cooker arrived a week later, again thanks to Euronics, but has still not been installed as we have been having a great deal of difficulty in finding gas fitters who can give a firm commitment to a particular day. At the moment, the job will go to the first one who can guarantee completing the installation before Christmas.

Our new television has arrived but as it was delivered in a fully branded box, we have left it unopened until Bob, the guy who runs the company that provides satellite and broadband television connections, arrives. Then we will know that it is installed properly. The model we ended up buying, for the technically minded among you, is a Philips HD Smart 200Hz LED with a 32” screen.

We looked at various options but felt we do not really need a 40” screen as we don’t want to feel overpowered by it. The Smart TV option was not that much more expensive, although I am not really sure what we are going to do with it.

As far as high definition is concerned, I did have that in the UK for a time but stopped paying for the HD channels on Sky as I could not really see any significant improvement. Now, all TVs seem to be HD and we have been assured that we will see a difference this time. I hope so. One good thing about our new system is that we don’t have to pay more for HD channels; they all come as part of the basic package.

Getting there! Home is coming together

living room Spain

It’s all happening here as the dream home that Lisa and I set our hearts on is gradually coming together with new appliances and other goodies arriving by the day.

There are still some on the way and, when they have all arrived and been installed, we will be in position to take some pictures and post them here on this blog to give you all a taste of our life in Spain.

Talking of our life here, it is December 4 and today’s shade temperature is 20˚C/68˚F but out in the sunshine it is way hotter than that. Suntan, even sunburn, are both distinct possibilities.

But, enough of the weather. Last night we took delivery of our new cooker. It is a range style measuring 90cm wide with five hobs and a massive oven/grill, under which there is an equally wide plate warming compartment. It is not plumbed in yet as we are waiting for the gas installers and inspectors to give us a date they can come. We know it is unlikely to be in the next week as both Monday and Tuesday are bank holidays here.

Lisa loves to cook and especially adores baking but this is the very first time that she will have what she has named ‘a grown up’ oven. She can hardly contain her excitement.

Next on our list is an HD Smart television. We have been advised to get a 40” one but we feel that 32” is big enough. Also, we have decided to take our TV feed over our 10mgps broadband connection instead of from a satellite dish. It promises to give us much higher quality performance than we have previously been able to enjoy.

We have already seen the list of channels we can expect and, besides the Spanish stations, it includes all the main UK programmes, the satellite channels we used to watch in the UK, some that Sky decided we could not watch without paying extra – such as BT Sport and ESPN – and well as loads of movies, on demand and catch-up services.

So, instead of paying Sky £64.50 a month for its TV selection, an annual total of £774, we will soon be getting more channels but paying just 200€, which is equivalent to about £150 per year. Now, that is a bargain.

With the saving on television, we have managed to reorganise our TV/telephone/broadband spending so that, by spending the same amount of money, we now get:

  • Broadband at 10mgps instead of 2mbps
  • Satellite tv via broadband
  • Mobile phones (2 instead of 1) with unlimited calls and texts, plus 6 gig of data
  • Skype package with unlimited calls to USA and UK
  • 2 Skype numbers (1 in UK, 1 in USA) for people to make low cost calls to us.

Oh, almost forgot, in Spain no-one has to buy a tv licence, so that saves us another £150 (200€) a year.






Older eyes to learn new way to see

camera no camera yes Good tip: Hold mobile sideways to record video

There’s a potentially exciting opportunity for older people in the county of Conwy, in North Wales, to get more involved in community television. And they can do this learning to look at the world through the lenses of their mobile devices, taking their own videos and uploading them to their local television channel.

What? Take their own videos, edit them and upload? Just how will they do that? It’s not like they are children of today who are so well-versed in computers and modern technology. No, these are the older generation, senior citizens. It’ll never work, you can’t treat old dogs new tricks, doubters might well say.

That does not deter one local go-ahead organisation from being determined to do just that, though.

TVConwy, which is run completely by volunteers, has come up with a plan to make it work. What’s more, financial backing for the local community interest company to put the project into action, has come in the form of a lottery grant of £3,547 from the Grab-a-Grant scheme run by the Big Lottery Fund. The grant was gained by being one of the five winners, chosen by public vote through two sister local newspapers, the North Wales Chronicle and the North Wales Pioneer.

The project will take the form of group workshops and will provide training to older people so that they fully understand how to use mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, to take and edit photos and videos. Training will also include how to upload the product of their efforts to the tv channel’s website (

TVConwy director Debbie Braden is delighted that it has won the grant. She said: “I would like to thank everyone who voted for us. It means so much to everyone in our team and to those who will benefit from the training. Our ‘Through Older Eyes’ project will provide training so more older people can get involved in and be represented on the community TV channel by capturing community events they attend or promoting causes they are interested in and wish to publicise.”

She explained that training will include learning the basics of mobile device photography and capturing video as well as simple editing and uploading of the results. People will also be encouraged to share information, creativity and opinion.

Speaking about ‘Through Older Eyes’ TVConwy’s Mark Ramsden said: “The resounding feedback that we’ve received from older people is that many lack the knowledge to use mobile devices to take photos and videos and older eyesupload images to share them.

“Learning these skills as part of a group workshop will enhance people’s confidence, build community spirit and reduce feelings of isolation.

“Hopefully, they will also feel more confident about sharing content with friends and family as well as our community TV channel.”

The other four organisations that also gained grants are: Parkinson’s UK Llandudno and District Support Group, Holyhead and Anglesey Amateur Boxing Club; Plas Road Allotment Association and Hope Restored.

  • Interest declaration: Multiple Sclerosis prevents the writer from being an active member of TVConwy but he does act as admin of its Community Forum on Facebook and has run a journalism workshop for the channel’s volunteers.