Not since battleaxe Maud Grimes ruled the street in her wheels of steel has Weatherfield featured a long term wheelchair bound character.

Sandy Richardson, 1971, Crossroads, ATVNot since battleaxe Maud Grimes ruled the street in her wheels of steel has Weatherfield featured a long term wheelchair bound character.

 

Maud – mother of Maureen Holdsworth – was always putting down son-in-law Reg with her sharp wit. She later proved being in a wheelchair was no obstacle by working in the Corner Shop alongside her daughter.

 

Today ITV Granada unveiled its 21-century disabled character, their second main wheelchair user, in the form of Cherylee Houston who will play Izzy – a young lady who turns up in Weatherfield after chatting with dimwit Kirk on an online dating service.

 

Coronation Street claim: “It’s far from love at first sight and Kirk won’t be the only man on the Street who gets to see Izzy’s feisty, fiery personality. Cherylee begins filming an initial 6 month stint in February having previously appeared in Holby City, The Bill, Little Britain, A Thing Called Love and Emmerdale.”

Angela Forster, Crossroads, 1966, ATV

 

Soap Opera in the UK has a long history of bringing ‘issues’ such as disability to light. In 1966 Crossroads provided insight into blindness with the character of Angela Forster – played by Annette Whitely – who was hoping that pioneering new surgery may bring sight to one of her eyes.

 

 

 

In 1972 the teatime saga introduced soaps first long-term disabled character. And a main character to boot. Son of the Crossroads Motel owner Meg Richardson, Sandy, was left unable to move from the waste down after a car crash. The storyline was dreamed up by ATV Network’s medical advisor, Dr. Richard Hudson-Evans, and producer Reg Watson. The details of the injury provided by the Robert Jones And Agnes Hunt Orthopedic Hospital in Oswestry. A real-life disabled actor also appeared in the soap as part of this storyline, making it ground-breaking in many ways.

This story still runs today, as the Sandy Richardson plot helped launch the Crossroads Caring For Carers scheme which continues to help real families and their disabled loved ones, it is one of the biggest caring organisations in the world now – and it all started on ITV.

In 1983 it was again ITV and Crossroads making the headlines. Newspaper front pages and even coverage on News at Ten when the series introduced Nina, a girl with Downs Syndrom, who became a regular in the saga.

 

Nina, Crossroads, 1983

Crossroads producer Jack Barton was proud of the issues the soap brought to light: “After all these years I still derive satisfaction from the fact that there’s a four-bedded unit in a Birmingham hospital for people suffering from kidney disease that Crossroads founded. We gave Downs Syndrome children a sense of pride when we showed a downs child and gave an idea what her life was like. Parents wrote in to say they held their heads up high after we did that.”

 

In the 80s EastEnders dabbled with disability when they introduced a wheelchair bound councillor, but this was a very minor role. It wasn’t until the 1990s the BBC caught up with commercial television placing their first main disabled actress in the soap Eldorado. Vanessa “Nessa” Lockhead was far removed from Sandy Richardson. There was nothing nice about her, in fact she was considered a spoilt brat. Played to perfection by Julie Fernandez.

 

Of course famously in 1993 Emmerdale had a plane fall from the sky, which left baddie businessman Chris Tate confined to a wheelchair after the Woolpack Inn collapsed on top of him. His dicing with death didn’t change him, he continued to be ‘Mr Nasty’ of the dales. Corrie also have taken deafness onboard with reccuring character – and relation of Emily Bishop – Freda, who despite being forgotten about when Emily was sorting out her will, has recently been seen again in Weatherfield. There is also Ben Mitchell – the annoying child of Phil, in EastEnders, who is also hard of hearing. And a recurring character to Albert Square – Penny –  the daughter of regular Jack Branning who was also left disabled after a car incident.

 

Last year both Hollyoaks and EastEnders added more promient disabled characters to their soap. Channel 4’s teen serial introduced Hayley Ramsey to the series, proving popular with fans the character is played by wheelchair user Kelly-Marie Stewart. Later in 2009 BBC flagship soap EastEnders introduced Adam Best, university student, played by another real-life disabled actor – David Proud.

 

Corrie's New Wheelchair Character - IzzyCherylee on her Coronation Street arrival says: “I’m really excited and well chuffed to be joining the show. I grew up with Coronation Street and I can’t wait to get started. I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into the character.”

 

Our earlier story on other serials’ ventures into disability which we published in January 2009 when Hollyoaks introduced a disabled character can be read here. More information on Corrie can be found at itv.com/coronationstreet | ITV’s official Crossroads Fan Club at crossroadsmotel.co.uk

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