IT’S very tempting to think of the TV soaps as just lightweight entertainment and I suppose on some levels they are.
But, especially in the last few years, they have become channels of information about social problems that might not have automatically come into our sphere of notice before.
The traditional soaps in particular – EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale – have treated important issues like racism, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic abuse especially well.
They have a fairly light touch when it comes to getting the message across but this is deceptively effective. At the end of programmes, too, they provide information on helplines relevant to the storylines for viewers affected by issues.
I’ve always thought the scriptwriters for soaps were unusually perceptive and sharp individuals because it can’t be easy to get over correct, well-researched information on a heavy subject in a prime-time programme like this.
Take the current storyline in Coronation Street around Rita Tanner. The veteran character (played brilliantly by actress Barbara Knox) is suffering from what appears to be dementia.
Although this subject was extremely well covered only recently in Emmerdale when poor Ashley Thomas suffered from dementia, there was still room for another look. In Emmerdale, they even created an entire programme from the sufferer’s point of view to get across the frightening confusion it brought. Really remarkable stuff.
With Rita, the response from characters around her is equally sharply observed and set to become upsetting.
Whether it is deliberate social engineering or merely scripts automatically reflecting real-life, the subjects soaps cover is almost fearless and the effects are bound to be positive.
Shining a light into some very murky corners of life that might otherwise remain pretty dark is brave and inspiring. Top marks to our telly producers for pushing the boundaries.