Coronation Street's MS storyline has been criticised by a Hemel Hempstead man living with the condition

Blogger Martin Baum says the storyline of character Johnny Connor, who has multiple sclerosis, is misleading

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 9:44 am

A Hemel Hempstead blogger living with multiple sclerosis (MS) has written an open letter to the producers of Coronation Street after they implied the show’s character, Johnny Connor, was going to die from MS.

Martin Baum, 61, expressed his concerns about the recent storyline which he says had inaccurately suggested Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) – a condition that causes hallucinations – was something people living with MS commonly develop.

Martin – who has lived with MS for over 40 years – said the show was “unapologetic” and “not willing to ensure accuracy by wrongly portraying MSers suffering hallucinations as fact”.

Martin Baum expressed his concerns about the recent storyline

Coronation Street and ITV said they research all their storylines extensively with a number of organisations and medical professionals.

Martin said: "I wrote an open letter to Coronation Street when I heard about the storyline, it is misleading and the show should use the platform to support and help educate people.

“For a syndrome too obscure for the MS Society, the MS Trust, OMS (overcoming MS), and MS-UK search engines to recognise, why won’t the producers apologize for the distress caused to the MS community for portraying MSer character Johnny Connor as losing his mind?

"I was diagnosed in the 80s and I remember the doctors and neurologists saying I had to avoid head injuries and my mum told me I had to stop playing football straight away, it was a very worrying time for her.

"She has passed away now but I know that if she had watched that on Coronation Street it would have been very distressing for her and she would think that it could happen.

"There is no cure for MS and you cannot beat it, so you have to learn to live with it. My wife sums it up perfectly, there are three of us in our relationship, me, her and MS.

“More than 130,000 people live with MS in the UK and next month (April 20 - 25) is MS Awareness Week but this is lost on the producers of Coronation Street who have wrongly linked CBS to MS for the entertainment of their six million viewers.

"I have taken it very seriously and I think other people have too, I put it on my social media channels and people were equally shocked by it.

"Much needed changes are needed to stop Coronation Street using well-worn tropes associated with MS without adding inaccurate ones to the list.”

A spokesperson for ITV said: "We research all our stories extensively with a number of organisations and medical professionals and what happened to Johnny Connor in the programme could indeed have happened in real life.

"It is worth noting that the charity Esme's Umbrella, who campaign for increased awareness of Charles Bonnet Syndrome, have thanked the programme for bringing this distressing condition to public notice."

Deeply unrealistic

Ed Holloway, Executive Director of Services and Support at the MS Society, said: “More than 130,000 people live with MS in the UK, and we know Martin won’t be alone in feeling frustrated by the current Coronation Street storyline.

"We’ve been providing extensive information about MS to programme researchers since Johnny Connor first developed MS in 2017, and when asked for our advice regarding Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) we said it was highly unlikely someone would develop the condition.

"While we recognise this is a drama, and won’t always reflect real-life, suggesting hallucinations are common for someone with MS is deeply unrealistic.

"We’ve written to the show to express our concerns and reiterated that we are always here to provide accurate information about MS.

"We urge anyone with MS who is looking for information and support to contact our free MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000 or email [email protected]

A spokesman for the Multiple Sclerosis Trust said: "Multiple sclerosis is a condition which affects the central nervous system and has been diagnosed in an estimated 130,000 people across the UK.

"As symptoms from person to person vary, this can cause a lack of understanding, making it challenging to represent MS in a fictitious way such as in soap operas.

"We would like to offer our support and knowledge of MS to ITV as well as other broadcasters and producers, to allow them to help dispel the misconceptions surrounding MS, instead creating accurate and sensitive portrayals that reflect the reality of life with the condition.

"Anyone who is concerned about anything they’ve seen in Coronation Street is encouraged to visit www.mstrust.org.uk for more information on multiple sclerosis."