2023 has started with a bang for fans of British police dramas. Within the space of a few weeks we had the much anticipated final of Happy Valley, followed swiftly by the launch of the new show on the block, Better. In the intriguing first episode of Better, the corrupt police officer, Lou (Leila Farzad), has a crisis of conscience when her teenage son develops meningitis
We asked Sam Vincent, co-creator, writer and executive producer, what inspired him and writing partner Jonathan Brackley to include a meningitis storyline.
Why did you decide to feature meningitis as the illness Lou’s son Owen contracts?
"The story required an illness that can develop swiftly but have very serious consequences - but also, one that people would have some familiarity with."
Do you have personal experience of meningitis?
"Yes - many decades ago, a close relative of the writing team died in early childhood of meningitis."
What aspects of the disease allowed the drama of the first episode to unfold?
"Principally that - we knew the early symptoms of meningitis can be shared with other illnesses, and also that the deterioration can be very dramatic and swift. Once we settled on it, we embarked on our research, talking to a meningitis organisation and a paediatrician with vast experience of the illness."
Did writing about meningitis for Better give you an insight into the symptoms and after-effects of meningitis? Was there anything you were surprised by?
"When featuring a real illness, we have a responsibility to portray it accurately and sensitively - even within a fictional context - which is why we took advice from more than one professional source. We learned a lot - for instance, we weren’t aware of the extent that cognitive problems can be an issue after a serious meningitis infection."
Did you deliberately build tension around the development of Owen's symptoms in the script?
"We made the choice for Owen’s sudden deterioration to occur offscreen. This was a wider creative decision, to stay with the protagonist’s viewpoint. However, we included a (hopefully!) subtle moment of Owen being sensitive to bright light, which can be an early symptom."
How did you decide which meningitis aftereffects Owen would suffer with?
"Zak Ford-Williams, the wonderful actor who plays Owen, uses a wheelchair. We consulted with our medical expert and developed a plausible scenario for Owen’s aftereffects which also suited Zak’s gifts and abilities and worked for the story. So, the character has fatigue, pain, headaches and problems with movement and co-ordination - meaning we see him in intensive care, physical therapy and support group settings."
Did you watch Better and notice the meningitis storyline? Why not join the conversation on our Instagram page.
Find out more about how meningitis can affect younger people.
Thanks to Sam Vincent for his insights into how the meningitis storyline was put together.