THE actor at the centre of Emmerdale's moving dementia storyline, which reaches its tragic conclusion this week, has revealed he based his performance on a man he met through a Bradford organisation helping people with the condition.

The soap has been praised for its sensitive portrayal of vicar Ashley Thomas's vascular dementia. Viewers have watched Ashley and his young family struggle to cope. Now suffering from pneumonia, Ashley has days to live and in Friday's poignant episode family and friends gather by his bedside to celebrate his life.

Emmerdale has worked with the Alzheimer's Society and MHA (Methodist Homes)'s Glen Rosa care home in Ilkley, where actors John Middleton, who plays Ashley, and Charlotte Bellamy, who plays wife Laurel, met residents and families. They also worked with Bradford Pathways, which supports people with early onset dementia.

"We arranged for people with dementia and their carers to come to the studio for a tour. We're usually the storytellers, but this time we listened to their stories. Some were funny, some incredibly painful," said Mr Middleton. "Through Pathways I met a man who became the person I had in my mind playing Ashley. I met his wife recently, she told me he had gone into a home and she started crying. Every aspect of this storyline has come from real people. It would be a massive insult to them if the whole Emmerdale team hadn't approached this with such respect and integrity."

Series producer Iain MacLeod said a touching scene with Ashley and his family singing John Denver's Leaving on a Jet Plane came from Pathways. "We found families often shared moments that were funny and warm. We wanted that in Friday's episode too. There are moments of joy," he said.

Kathryn Smith, the Alzheimer's Society's director of operations, said: "Portraying early onset dementia like this hasn't been done before. In the UK 50,000 people have dementia at a younger age - with a job, children and partners. One of the myths of dementia is that it's a natural part of ageing. Emmerdale has shown that isn't always so."

Linda Zaidi, MHA regional director, said: "We were sent scripts from the beginning and were involved in discussions about Ashley's dementia. Factual accuracy is very important. Staff and residents at Glen Rosa watch Emmerdale, and now feel a sense of ownership of this storyline."

* Ashley's final episode is on Emmerdale on Friday on ITV at 7pm.