Rita (played by Barbara Knox) is one of the ITV soap’s longest-running actresses, and has recently developed what appears to be a slow on-set of memory loss through Alzheimer’s Disease.
In tonight’s instalment, the character upset her teenage lodger and friend Gemma Winter (Dolly Rose Campbell) when she innocently referred to her husband Len (Peter Adamson), who had died in a car accident in 1983.
After Rita informed Gemma that Len would be “home any minute”, the confused blonde asked who her elderly friend meant.
“What Len’s that she says! My husband. He’ll have a word to say about them chops they’re too fatty,” Rita replied with a smile.
Clearly thrown by the comment, Gemma told her carefully: “I don’t think Len’s coming tonight.”
Devastated viewers took to Twitter to express their distress at Rita’s decline, as Gemma also struggled to cope with the coming burden of looking after Rita.
“Len Fairclough, there’s a blast. But it’s SO sad watching Rita expecting Len to come home, when Len hasn’t been home since 1983. #Corrie,” one person posted.
Another viewer felt a personal connection to the character, tweeting: “Honestly made me break my heart when she spoke about Len. I’m not ready to lose Rita! I’m 39 she’s like my nanna!”
A third agreed: “Omg Rita thought len was coming back aww I feel so sorry for her #Corrie.”
Gemma revealed to her friend Rosie exactly how serious the situation was, and left fans wondering if star of the soap Barbara will be leaving behind her iconic role soon.
The character explained: “It’s more than just forgetfulness, she gets confused. It’s been building for a while now but tonight it proper upset me. She laid a place at the table for Len. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that he was dead.
“Rosie I’m not family and no one takes me seriously anyway, but I’m holding my hands up I am way out of my depth. I think she’s going senile.”