When Emmerdale decided to tell a story about men’s mental health with beloved character Paddy Kirk (Dominic Brunt) at the forefront, a special episode featuring only the male cast was born.
Producer Laura Shaw recently explained how she came into contact with Andy’s Man Club, a charity which sees groups of men meet once a week for a well-needed chat. She also revealed this was how the episode came to fruition.
“The all-male episode was inspired by Andy’s Man Club,” she told us. “Hearing from them about how they all sit every Monday night for a couple of hours, have a cuppa and a biscuit, and just talk; and how much help that is giving people.
“[It] just really inspired us to do our own version of Man Club. There’s no stunts, there’s no affairs, there’s no big, huge, explosive reveals; it’s just men talking about whatever they’re feeling or thinking. It’s as simple as that, but when you watch it, it’s probably one of the most powerful episodes we’ve ever done, too.”
Now that the episode has aired, it’s clear just how right Shaw was about that. Paddy’s best friend Marlon Dingle (Mark Charnock) planned the Woolpack lock-in in a bid to encourage him to open up. Just one week after Marlon convinced Paddy not to take his own life, in a poignant, beautifully played scene by Brunt and Charnock, the main objective here was for the men to talk - and, just as importantly, to listen.
At first, the ever-grumpy Cain Dingle (Jeff Hordley) was only there for free beer. So when Bear Wolf (Joshua Richards) suggested that alcohol should be off the agenda as Paddy couldn’t drink due to taking antidepressants, Cain got up to leave.
But his unlikely pal, the kindly Doctor Liam Cavanagh (Jonny McPherson), urged Cain to stick around. By the end of the night, the local hardman was making hot chocolate and offering Paddy a warm hug. Quite the turnaround, but somehow it worked.
What coaxed the reluctant Paddy to join them in the first place was a conversation about suicide attempts, which led Liam to confide that as a medical student, he too tried to take his own life. His university friends rallied round, saving his life twice over by looking after him.
As he explained how he overcame what happened, Liam's confession left everyone moved only for the character to switch seamlessly back into Doctor mode when Sam Dingle (James Hooton) suddenly pulled his trousers down for an impromptu medical check.
The episode made a point of delving into the character’s backstories, from Jimmy King’s (Nick Miles) moment of reflection for his lost siblings, to Liam’s grief for murdered daughter Leanna (Mimi Slinger) and Paddy’s memories of his adoptive father, who himself had died by suicide.
Paddy then opened up over how he had come to be in such a dark place, but added that he was now grateful for this support as birth dad Bear told him how much their strong bond meant to him.
Then, in a flash, the mood was lifted once more when Bob Hope (Tony Audenshaw) made out he was short of the cash he owed to the evening’s darts champion Paddy. When Paddy thanked Marlon after everyone had gone home, Marlon looked sombre - only to warn him that Bob was never going to pay up.
"I can live with that," replied Paddy poignantly, with hopeful tears in his eyes.
While we can only assume that, for now, the all-male dynamic was a one-off, hopefully the soap will make a habit of its Man Club gatherings. After all, Cain promised Paddy they would all be there for him, and it would be disappointing to see the former go back on his word.
This was a powerful, worthwhile offering that Emmerdale must honour with continuity as Paddy commits to his recovery.
Anyone affected by Paddy’s story can find help and support by visiting the Samaritans and Andy's Man Club websites, or by calling Samaritans' 24-hour hotline on 116 123. The NHS website also provides advice on how to seek help if you're experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Watch the latest Emmerdale spoilers