Channel 4 launches new drama Ackley Bridge next month. Set in a multi-cultural inner-city secondary school in Yorkshire, it looks set to fill the gap left by BBC1’s Waterloo Road, which ended in 2015 after ten series.
With an all-star cast and an impressive creative pedigree, it’s set to be one of the most talked-about new shows of the summer – so here’s our guide to everything you need to know…
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Ackley Bridge is set in a newly-opened school formed from two local comprehensives merging together. As one school was predominantly Asian and the other made up mainly of white pupils, storylines will tackle the clash of cultures and deal with racism, bullying, poverty, sexuality, violence, the British education system – as well as emotionally-charged human dramas within the various relationships in and around the school.
Based on real cases of schools in Lancashire and Yorkshire that have merged in an effort to unite culturally divided communities, the starting point for this lively, gritty series is the question of how staff and pupils of Ackley Bridge College can bring two segregated worlds together. The production took over an actual disused school building in Halifax to film in and opted for ‘street casting’ for some roles, using local residents often with no professional experience for extra authenticity and grit.
The show has already hit the headlines with its hot-button topics, as it was revealed earlier this week the first episode had been re-edited to cut a scene where a pupil stages a hoax bomb threat at the school in light of the Manchester terrorist attack.
WHEN’S IT ON?
The weekly six-part series starts on Wednesday 7 June at 8pm on Channel 4. It’s the channel’s first drama in the 8pm slot since Brookside, which was moved from primetime in it’s final year due to falling ratings from 2002 – evidence of the broadcasters’ confidence in the show. Ackley Bridge has a strong continuing drama pedigree and is produced by Alex Lamb, who previously worked on EastEnders and Waterloo Road.
WHO’S IN IT?
An impressive cast is led by ex-EastEnders star Jo Joyner as ambitious headteacher Mandy Carter, desperate to prove the controversial mix of segregated cultures in the classroom can work. Fellow former Walford resident Paul Nicholls plays her husband, PE teacher Steve Bell. Steve and Mandy’s marriage is fraught with problems following his past infidelity and jealousy of her career. “It’s nice to have a woman at the head of the school,” says Joyner, “but the draw to this project was the entire show than just the character. I liked the idea of integrating the community. Plus I got to work with my old mates Paul and Sunetra Sarker again.”
Sunetra Sarker, reuniting with Joyner from in the medical comedy drama No Angels, and who also starred in Casualty and took part in Strictly Come Dancing in 2014, plays matriarch Kaneeze Paracha. “You don’t see Asian women like her a lot on screen. So often they’re portrayed as either too nice or militant and this is a fine balance. She’s a great but flawed mother with personality, substance and humour.”
Liz White (Life on Mars) is fun-loving teacher Emma Keane, a single mum struggling to bring up her unruly teenage daughter. “She’s been a satellite parent up to now, with the father being the primary carer until her daughter moves in as the series starts. A single mum in her mid-30s is an important demographic to represent.”
Amy-Leigh Hickman and Poppy Lee Friar play best mates Nas Paracha and Missy Booth.
“I loved playing Missy,” says Friar. “She’s sassy, saucy and a survivor. She has to repeat a year at school because she needed time off to look after her mum Simone who has problems with addiction, so she’s been a parent to her siblings and has a lot on her plate. Her and Nas grew up next door to each other and there’s no prejudice there.”
Hickman, who played troubled EastEnders teen Star Bragg, reveals: “Nas is a regular teenage girl in many ways, but as the series progresses she goes through a lot of things not every 17 year-old is having to deal with. I’ve got some very difficult storylines but they were a privilege to play as I was working with such supportive actors. I just wanted to portray things properly.”
Citizen Khan’s Adil Ray plays Sadiq Nawaz, high-flying businessman and school sponsor. “He’s the local lad done well,” says Ray, speaking about his first dramatic TV role. “Sadiq is wealthy, ambitious but wants more from his career and the women in his life – that’s his big flaw. He genuinely cares about the community and education, which are really positive traits to have. We’re exploring a particular generation of British Asian men who want to integrate, the scripts don’t shy away from diversity topics. Ultimately though we’re telling human stories, regardless of race.”