It’s time to go back to school – and specifically to Ackley Bridge College, where teachers and pupils alike are ready for some drama.
Series two of the Channel 4 show, which returned on Tuesday 5th June and now airs on Tuesdays at 8pm, is again set in the corridors and classrooms of an academy in the racially divided town of Ackley Bridge.
Here are the characters you’ll see on screen – and the actors who play them:
Jo Joyner plays Mandy Carter
Who is Mandy Carter in Ackley Bridge? Headmistress Mandy Carter is extremely driven. “She believes passionately in the ethos of the school and the whole idea of bringing the community together and understanding each other’s cultures,” actress Jo Joyner says. When we met her in series one she was married to Steve Bell, the school’s PE teacher, but the two of them were going through a rough patch due to Steve’s affair – and his baby with another woman. After Mandy’s own affair, they are now living separately.
Where have I seen Jo Joyner before? Jo Joyner is known to EastEnders fans as Tanya Branning, a role first played in 2006: during her time on the show she has notched up an impressive 679 episodes. Her other projects have included Shakespeare & Hathaway, Porters, Ordinary Lies, The Interceptor, and Doctor Who – where she played Lynda in 2005.
Poppy Lee Friar plays Missy Booth
Who is Missy Booth in Ackley Bridge? Missy is a kid at Ackley Bridge who’s had a pretty tough start in life. She has to look after her own mum, who struggles with addiction, and also acts as parent to her sister Hayley – and after the death of her Nana in series one things have only got harder. But, as Poppy Lee Friar explains, “Missy is a fighter and loves her sister Hayley and her best mate Nas so much that she powers on with love and humour.”
Where have I seen Poppy Lee Friar before? The actress played Mary Pascoe in My Cousin Rachel alongside Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin. She was Rosalie Selfridge in the TV series Mr
Amy Leigh Hickman plays Nasreen Paracha
Who is Nasreen “Nas” Paracha in Ackley Bridge? Nas is a “brave hearted soul”, according to Amy Leigh Hickman. She is strong and intelligent and is extremely close to her best friend Missy. At 17, Nas knows who she is, but navigating her sexuality and the expectations of her family and community is quite a challenge.
Where have I seen Amy Leigh Hickman before? Over on Netflix you’ll find Amy Leigh Hickman as Sia Marshall in Michael C Hall drama Safe. Like many others in Ackley Bridge she’s a graduate of EastEnders, having played Linzi/Star Bragg. You may also have spotted her in Strike Back, Tracey Beaker Returns, and The Dumping Ground.
Sunetra Sarker plays Kaneez Paracha
Who is Kaneez Paracha in Ackley Bridge? The mother of Nas, and also the school dinner lady. Kaneez is a “force of nature” and is full of personality and opinions. She arrived in England at the age of 16 and is now a prominent voice in the community, raising her family practically single-handedly while her husband Iqbal is away.
Where have I seen Sunetra Sarker before? You are most likely to recognise Sunetra Sarker from the TV series Casualty, where she spent more than a decade playing Zoe Hanna, or from her star turn on Strictly Come Dancing. The actress played DCI Jane Burr in Safe House, and Sahana Harrison in Broadchurch.
Liz White plays Emma Keane
Who is Emma Keane in Ackley Bridge? Fun-loving teacher Emma Keane is a single mother struggling to bring up her unruly teenage daughter Chloe, who was initially raised by her father. Emma is actually from Ackley Bridge herself and somehow ended up teaching in the school where she grew up.
Where have I seen Liz White before? Liz White starred as Annie Cartwright in time-travelling John Simm drama Life on Mars. More recent credits include Rhoda Mullucks in Call the Midwife, Peggy Taylor in The Halcyon, and Lizzie Mottershead in Our Zoo.
Arsher Ali plays Samir “Sami” Qureshi
Who is Sami in Ackley Bridge? Sami is the school’s “Community Liaison”. In his youth he fell in with a crew of “bad boys” and ended up on the wrong side of the law, with a five year stint in prison. Now he’s a reformed character: hardworking and dedicated to helping the school’s troubled kids. He’s also having a bit of an affair with Emma.
Where have I seen Arsher Ali before? The actor starred in the comedy film Four Lions. Other credits include Beaver Falls, Complicit, and The Missing – where he played Malik Suri. He was PC Hari Bains in Line of Duty and Bennet in Doctor Who.
Samuel Bottomley plays Jordan Wilson
Who is Jordan Wilson in Ackley Bridge? Jordan is the naughty kid at school who loves winding people up: he isn’t fazed by the thought of getting into trouble or being punished. He’s bright, but apathetic about education.
Where have I seen Samuel Bottomley before? The actor played a young Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall. His other credits include Jericho, Rocket’s Island, and recent Channel 4 drama Kiss Me First.
Paul Nicholls plays Steve Bell
Who is Steve Bell in Ackley Bridge? Mandy’s husband, and a PE teacher at Ackley Bridge. The two are now living apart but really missing each other.
Where have I seen Paul Nicholls before? The actor is best known for his roles as Joe Wicks in EastEnders and as DS Sam Casey in ITV’s Law & Order: UK. Since saying goodbye to those shows he has appeared in Grantchester, The C Word, Death in Paradise, and In The Club.
Kimberly Walsh plays Claire Butterworth
Who is Claire Butterworth in Ackley Bridge? Steve’s “feisty” ex, and the mother of their son Zak. In series two she’ll ruffle some feathers when she turns up unannounced at Ackley Bridge.
Where have I seen Kimberly Walsh before? Best known as a member of the girl group Girls Aloud after appearing on talent show Popstars: The Rivals, Walsh has turned to acting and presenting over the last few years.
She’s appeared in Shrek the Musical, and was a runner-up in Strictly Come Dancing. On screen she has appeared in The Lodge and St Trinian’s.
Adil Ray plays Sadiq Nawaz plays
Who is Sadiq Nawaz in Ackley Bridge? Wealthy businessman and school sponsor Sadiq has a daughter at Ackley Bridge, Alya, and is a “local lad done well”. In series one he had a brief affair with headmistress Mandy, something which his daughter found out and exposed to the whole school in the series finale. “He survived it and he’s back again for series two,” Ray says. “There is some tension with Mandy as we’ll see.”
Where have I seen Adil Ray before? You’re most likely to remember Adil Ray from his BBC1 comedy Citizen Khan, which he created and co-writes. He’s also a prolific radio presenter.
Tony Jayawardena plays Rashid Hyatt
Who is Rashid Hyatt in Ackley Bridge? Science teacher Mr Hyatt is a newcomer to the school in series two. He is an inspiring and capable teacher but is a bit socially awkward.
Where have I seen Tony Jayawardena before? You may have seen him on stage in Bend It Like Beckham the Musical, or in Shakespeare plays including The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and All’s Well That Ends Well. On TV he’s played Sandy in The Windsors and Lawrence Taylor in The Tunnel.
Maariah Hussain plays Alya Nawaz
Who is Alya in Ackley Bridge? Sadiq’s daughter. At the moment she’s pretty angry at her father, and can be very spiteful to other pupils.
Where have I seen Maariah Hussain before? This is her first screen role.
Ackley Bridge returned to Channel 4 on Tuesday 5th June and will air every Tuesday at 8pm