Downton Abbey and Emmerdale stars join Ackley Bridge series three

Robert James-Collier and Charlie Hardwick have been cast in Channel 4's school drama

Ackley Bridge (C4)

Former Downton Abbey star Robert James-Collier and ex-Emmerdale resident Charlie Hardwick are swapping the countryside for the classroom as they join the third series of school drama Ackley Bridge.

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James-Collier, who played under-butler Thomas Barrow in Downton, and Charlie Hardwick, known to Emmerdale fans as Val Pollard, will be new members of staff set to “serve up a few hard lessons” when the show returns later this year, according to Channel 4.

The new series will see Ackley Bridge College being taken over by The Valley Trust, and James-Collier’s new deputy head teacher Martin Evershed and Hardwick’s director of behaviour Sue Carp have been brought in to “whip the pupils into shape”.

James-Collier said he was “thrilled” to be chosen for the role and added of the young cast: “Such fearless and talented young actors bring a special spirit and energy on set and I hope I can learn from that and add to it in my own way.”

Hardwick commented: “I’m absolutely over the moon to be joining Ackley Bridge, I was already a fan. It has fantastic characters and brilliantly sharp story-telling which tackles the desires and concerns of a diverse school of young people and their community head on, in full-beam.”

Jo Joyner’s Mandy will reprise her role as the school’s headmistress and will be joined by returning cast members including Sunetra Sarker, Poppy Lee-Friar and Amy Leigh-Hickman.

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Ackley Bridge has begun filming in Halifax and will return to Channel 4 for eight new episodes later this year.