Back to the classroom for new Ackley Bridge

Monday: Ackley Bridge - (Channel 4, 10pm & 10.30pm)
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They say that our school days are the best of our lives.

Try telling that to the pupils of Ackley Bridge. Most of them would rather run to the hills than spend another day in a classroom, but watching them deal with the slings and arrows thrown at them in their small Yorkshire former mill town is hugely entertaining.

The teachers are pretty extraordinary too.

Marina, Fizza , Johnny and KaylaMarina, Fizza , Johnny and Kayla
Marina, Fizza , Johnny and Kayla

The drama is returning to our screens for its fifth series and there’s a new face in the staffroom – Asma (played by former Benidorm and Holby City star Laila Zaidi), a hotshot teacher who is sure to ruffle a few feathers with her radical ideas and gung-ho attitude. But there are familiar faces returning to the fray too, including headteacher Martin (Robert James-Collier) and Sue (Charlie Hardwick), whose efforts to impress Ken (George Potts) could lead to a change in career.

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Landing her role in Ackley Bridge was a dream come true for Hardwick because she was already a fan of the show thanks to its ability to tackle difficult subjects – and we’re not talking about maths and science either.

“I have always been passionate about justice and equality, and the ability of drama to counter ignorance, racism and prejudice,” says the former Emmerdale star. “I applauded the boldness and courage of the Ackley Bridge creators to tackle these real-life experiences head on, with fantastic writing and terrific characters.

“It’s top-notch entertainment and puts its money where its mouth is. Ackley Bridge gives us access into the lives and experiences of others that we would normally never get to glimpse, let alone understand.”

Hardwick is also thrilled that filming takes her back to Yorkshire – the drama is shot around the Halifax area.

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“I miss my old comrades at Emmerdale but we keep in touch,” she reveals. “It was great working in West Yorkshire again because I got to hang out with some of them.”

All 10 episodes of the new run will be shown across the week, with the first five directed by Top Boy star Ashley Walters, including the opening double-bill, which introduces viewers to the aforementioned Asma. She makes a big impression on both Fizza and Hassan, but isn’t thrilled about being paired with the latter when they’re tasked with breathing new life into the girls’ rugby team.

Meanwhile, Marina lands Martin in trouble when a social media stunt doesn’t have the impact she intended, and Kayla feels nervous about her big night with Johnny – but there could be something even more terrible looming on the horizon.

“I’m thrilled to be revisiting Ackley Bridge to see what is in store for our pupils and teachers,” says Channel 4 commissioning editor Rebecca Holdsworth. “Series five promises the same trademark mix of funny, heartfelt and hard-hitting stories.”

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Executive producer George Ormond adds: “We’re delighted to be back for another series in our rowdy school and our left-behind town. It’s been a lot of fun coming up with series five and we can’t wait to share it.”