It’s back to the books for new Ackley Bridge

Monday: Ackley Bridge; (Channel 4, 6pm)

Sunday, 18th April 2021, 5:00 pm
Kayla and Fizza
Kayla and Fizza

Most of us spend our younger years desperate to leave school. Then, once we get out into the big wide world, we wish we were back in the classroom.

That perhaps explains why school-based dramas are so popular – they’re an easy way for us to remember our own youth and the friends we made during our formative years.

Back in the 1970s, Grange Hill broke new ground by never shying away from covering difficult, topical subjects, including bullying, teenage pregnancy and death. Although made for children, Phil Redmond’s show became hugely popular with parents too as it gave them a window into their offsprings’ often baffling world.

Sadly, it all came to an end in 2008 after 30 years on the box; at the time of its demise it was one of British TV’s longest-running series

Others have tried to emulate its success, albeit while aiming their stories at a more grown-up audience.

Lucy Gannon created Hope and Glory, one of the first series to feature Lenny Henry in a serious role, while the likes of Teachers and Waterloo Road also proved popular

Then, in 2017, Ackley Bridge opened its doors for the first time. The first three seasons gained a teenage massive following during lockdown via Channel 4’s All 4 streaming service; it’s now returning for a fourth run which the programme’s makers are hoping will go down just as well.

However, this time it’s been given a tea-time slot, with all 10 episodes being broadcast each weekday over the next fortnight.

As a result, it will probably appeal to those who might have watched Grange Hill had it sill been running, as well as a more grown-up audience.

For the uninitiated, the drama is inspired by real-life Yorkshire and Lancashire schools which were established to integrate the white and Asian communities of some of the most divided towns in the country.

Its writers and directors are from diverse backgrounds, as are the actors playing the central characters, which – alongside some punchy storylines delivered with humour, heart and insight – have helped the series win numerous plaudits and award nominations

Some familiar faces return to the fray this week, including teachers Kaneez Paracha, (Sunetra Sarker), Sue Carp (Charlie Hardwick), Martin Evershed (Robert James Collier) and Mandy Carter (Jo Joyner), as well as popular pupils Sam (Megan Parkinson), Chloe (Fern Deacon), Rukhi (Phoebe Tuffs-Berry) and Spud (Zara Salim)

Fittingly, as a new term begins, they’ll be joined by some fresh faces. Among them is mixed-race Kayla (Robyn Cara), who feels torn between her white mother’s family and her traditional Pakistani father’s relatives. Her best friend is Fizza (Yasmin Al Khudhairi), a fiercely intelligent rebel who believes in fighting for what she feels is right.

Both girls fall for the handsome looks of Johnny (Ryan Dean), a member of the Romany Gypsy community who is instantly suspicious of everything to do with school.

Look out too for Conor McIntyre. Last seen playing the villainous Pat Phelan in Coronation Street, he’s back on our screens here as Johnny’s granddad.

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