Jo Joyner and Liz White tell us why their C4 drama really is an education…
This show is possibly as brave as it can be for 8.00pm
Ackley Bridge wednesday / C4 / 8.00Pm
TV Times is back at school! No, we’re not here to retake our GCSES, we are, in fact, at the fictional Ackley Bridge College in Halifax, the setting for C4’s new six-part, primetime drama Ackley Bridge.
While that distinctive smell and the narrow corridors take us right back to our own childhood, we soon realise that this is a school with a difference.
Ackley Bridge centres on a Yorkshire mill town where Asian and white communities have been largely segregated. As the series begins, it’s the first day of term for two formerly isolated schools that have now been merged into an ‘integrated’ academy.
Spearheading the academy is head teacher Mandy Carter, played by former Eastenders star Jo Joyner, who’s married to PE teacher Steve Bell (fellow ex-eastender Paul Nicholls).
The drama also stars Liz White (Life on Mars) as teacher Emma Keane, Casualty’s Sunetra Sarker as dinner lady Kaneez Paracha, and Citizen Khan’s Adil Ray as the academy’s sponsor, Sadiq Nawaz.
But as everyone tries to work together to make the place a success, it looks like it might already be doomed to fail, as stars Jo and Liz reveal…
What can you tell us about your characters? Jo: Head teacher Mandy’s very career driven and has spent the last year setting up this ‘integrated’ school. As a consequence, she’s probably neglected husband Steve a bit – Mandy’s organised in her career, but not at all in control of her personal life. Mandy and Steve are not in the best of places, then she complicates things even more… Liz: Emma does things her own way. She worked with Mandy in a previous school, but now Mandy’s got this big promotion, they’ve got to renegotiate their friendship. Emma discovers her ex Sami [Arsher Ali] works at the school and we also learn Emma has a teenage daughter, Chloe, who lives with her father.
How do the pupils find being part of an ‘integrated’ school? Liz: Our central characters are best friends Missy [Poppy Lee Friar] and Nasreen [Amy-leigh Hickman]. Nas is Asian and Missy’s white, and, while they acknowledge they’re from different backgrounds, they share many similarities. But their friendship is soon tested.
Many of the cast playing the pupils in Ackley Bridge aren’t trained actors – what’s it been like working with them?
Liz: A lot of the kids were cast on the street. Two lads were found in a boxing club and one girl was spotted having a row with her mum and was approached to be in it. Another lad was an
apprentice car mechanic and now really wants to be an actor.
Jo: Those kids give the show that element of truth. I’ve loved working with them – you really feed off their excitement about a new job and remember not to get complacent. Liz: They all call me Miss Keane! Jo: They call me Jo. Or Tanya
[her Eastenders character].
I get that all the time!
This show tackles some controversial issues – how does it work in an 8.00pm time slot? Jo: I do think this show has got to be brave, so it’s possibly as brave as it can be for 8.00pm. Many people fought hard to ensure that it didn’t lose too much of its ‘edge’. Liz: What’s challenging is to reflect something that’s going on in Britain today. I wasn’t aware this kind of segregation still occurred, with academies opening up to bring white and Asian pupils together. Unfortunately, though, what often happens is, they last for about a year or two, before becoming either predominantly
white or Asian again.
Does Ackley Bridge offer hope that integration can work? Jo: I think this show is optimistic. Mandy wants the school to
business success, but mostly she wants to have high-achieving students who are integrated.
At the end of the day, when that school bell rings, she wants to see a whole mixture of people walking off together, rather than going their separate ways.
Liz: The most positive thing about working on this show is that there were no cultural divisions between the kids on set. Little groups will naturally occur, but that’s only if, say, they all like sport. I think generally, when you get kids together, it’s very little about race at all. It’s just about kids discovering themselves. And that’s what this drama shows.
Do you have fond memories of your own school days?
Jo: I didn’t have a great time at secondary school, just because girls can be horrible sometimes, but I’ve always loved learning. I couldn’t do Mandy’s job, though; I’m not very disciplined. Liz: I loved studying, but, when I was 11, I realised that I wanted to be an actress when a friend introduced me to youth theatre. I had a freedom there that
I just didn’t have in school. I remember a careers officer once saying I should be a gardener! I didn’t have a massively bad relationship with school, though – it could have been worse.
ACKLEY BRIDGE Is PREVIEWED on pages 68-69
Best mates Nasreen and Missy