School rules

Jo Joyner and Liz White tell us why their C4 drama re­ally is an ed­u­ca­tion…

TV Times - - Interview - Vic­to­ria Wilson

This show is pos­si­bly as brave as it can be for 8.00pm

Jo Joyner

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

be a

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

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