It’s the first day of term at Ackley Bridge College, a new academy created from the merger of two racially segregated schools in a divided Yorkshire mill town, and a student has wrested control of the tannoy system in order to broadcast his own inspirational message.
‘We all know that Ackley Bridge is nothing but a left-for-dead town with food banks, smackheads and pram faces,’ he rants. ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re white or Asian – there’s no jobs for us. We’re all going nowhere.’ And to think, when Grange Hill merged with Brookdale and Rodney Bennett, the worst Mrs McCluskey had to cope with was some scallywag throwing mud pies at the school sign.
Channel 4’s lively, boisterous new drama is the creation of Ayub Khan Din, Kevin Erlis and Malcolm Campbell, whose collective CVs include East is East and Shamelesss, and it feels like a natural successor to both those things, with Teachers and Waterloo Road also on the reading list. Its depiction of urban deprivation and atomised families – teenagers swig from two-litre bottles of cider while their junkie mum’s passed out upstairs – gives it a tough, gritty edge, but in a strictly 8pm, pre-watershed way (these must be the first schoolkids since Tucker and co that don’t actually swear).
Jo Joyner, Paul Nicholls, Sunetra Sarker and Adil Ray lead a strong cast, along with a brilliantly scene-stealing turn from Liz White as chaotic English teacher Emma, who we first meet getting dressed in the back of a cab, having blown in for the new term straight from a backpacking holiday (she’s still wearing flip-flops).
The real beating hearts of the story, though, are smart, conscientious Nasreen (Amy-Leigh Hickman) and gobby but big-hearted Missy (Poppy Lee Friar) – teenage best friends who suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of the new school’s cultural schism.
Any drama that dares to grasp the nettle of racial tension in Britain usually gets dubbed ‘brave’. It’s to Ackley Bridge’s credit that it manages to do it in a way that’s accessible, funny and might even appeal to TV’s great lost demographic – young people.
Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution
Celebrating 50 years of the record that ‘changed the rules about what a pop album could and should be’, this fascinating mix of rockumentary and Open University lecture saw composer Howard Goodall unpicking The Beatles’ magnum opus with forensic precision, using the original master tapes, previously unheard outtakes and the Fab Four’s own studio chatter. In doing so, it revealed how Sgt Pepper is even more of a masterpiece than we thought it was. Heck, even Ringo’s drumming is good.
A League of Their Own: US Road Trip 2.0
In this supercharged spinoff from the popular sports quiz, James Corden, Jack Whitehall, Freddie Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp compete in such all-American challenges as Monster Truck racing and competitive donut-eating – while having food fights, pulling each others’ trousers down and generally behaving like overgrown schoolboys on a rugby tour. At one point, they lathered each other in sun lotion and rolled around in an oily heap on the beach – something for Sue Barker and Phil Tufnell to consider on A Question of Sport, perhaps?
Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 8, 2017
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