Ackley Bridge (2019)

Ackley Bridge (Channel 4)

It’s all change at Ackley Bridge, in the biggest TV classroom shake-up since Grange Hill merged with Brookdale and Rodney Bennet. (We’ll draw a discreet veil over that time they moved the whole of Waterloo Road to Scotland.)

Now in the hands of a new trust, the school – created to bridge the racial divide in a depressed Yorkshire mill town – has a new staff, largely made up of un-sackable career shirkers. ‘You’re like the Walking Dead!’ Jo Joyner’s embattled principal told them, in what was supposed to be a motivational pep talk. 

New ‘Director of Behaviour’ Sue Carp (Emmerdale’s Charlie Hardwicke) was particularly unimpressed by her reassignment to ‘Tandoori High’: ‘You could stone someone to death with them,’ she said, inspecting a tray of rock cakes, before adding, ‘No offence, love’ to a nearby pupil in a hijab. It’s exactly the sort of near-the-knuckle humour that makes this boisterous riot of a show so refreshing, proving that an issues-based drama probing the faultlines running through post-industrial communities and atomised families can be… well, fun.

The beating hearts of Ackley Bridge are BFFs Nasreen (Amy-Leigh Hickman) and Missy (Poppy Lee Friar), who this week celebrated their 18th birthdays. ‘You were born on the same day, in the same delivery ward,’ said Nasreen’s mum Kaneez (a brilliant turn from Sunetra Sarker). But Nasreen had an interview for Oxford, leaving Missy – the tough but vulnerable scrapper with a big heart and a junkie mother – sitting on the carousel at the local mela, literally going nowhere. There was a row, and a slap, before an emotional reconciliation on that sofa in the street that no-one’s moved for three series.

Both girls had their eyes on new horizons. ‘When we go, we go the same way we came in,’ they agreed, in a scene that – as their generation would say – gave me all the feels. And then, seconds later, they were both brutally mown down by a speeding car, at which point I think my stomach might have literally flipped over. But I guess they were as good as their word, going out the way they’d come in: together.

TV extra:

Years and Years (BBC One)

There’s a certain irony in the fact that a show set in the future – even if it’s only a decade or so into the future – should prove to be the most 2019 thing on TV. But that has been the genius of Russell T Davies’ brilliant, vital drama: to lay bare the terrifying consequences if society doesn’t make an urgent course correction. With the ratings staying stubbornly low, it’s a warning that looks set to go largely unheeded. But what a ride it’s been.


Top Gear (BBC2)

Out goes Matt LeBlanc, in come Paddy McGuinness and Freddie Flintoff, joining Chris Harris for the latest Top Gear re-re-re-reboot. The format – three grown men muck about in cars while trading #bantz and boasting about how much ‘grunt’ their engine’s got – doesn’t really change, so it’s all about the chemistry. And early evidence suggests that, while poor old Joey got stuck in second gear, Harris’ new friends might just be the ones to get this cut-and-shut back on the road.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 20, 2019

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