Ackley Bridge is a Yorkshire mill town, home to largely divided white and Asian populations. Like the communities, the school systems have also become segregated. However as two formerly isolated comprehensives are merged into a brand new academy, Ackley Bridge College, the lives and cultures of each are set to collide.
Lessons are about to be learnt in and out of the classroom, even if education isn’t the first thing on the agenda…
Featuring an all-star cast, here's a quick guide to who's who in the Channel 4 drama which is returning for a second series.
Missy Booth – Poppy Lee Friar
Missy is a survivor. A real product of Ackley Bridge. She keeps her family together, despite the erratic and destructive visits of her troubled mum, Simone. Recently, Missy and Hayley were removed from Simone’s care by Social Services and placed with Simone’s mother, Nana Booth. But series one saw Missy lose her beloved Nana and now she's battling to keep things together for Hayley.
However, there’s also a rebellious side to Missy. Her toughness and opinionated streak means that she gets herself into trouble - a lot. Her mouth can run away with itself and once she’s said something she’ll never retract it. The boys think Missy is amazing and she knows how to get what she wants when it comes to them - although series two will see her first ever romance.
Missy has huge potential. She might not be academic but she is full of street smarts and, given the right opportunities could make a real success of herself despite her circumstances. This time, we'll see her working in a burger van to pay off her mum's boyfriend's debts.
Nasreen (Nas) Paracha – Amy-Leigh Hickman
Nas is the yin to Missy’s yang and she’s been Missy’s neighbour and best friend for years. While Missy is the smart-mouthed one, Nas is the brains. She’s academic, intelligent and has a questioning mind.
Kaneez’s eldest, Nas is the apple of her mum’s eye and is destined to make something of herself. Sometimes quiet and introspective, she privately hopes to go to uni but is terrified of the debts. However, Nas also wants to live in the moment. She is a respectable girl in the community but does enjoy going out with Missy and putting the world to rights.
Nas is opinionated and surprisingly well-informed. She can astonish Missy about the things that she knows. She might be from a small town but it doesn’t mean she has to have small thoughts.
Mandy Carter (Head Teacher) - Played by Jo Joyner
A working class girl made good, Mandy swears by the power of education. It’s made her the woman that she is today. Ambitious Mandy’s been promoted quickly through her career and sometimes is out of her depth. However, she covers her insecurities with gusto. She can be a bulldozer at times. She’s relentlessly driven which means that her relationship with husband Steve has taken a battering - in series one, we saw the fallout from his affair and the subsequent affair that she had with Sadiq.
Series two picks up with the couple living apart but still very much involved. To be a super head, Mandy knows that she’s going to have to make sacrifices and though she almost always plays things by the book, Mandy can take risks. Once she’s on a plan of action it’s difficult to sway her off it.
We asked ex-EastEnder Jo about how the character develops in series two.
You play Mandy Carter - what can you tell us about her character and who she is?
Mandy is really driven. She believes passionately in the ethos of the school and the whole idea of bringing the community together and understanding each other’s cultures. She comes from a working class background herself so she’s no push over. She doesn’t take any excuses about why they might not be achieving and she’s kind of twice as driven because of her background. Rather than going off the rails she climbed up the ladder instead. So she can be a little bit serious, highly motivated, and she’s not always the most liked person in the school but it’s always for a good reason. The pupils and what they can achieve is at the heart of her mission rather than the figures.
Mandy hasn’t got the most straightforward personal life. Is there anything that’s resolved for her as the series goes on?
No. Poor Mandy is working hard at school, working hard at home. When we met them last year her and Steve were on a rocky footing anyway because Steve had already had an affair and a baby with someone else and during the first series Mandy had kind of got even by having her own affair. By the time we arrive this year they’re not living together anymore but they are still really missing each other. It may turn out they can’t live with each other, can’t live without each other. Definitely throughout this series they have a lot of ups and downs. The path of true love doesn’t run very smoothly, is all I can say.
You get the sense that Mandy is probably quite lonely, given that she’s been promoted above her colleagues. Do you think she's lonely?
Yeah, I do. I think that what’s lovely is that in episodes seven and eight we get to know Mandy a bit better – we get to know in episode 8 what’s really driven her. We get to see her home life and where she’s come from. Mandy, she is an only child, so she’s been forging ahead on her own ever since she was tiny really so she is used to kind of carving her own path. People like that can be quite hard to get close to and get to know and loosen up a bit. Hopefully through this series people will have a better understanding as to why she is a bit of a lone wolf on a mission.
Kaneez Paracha (Dinner Lady) - Sunetra Sarker
Heart of gold but tough as old boots, Kaneez is a force of nature. Pakistani born, Kaneez came to Ackley Bridge when she was 16 to marry her husband Iqbal. However, Kaneez has raised her family almost single-handedly as her unreliable husband works away in Pakistan often for months on end. Self-educated, Kaneez enjoys her independence and running her family without a man around.
Highly intelligent, colourful and fearless, feet first Kaneez is lippy and opinionated and will never shy away from an argument. Actually she quite likes them. Nevertheless, if there’s work to be done she’ll settle any row and roll her sleeves up and get on with things.
She is an eternal pragmatist making the most of what she’s got and telling other folk to do the same. Kaneez is God fearing but ploughs her own furrow. She’s definitely a woman that you want to have on side.
Steve Bell (Sports Science) - Paul Nicholls
A charismatic ‘man’s man’, Steve is a big presence at Ackley Bridge College. Well-liked by the students and the teachers, Steve is always on hand to break up a fight or settle a discussion but he’s also more than up for a kickabout on the school field.
Steve isn’t a career teacher like his wife Mandy but he does have a vocation and is particularly good at working with kids – especially lads from challenging backgrounds. He knows how to handle himself, and normally how to keep his temper in check, and his charm and banter can get him out of a sticky situation.
Steve is now living apart from Mandy after they both had affairs, but it looks as though a possibility of a reunion is on the cards. However, Steve's former fling Claire being on the scene in series two could throw a spanner in the works.
Emma Keane (English Teacher) - Liz White
Emma’s funny, a thrill seeker and a survivor who can look after herself. She is an original and inspiring teacher who tends to make it up as she goes along. Charming and fun to be around, Emma is a laugh. You’d want to go on a night out with her but you might struggle to keep up.
Free spirited but still very opinionated, Emma is an authority-figure who has issues with authority. A natural teacher but not a natural mum, Emma got pregnant in her first year of university and delayed her degree to give birth. The relationship didn’t work out and her daughter Chloe lived with her dad, only seeing Emma a few times throughout the year - until the last series, when Chloe arrived to move in with Emma.
Series two explores the mother and daughter's unconventional relationship further as they get used to living together. Emma will also be struggling with her feelings about ex-love Sami getting married to another woman.
Sadiq Nawaz (School Sponsor and Head of Academy Trust) - Adil Ray
Head of a thriving middle-class family, Sadiq is a big name in Ackley Bridge. Local boy made good, Sadiq has grafted for everything he’s got and is proud of what he’s achieved. His factory employs a good swathe of the town and he has high hopes for the community, his reputation and his bank balance.
Sadiq is a consummate negotiator and charmer but with a roguish, amoral edge. He appears to be a pillar of the community but there’s something else about him: he can be a bit of a git. He enjoys women’s company and his wife Farida was willing to turn a blind eye as long as no scandal reached the family home. However, the charade came crashing down in series one when Sadiq's daughter Alya revealed her father's affair with head teacher Mandy in front of the whole school. How will they recover from the revelations?
Samir Qureshi (Community Liaison) - Arsher Ali
Good looking and well dressed, Sami can appear serious and introspective but once you get to know him he has a sharp sense of humour and an easy charm. Born and bred in Ackley Bridge, Sami fell in with a crew of bad boys in his late teens and became a bit of a jack the lad, drinking, smoking and playing the field. Eventually, Sami found himself on the wrong side of the law which landed him in prison for a five-year stint.
While in jail he found Allah and is now a reformed man and far different to the chaotic troublemaker of his youth. He’s hardworking and really makes an effort to engage with the pupils he supports on their level – maybe he can make sure some of them don’t make the mistakes he made…
He and Emma were an item a million years ago before Emma left for university and he was just as surprised to see her as she was to see him in series one. The new series kicks off with Sami's wedding, where Emma realises she still harbours strong feelings for him. Will Sami's marriage go ahead?
Claire Butterworth – Kimberley Walsh
Former Girls Aloud singer Kimberley Walsh plays new face Claire Butterworth, Steve's ex and the mother of their son Zak. She told us what she thinks of the role and the troublemaking character.
Explain a little bit about Claire – what was it that attracted you to the part, and what do you think of her?
Claire had an affair with Steve, they were never officially an item but they have a young child together. She is a very fiery, sassy character which made her really fun to play. She’s quite different to any roles I’ve played before.
What’s her relationship with Steve like?
With Steve it’s clear she always wanted something more. She enjoys being a shoulder to cry on and she knows it bothers Mandy.
She enjoys winding Mandy up because Mandy holds all the power when it comes to Steve. I think getting a rise out of her feels like an achievement to Claire.
What was it like filming with Paul Nicholls and Jo Joyner?
Filming with Paul Nicholls was great. He’s a brilliant actor and we both grew up acting as kids on the northern circuit. He was really encouraging and I really enjoyed working with him.
Jo was a real pleasure to work with and she’s also brilliant. It was really fun playing the confrontation scenes out because you really get to see a different side of Mandy which was great. We had fun with it!
What were you like at school? Detention or distinction?
I was more distinction than detention at school but I was really more in the middle. I did what I had to do, tried to have fun while keeping the teachers happy. I was pretty good at talking my way out of trouble!
Episode 2 preview:
Jordan finds himself in charge of a baby that he has to sneak into school. It’s harder to conceal than he anticipated, and he blackmails Steve into helping him out. Unable to return it to its mother a stumped Steve ends up taking Jordan and baby back to his house which causes further issues to his already strained marriage to Mandy, leading her to fall into the ready arms of her boss, Sadiq.
Missy agrees that if Cory sleeps with Nas she’ll sleep with Cory. However she soon discovers Cory has a loose tongue and that the whole school thinks this is an open opportunity. Missy calls the deal off and blows it open to Nas.
Missy and Nas are brought together when Nas is inadvertently drawn into helping Missy recover money that Simone stole. Firm friends again Nas sides with Missy over Alya and confesses to Missy that she’s got a crush on someone Missy doesn’t expect.
Ackley Bridge series two airs on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 8pm.
Catch up on episodes you've missed on BT TV via the All 4 app.