This April we return to Ackley Bridge and there will be some brand-new faces. Robyn Cara (Life, Hounslow Diaries) plays funny, mixed race pupil Kayla, torn between her white Mum’s family and her traditional Pakistani Dad’s family; her best friend Fizza, played by Yasmin Al Khudhairi (Hilda) is a fiercely intelligent, fist-in-the-air firebrand; and Ryan Dean (The Gentleman, Penny on M.A.R.S.) takes the role of Johnny, a cocky, good looking member of the traveller community who is deeply suspicious of school, and who catches the eye of both Kayla and Fizza.
Further new pupils including Marina, Kayla’s ‘mean girl’ sister, played by Carla Woodcock (Free Rein Pandora) and Tahir, played by Shobhit Piasa (Londonstani), the smooth talking billy-liar nephew of Kaneez, whose salesman’s patter hides a family secret. Conor McIntyre (Coronation Street) guest stars as Johnny’s Grandad.
They join the returning cast including Sunetra Sarker (Kaneez Paracha), Rob James Collier (Martin Evershed), Jo Joyner (Mandy Carter), Charlie Hardwick (Sue Carp), Tony Jayawardeena (Rashid Hyatt), Fern Deacon (Chloe Voyle), Phoebe Tuffs-Berry (Rukhsana Ibrahim), Cody Ryan (Hayley Booth), Nazmeen Kauser (Razia Paracha) and Zara Salim (Spud Gartside).
This new series of Ackley Bridge will air as 10x30’ episodes, stripped across two weeks from 19th April 2021 at 6pm. Ackley has been nominated for Drama Series at the 2020 RTS Awards and has won Best Drama, Best Actor, Best Director Fiction and Best Music and Use of Music at the RTS Yorkshire Awards.
Inspired by real-life Lancashire and Yorkshire schools established to integrate the white and Asian communities in some of the most divided towns in the country, Ackley Bridge has won praise across its previous three series for tackling real-life situations and issues in an irreverent, insightful way, with humour and punchy, big hearted stories.
Ackley Bridge series four is produced by The Forge and was filmed in Halifax with Covid-secure measures in place. Executive Producers are George Ormond (National Treasure, Kiri), George Faber (National Treasure, Shameless), Ayub Khan Din (East is East) and Caroline Cooper Charles for Screen Yorkshire, who are supporting the series. Rosalie Carew is the producer, and Joe Stephenson and Ethosheia Hylton direct.
In an interview with BroadcastNow.co.uk, Ackley Bridge executive producer George Ormond has discussed the measures put in place to prevent the spread of Coronavirus on set in Halifax. Ormond said that the availability and structure of their on site Covid-19 swab testing regime had been a "gamechanger" for getting series four of Ackley back on track.
Cast members have been organised into four bubbles, with scripts divided into scenes that can be recorded with social distancing, and those where physical contact is required. For the latter scenes, the four groups will work on rotation. Should a test for Coronavirus come back positive, one of the groups can be swapped out for another and production can continue.
Although the testing advancements were praised by George Ormond, he stressed that they are "really comfortable", adding: "we don't want to put our cast through that all the time. Every single interaction, both on- and off-screen, has been compromised by Covid, but no major storylines have been abandoned."
For the first time, sets have been built inside of the former St. Catherine's Catholic High School in Holmfield, Halifax, which doubles as Ackley Bridge. This is to prevent cast and crew having to enter exterior locations, such as the schoolchildren's homes, which were previously filmed on location.
George Ormond also said that “significant” additional costs had been incurred due to an extra week of filming and employing a testing manager but that Channel 4 had been “incredibly supportive” and provided almost all the additional funds. He is confident that the show could continue filming if Halifax were to enter a local lockdown, akin to those that have recently inflicted Greater Manchester and Leicester.
Ormond hailed the scripted community’s collaborative approach to getting filming back under way; “we have pooled our knowledge to come up with solutions,” he added. “We were really proud of the scripts and were dedicated to maintaining the ambition of the show.”