Bell rings on new Halifax-filmed drama Ackley Bridge

Happy Valley. Last Tango in Halifax. The Moorside. Calderdale and Halifax are fast-becoming filming hotspots for the small screen.

(L-R) Sami Quereshi (Arsher Ali), Alya (Maariah Hussain), Steve Bell (Paul Nicholls), Sadiq Quereshi (Adil Ray), Emma Keane (Liz White), Cory (Sam Retford), Missy (Poppy Lee Friar), Nasreen (Amy Leigh Hickman), Kaneeze Paracha (Sunetra Sarker), Mandy Cater (Jo Joyner). Credit: Matt Squire

And new drama Ackley Bridge is likely to cement its place as a ‘go to’ destination for film and television crews.

Shot in Halifax, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for location spotting when the Channel 4 8pm drama hits screens next month.

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It tells the story of fictional Yorkshire mill town Ackley Bridge, which is home to largely divided white and Asian populations.

Sam Retford as Cory Wilson. Credit: Matt Squire

Like the communities, the school systems have also become segregated and the drama sees two formerly isolated comprehensives merged into a brand new academy.

The teens’ lives and cultures are set to be thrown into turmoil as the pupils adjust to their new school mates and way of life. The former St Catherine’s High School, Holmfield, was transformed into Ackley Bridge College for the series, which was also used for Henry Winkler’s (The Fonz) children’s television series Hank Zipzer.

Speaking about filming the drama in Halifax, producer Alex Lamb, who has also worked on EastEnders and Waterloo Road, said: “Halifax has such potential as a place to film, because it has such a rich architecture and different parts of the town look and feel different.

“We were able to make Ackley Bridge feel like a really rich, interesting town because Halifax has that too.”

Maariah Hussain as Alya Naraz and Nohail Nazir Mohammed as Riz Nawaz. Credit: Matt Squire

Not only was the drama filmed in Halifax, but young people from in and around the area were scouted for the six-part series. Pupils from Trinity Academy, North Halifax Grammar School, Crossley Heath School and Calderdale College star in the show.

Doing so was an important part of creating the authentic feel of Ackley Bridge, says Alex.

“What you see on screen is totally testament to it,” he said. “If we had just landed from London and brought up a load of kids from London, I just don’t think you would have had any authenticity and the real Yorkshire flavour - you wouldn’t have the really raw kids. What’s really interesting is that a lot of our kids who are in the show have experienced either 100 per cent Asian schools, or 100 per cent white schools, so they were already coming with a prior knowledge of what the show is about. I’m really, really proud of it, but it’s a testimony to everyone working together in the community.”

Nohail Nazir Mohammed, a pupil at Trinity Academy, plays Riz Nawaz and the drama follows the friendship between him and ‘school player’ Cory Wilson (Sam Retford) amid the chaos of the school merger and the meeting of different cultures.

Sam Retford as Cory Wilson and Nohail Nazir Mohammed as Riz Nawaz. Credit: Matt Squire

It’s Nohail’s first acting job. He initially went for a role as an extra, but after four auditions got a call saying had been chosen to play Riz, one of the show’s central characters.

He said: “This sort of series does sort of hit the nail on the head of how life is like nowadays. I think it is pretty up-to-date with what is going on now.”

Nohail is now hoping to get an agent and pursue his acting career further.

Emily Pyzer, 17, who is also a Trinity Academy student and has a role in the show, said: “I’ve watched it twice and both times, I thought it was incredible.

A scene from episode one. Credit: Matt Squire

“I think they have got the balance so well between funny and quite dramatic. I think that’s really clever.

“To have something up North and in this town, it brings it together and I like that.”All my family are excited to see it.”

While an air date has not yet been confirmed, it’s thought Ackley Bridge will hit screens in early June.

Who’s who?

The six-part series is created by Ayub Khan Din (East is East) Kevin Erlis and Malcom Campbell (Shameless).

It stars Jo Joyner (Ordinary Lies, EastEnders) as head teacher Mandy Carter, Paul Nicholls (The C Word, Law and Order, EastEnders) as PE teacher and Mandy’s husband Steve Bell, Sunetra Sarker (Casualty, Emmerdale) as no-nonsense dinner lady Kaneez Paracha and Adil Ray (Citizen Khan) as businessman Sadiq Nawaz.

Sam Retford as Cory Wilson. Credit: Matt Squire

What to expect from the first episode

Episode one opens with the first day at the newly-integrated Ackley Bridge College. Best friends and neighbours Missy (Poppy Lee Friar) and Nas (Amy-Leigh Hickman) are now attending the same school for the very first time. N

Nas’ more conservative school friends take against Missy, but when Nas sides with her school friends, Missy decides to play dangerous liaisons.

Meanwhile, English teacher Emma Keane (Liz White) gets the surprise of her life when she finds out that she’ll be working with ex-boyfriend Sami (Arsher Ali).

She then gets a further surprise when her 15-year-old daughter Chloe bursts into her classroom drunk, having caught an Uber taxi from London.

Elsewhere Head teacher Mandy has problems of her own and puts her husband, PE teacher Ste, in charge of troubled pupil Jordan, but Jordan might prove too much for him to handle - especially when he points out how close Mandy’s getting to school sponsor Sadiq Nawaz.

Maariah Hussain as Alya Naraz and Nohail Nazir Mohammed as Riz Nawaz. Credit: Matt Squire
Sam Retford as Cory Wilson and Nohail Nazir Mohammed as Riz Nawaz. Credit: Matt Squire
A scene from episode one. Credit: Matt Squire