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Social commentary lesson Ackley Bridge gets a C+ at best

Its basic approach is to treat race and everything else with a certain comic jauntiness.

In case you’ve been walking around with a bucket on your head, Ackley Bridge (7 June, 8pm) is Channel 4’s much-trailed new drama about the merging of two comprehensive schools in a fictional Yorkshire mill town. And yes, the publicists have indeed been hard at it, letting us know via tabloid and broadsheet alike that its pedigree could not be finer if it was Matthew Freud’s dog (its creator is Ayub Khan-Din, who wrote East is East), and that the first episode had to be reshot against the clock by its highbrow director, Penny Woolcock (a plotline based around a hoax bomb was deemed to be in bad taste after the 22 May Manchester attack).

According to the TV hacks, Channel 4 has great “confidence” in this “must-see” show: so much so, that it is the first drama series to be screened at 8pm since Brookside was moved to the slot in 2002.

Well, I do not have confidence in it. We’re talking “C+” at best, with a “SEE ME” for its writers. Not knowing what it really wants to be – Comedy? Drama? A nostalgia trip for viewers who were raised on Grange Hill – Ackley Bridge comes off like the bastard child of Shameless and Educating Yorkshire with a dash of Happy Valley thrown in for extra modishness (its topography of dry-stone walls and ginnels is pure Sally Wainwright, and therefore the best thing about it as far as I’m concerned).

It aims to be warm: 8pm is a pre-watershed family slot. But it is also determinedly (dread word) relevant: of the two schools that form the new academy, one served the Asian community and the other the white. Its basic approach, then, is to treat race and everything else with a certain comic jauntiness. It could not be broader if it was Elsie Tanner’s backside.

You don’t have to be Richard Littlejohn to predict that in the beginning the merging of two such schools would, in reality, be quite fraught. All the same, it seemed a bit much that on what was only the first day of term, a lippy student called Jordan immediately tested his new teacher’s political correctness by announcing that his name was actually Abdul, that he was a “revert” to Islam and that, yes, he did intend to wear the hijab he’d satirically fashioned from a sweater. (Oh, get on with your GCSEs, you little pound-shop Chris Morris – as his teacher definitely didn’t say.)

Meanwhile, a white girl called Missy, whose mum is a drug addict, found herself on the wrong side of the catty piety of a group of “nice” Muslim girls; a Muslim member of the school’s support staff revealed that he had spent time in HMP Leeds, perhaps for reasons to do with extremism; and an Asian student announced that she didn’t want to be taught any books by “dead, white men”. Truly, I’ve heaved rucksacks less packed than this.

The school’s daffy English teacher, Emma Keane (Liz White), agreed immediately to this last demand: “I’m with you!” she said, shutting the door on Barry Hines for ever. The staff of the Ackley Bridge academy are, you see, not only sexy and adorable; they’re incompetent, too. Mandy Carter (Jo Joyner), the head teacher, couldn’t discipline a protractor; her hopeless PE teacher husband, Steve Bell (played by Paul Nicholls), has already punched the aforementioned Jordan after the boy revealed that he overheard sir accusing his wife of sleeping with the school’s sponsor, Sadiq Nawaz (Adil Ray).

Meanwhile, Ms Keane has already had to deal with the fallout from the topless pictures she unaccountably keeps on her mobile; images her daughter tweeted by way of punishment for her maternal failings. Quite where such a series takes its weary audience next is anyone’s guess: a bad Ofsted inspection isn’t going to cut it in a realm where St Trinian’s and St Custard’s appear to have collided head on with the Equal Opportunities Commission. One thing is for sure: come the end of term, I do not plan to be anywhere near the staff room.

Speaking of weary, what about House of Cards, now in its fifth, exhausting season? People talk of the ruinous effect of the current White House on the series; but if it is in trouble – and I think it is – the problem lies not with Trump but with its writers, who long ago backed themselves into a cul-de-sac and whose scripts now comprise endless boring process, punctuated with moments of loopy melodrama. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is little more than a parody, a Richard III for people who shop for candlesticks at Pottery Barn.

His wife, Claire (Robin Wright), ceased to be psychologically plausible the moment she fell in love with her husband’s ghostwriter (she thinks he’s Norman Mailer; everyone else recognises him for a bloke who once subbed at Details). As I write, season six has yet to be confirmed. My guess is that the jig is up.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 08 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Election special

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.