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'Ackley Bridge' star Jo Joyner: 'Mandy's off to pastures new!'

Ackley Bridge Mandy Carter
Jo Joyner as Mandy in Ackley Bridge. (Image credit: Channel 4)

It’s back to school as Jo Joyner as Mandy in Ackley Bridge Season 4 throws open its doors for a brand-new term — but it’s all-change for the diverse Yorkshire comprehensive school. 

The C4 drama will now air in an earlier time slot every weeknight, as 30-minute episodes, rather than the previous hour-long instalments. And there are four new students causing a stir at Ackley Bridge…

Like every young woman, mixed-race pupil Kayla (Robyn Cara) has body hang-ups. Meanwhile, her best friend Fizza (Yasmin Al Khudhairi) finds herself torn between her bigoted mum and drag queen dad. Tahir (Shobhit Piasa) is the smooth-talking nephew of dinner lady-turned-head of student support, Kaneez Paracha (Sunetra Sarker), and Johnny (Ryan Dean) is a confident member of the Romany Gypsy community, who makes quite the entrance when he arrives at the school on horseback!

Ackley Bridge Kayla Fizza Johnny

Making waves (L-R): New pupils Kayla, Fizza and Johnny. (Image credit: Channel 4)

Meanwhile, in the staffroom, Mandy Carter (Jo Joyner) seems happy to be handing her role of headteacher over to deputy, Martin Evershed (Rob James-Collier). However, Mandy ends up making a BIG decision about her future, when she reveals she’s LEAVING Ackley Bridge! We chatted to actress Jo, 43, to find out more…

What do characters like new boy Johnny bring to Ackley Bridge?

Ackley Bridge has always been about looking at different cultures, finding the similarities and celebrating the differences. Johnny comes from a section of society that can be misunderstood and face prejudice, so we’re challenging and exploring that.”

What headspace is Mandy in when we see her this series?

“Mandy comes back from having a baby with this new drive. She misses being among the students and just wants to teach, so Martin Evershed takes over as head teacher. However, having previously been head herself, Mandy can’t quite let it go and keeps interfering in his authority. That makes her realise she needs to be in charge.”

Ackley Bridge Mandy Carter Jo Joyner

Pastures new: Mandy begins to consider what life could be like away from Ackley Bridge (Image credit: Channel 4)

So what makes Mandy decide to quit? And are you pleased with her exit?

“Mandy ends up feeling like her work at Ackley Bridge is done and that she’s not really needed there anymore. She’s helped unite the community and she’s kept the school going but now she wants a new mission. So she’s off to pastures new… and they are REALLY new! I gave the producers plenty of notice I wanted to leave because I wanted them to do something with it. It is a very gentle exit but at least it feels like Mandy’s going forwards — not backwards!”

There’s a lovely scene in your final episode between Mandy and Kaneez — was that nice to film because you and Sunetra are such good friends?

“Yeah, it was definitely more poignant because I’ve known Sunetra for over 20 years. In that scene, Mandy’s anxious about leaving, but Kaneez thanks Mandy for believing in her and for spotting her potential to do more than just work in the canteen, and is excited at the thought of her doing that for others. It’s a lovely speech and very moving. Due to Covid, I couldn’t have a leaving party — but because I was in a bubble with Sunetra she gave me a goodbye hug from every person on the team!”

Ackley Bridge Kaneez Sunetra Sarker

Forever friends: Jo was sad to say goodbye to Sunetra Sarker, who plays Kaneez in Ackley Bridge. (Image credit: Channel 4)

What have you got coming up next?

“I am currently shooting Harlan Coben’s latest Netflix thriller, Stay Close, then I’m hopefully filming more Shakespeare & Hathaway. Myself and Mark Benton laugh our way through that job and we were gutted not to be able to bring people more of that last September. I would never say never to going back to a long-running drama but I like the variety and freedom of doing lots of different things. I’d like to play someone REALLY evil!”

Ackley Bridge starts on Monday April 19 at 6pm on Channel 4.