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TRUE GRIT: Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge Tackles Anti-Gypsy Racism and Muslim Homophobia

CHANNEL 4 seems to have gone back to its disruptive roots and is tackling controversial social issues such as Anti-Gay Muslims and racism against Travellers in gritty school drama Ackley Bridge. 

The latest series of the homegrown drama produced by production company The Forge has temporarily replaced The Simpsons at 6pm on weeknights for the next two weeks. 

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The pre-watershed family-friendly slot doesn’t mean the show has shied away from trying to tackle some of Britain’s controversial social issues such as poverty, race relations and rampant homophobia within closed communities – all in a ‘non woke’ non politically correct way. 

The show never makes an attempt to preach to viewers, but simply showcases life as it is in multi-cultural working-class towns and cities across Britain in the 2020s – and the result is one of the grittiest dramas since the early days of Grange Hill, EastEnders and Brookside mixed in with all the melodrama of an episode of Hollyoaks

One of the new leading characters in Ackley Bridge is Romany Gypsy Johnny Cooper, played by Disney favourite Ryan Dean – who succeeds in unveiling the little-known side of Gypsy life – and leaves viewers realising that no matter your race, creed or ethnicity – we all share the same prejudice, challenges in life.  

Disney star Ryan Dean plays Johnny Cooper in hit show Ackley Bridge – CREDIT: Channel 4 Press 

Ackley features a true to life Gypsy funeral, a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, plenty of boxing and tells harsh realities of taboo relationships between Romany Gypsies and Gorja’s [Non-Travelling people], in a similar struggle faced by young white Brits and Blacks in the late 20th century. 

Channel 4 has even won recognition from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller activists who say the programme is “an accurate portrayal of Romany Gypsies”. 

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CREDIT: Channel 4 Press 

The praise will be welcome news for Channel 4 – who fell foul of the Travelling community in 2020 after airing a controversial Dispatches documentary: “The Truth About Traveller Crime” that caused a race storm and led to over 7,000 complaints to media regulator Ofcom. 

Traveller journalist and campaigner Ruby-Leigh Smith told The Travellers Times: “I was apprehensive, After watching Dispatches, I had been very angry at Channel 4, and had no doubt that they would make another whopping fail at showing the good side to a community which is portrayed negatively in almost every show made about them, but within the first ten minutes of episode one, I was proved wrong.”

CREDIT: Channel 4 Press 

“The fact that he recited several acts and laws which meant that he and his family had a right to stop on school property was, I believe, genius.”

“It seems that Channel 4 may be trying to make amends for previous fails and that is something which I think every media outlet should do when pulled up on their racism.” 

The show is not going unnoticed by younger viewers either. It’s currently the biggest show of the year on All 4 for the highly sought after 16-24 market and it has millions of hits on youth social media platform TikTok. 

Head of Channel 4 drama Caroline Hollick said: “Confronting stereotypes is a touchstone for Ackley, both now and in the past three seasons, and the inclusion of Johnny and his family is the latest in a long line of story arcs, developed with advisors, that aims to highlight and challenge discrimination against different communities.”

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“Johnny comes from the Romany Gypsy community, a group which often faces extreme prejudice and negative portrayals.”

“We’re excited that our new leading man is so multi-faceted, and we’ve loved bringing Johnny and his family to the screen in a way that positively challenges perceptions across the series.” 

Ackley Bridge airs weeknights at 6pm on Channel 4 and all episodes are available to stream on All4. 


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