tue 26/10/2021

Waterloo Road, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Waterloo Road, BBC One

Waterloo Road, BBC One

School drama returns with a tough new head and secrets galore

'Waterloo Road': New head (Amanda Burton) doesn't know her deputy (William Ash) has already become acquainted with her teenage daughter

New viewers begin here: even if you know nothing of the previous five series of Waterloo Road, you could start to enjoy the drama set in a failing comprehensive in Greater Manchester with the opener to series six, as the writers have rather winningly taken the precaution of barely mentioning anything that went on in previous years - not even the teen suicide pact that ended series five.

And, as with many a failing school, some of last term’s teachers have departed (also unmentioned), including those played by Denise Welch and Angela Griffin, but back comes former Waterloo Road pupil Janeece (Chelsee Healey), now up the duff and, defying our belief, she's the new school secretary.

The main addition to the cast is new head teacher Karen Fisher, played by Amanda Burton, without whom no soapy drama on British television, from Silent Witness to The Commander, is nowadays complete. But Burton has a large army of fans, and will bring in some new viewers as the no-nonsense and ambitious Fisher, who on her first day tells the pupils she’s instituting a tough three-strikes-and-you’re-out disciplinary code. But she harbours A Dark Secret, neatly alluded to in a brief flashback early in the programme - which we later learn, after a few teasing false trails, is that her eldest daughter has left home and has no contact with her.

An action-packed hour had two more newbies, Jonah and Ruth Kirby, a brother and sister previously home-schooled and with a father who rails against “the system” at every opportunity. Proto-genius Ruth is played to maximum teenage belligerence by Anna Jobarteh, while Jonah is rather more subtly drawn by Lucien Laviscount. He’s one to watch, as on his first day he upbraids Fisher’s younger daughter, Jess (Linzey Cocker), when she humiliates her younger brother in front of his new classmates. The previous night Jess, a sixth-former, had bedded her mum’s deputy, Chris Mead (William Ash), after meeting him at a club without either of them knowing who the other was. She’s a scheming minx, no doubting, and this looks to be a rather juicy love triangle in the making.

Ruth tried to get herself expelled by being lippy with the teachers, winding up her classmates and finally walking out of the school to go back to her dad. But in the timeframe that only TV dramas can manage, he had left the house (bang in the middle of a deserted moor, how convenient for the storyline) and put it up for sale. and she ended up trekking across the wind-swept gorse in howling rain. Cue for all the teachers, even morbidly cussed Grantly Budgen (Phillip Martin Brown) and terminally negative Ruby Fry (Elizabeth Berrington) to jump in their cars after a hard day at school to join the search to find Ruth.

Waterloo Road was co-created by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus (herself a former secondary school teacher) and, as ever with anything made by Shed Productions - who gave us the late, lamented dramas Bad Girls (set in a women’s prison) and Footballers’ Wives (how prescient were they to foresee the age of the Wag) - it has more than its fair share of murders, fires, inappropriate sex, etc. But by golly do they know how to make a drama series hang together. Teacher friends of mine are hooked on Waterloo Road because they love pointing out the things that would never happen in a real school (although are secretly rather pleased that most of the teachers are so good-looking and sexually active), while teenage members of my circle love it too - teachers making prats of themselves are always good for a laugh, after all.

Because of its setting, Waterloo Road will never, could never, reach the camp heights of previous Shed output, but it’s a solid hour of melodrama each week none the less, and the addition of a few more new characters over coming weeks looks promising.

Teacher friends of mine are secretly rather pleased that most of the teachers are good-looking and sexually active

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