Islington People: Renowned drama teacher Anna Scher
The BBC’s producers must have had Anna Scher on speed dial for years.
Her famous theatre school always seemed to be the first port of call for the makers of much-loved shows such as EastEnders and Grange Hill.
Its roll call of graduates includes Martin Kemp, Sid Owen, Brooke Kinsella, Dexter Fletcher and Kathy Burke, to name just a handful.
But despite launching so many TV and film careers, Scher, who has just been honoured at the Women in Film and Television awards, is just as proud of the students who did not go on to find fame.
She said: “It’s lovely to see the successes of my pupils who are acting. But a lot of them go into nursing, teaching and other jobs, and that makes me just as proud. Not everybody wants to be an actor.”
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Scher, who lives in Matilda Street, Barnsbury, was presented the Skillset Inspirational Women Award by one of her former pupils, actress and comic Kathy Burke, at a glitzy ceremony hosted by Miranda Hart on Friday, December 2.
“It was a lovely surprise, a pleasure and a privilege to receive it,” she said. “The fact it was presented by Kathy Burke was the icing on the cake.”
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Asked why she feels she was given the award, she said: “I have taught from Islington to Israel, South Africa, Rwanda and India – in war torn and poor places all over the world – and run aids awareness workshops in Zimbabwe. Maybe that was something to do with it. I try to empower children to speak up and help give them a voice.”
It is more than 40 years since she started an after-school club at Ecclesbourne Primary School in Ecclesbourne Road, Islington. Birds of a Feather stars Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke were among the children who turned up to the first class in 1968. The drama school has since had homes in Barnsbury Road and now St Silas Church in Penton Street.
She puts much of her success down to her emphasis on improvisation. “The most important thing for an actor is believability,” she said. “People say they can spot an Anna Scher actor because they are so natural, and I’m sure they get that from improvisation. An actor also needs to have the three ‘hums’: humanity, humility and humour.”
As well as inspiring generations of Islington’s youngsters, she has faced difficult times including a long battle with depression, which led her to lose control of the original theatre school and forced her to refound it. Reflecting on what inspires her, she revealed her biggest hero is not an actor, but Martin Luther King, whose late daughter Yolanda King once visited the school. She said: “She came and we played the ‘I have a dream’ speech and walked through the theatre to his voice. It was the most joyous moment in my life.”