An Irish-Jewish woman catapulted hundreds of talented working class youngsters into superstardom after nurturing them at her modest drama school in north London.
The Anna Scher Theatre, which started as a drama club in 1968, was created to help get children off the streets. Soon, there were classes of more than 70, some as young as six-years-old, paying 10p a session.
Many were working class with little intention of becoming actors or famous, but industry legend Anna Scher, who passed away on November 12 aged 78, helped them to become some of the UK’s biggest names in TV and film.
Among Scher’s renowned list of well-known alumni are Kathy Burke, Martin and Gary Kemp, Patsy Palmer, Linda Robson and Adam Deacon.
Oscar-winning star Daniel Kaluuya is another glittering graduate, and thanked Scher in his acceptance speech after winning the Rising Star Bafta in 2018.
The Anna Scher Theatre was dedicated to helping the working class and launched the careers of various famous actors (Scher, middle, pictured among children at the school in 1977)
Many were working class with little intention of becoming actors or famous, but industry legend Anna Scher, who passed away on November 12 aged 78, helped them to become some of the UK’s biggest names in TV and film
Patsy Palmer attended the famous school. Her first on screen appearance was on the TV series ‘The Gentle Touch’ before going on to have a successful career, most notably playing Bianca Jackson in Eastenders
Following Scher’s death, some of these famous names paid tribute to the icon, crediting her for their success.
Which famous names attended the drama school?
Kathy Burke, Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson, Martin Kemp, Natalie Cassidy, Patsy Palmer, Sid Owen, Jake Wood, Reggie Yates, Daniel Kaluuya, Brooke Kinsella and Adam Deacon.
Kathy Burke wrote on social media that the ‘magnificently mighty’ and ‘wonderful’ Scher, along with her late husband, were ‘responsible for 100s of us having a better life’.
Another student, EastEnders star Natalie Cassidy, 40, who paid pocket money for Anna’s tuition, said she will always feel grateful.
‘For three hours a week I felt like I mattered, along with everybody else in the room,’ she told the Mirror. ‘Anna took me under her wing, and was stern, but kind.
‘She saw something within this funny looking little eight-year-old that no one else did. Without Anna Scher I wouldn’t be where I am.
‘Anna’s kids have something others don’t. It’s a raw, “I am who I am, I’m nothing special but I’ll give it a go”. We don’t have airs or graces. We are very grateful and thankful.’
Fellow Albert Square star Patsy Palmer, 51, felt the same. ‘Most of us kids would’ve never had the opportunity to be actors or writers,’ she wrote in her tribute. ‘She gave us that.’
Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya is another from the coveted list, and thanked Scher in his acceptance speech after winning the rising star Bafta in 2018
Actor and rapper Adam Deacon catapulted to success after starting out at Scher’s school
Linda Robson is best known for playing Tracey Stubbs in the sitcom Birds of a Feather and her appearances as a weekly panellist on the ITV series Loose Women
Zawe Ashton rose to fame as an actress and playwright (pictured left in 2006 and right in 2003)
Kathy Burke (pictured left in 1983) wrote that the ‘magnificently mighty’ and ‘wonderful’ Scher (pictured right, with Kathy) along with her late husband, were ‘responsible for 100s of us having a better life’
Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, 64, who attended with brother Martin said he was also given unique support.
‘She gave so many local Islington kids an opportunity not just to act in TV, film and theatre, but to discover what was great about themselves,’ he said.
‘Her method was praise framed by good ethics, professionalism and punctuality. Children bereft of compliments and self-belief were changed, lifted by her belief in the poetry of the arts and the power of goodwill.’
Scher was born on 26 December 1944 in Cork to Irish Jewish parents Eric, of Lithuanian-Jewish descent and Claire.
Life was upended for her on June 15, 1959, when the family left Cork for good, sailing for Fishguard on the Innisfallen.
Her father had decided that there were insufficient Jewish boys in Cork and that his daughters would stand a better chance of finding a match in Hove, East Sussex.
She later won a place at Hove Grammar School and then begun taking classes at Brighton School of Music and Art, but her father Eric was not pleased.
In time she reached a compromise with her father and trained as a teacher at Trent Park College of Education (now part of Middlesex University) before starting work at Ecclesbourne Junior School, in Islington, where she worked with children whose first language was not English.
She inevitably found her way back to drama and by 1968 was taking lunchtime classes in the school library. In 1970 after being handed an ultimatum to cut the classes or leave, she moved her classes to a council hall across the road.
Scher received an MBE in 2013 and was given a lifetime achievement award at the National Film awards in 2018
She prided herself on a philosophy of promoting love, peace and understanding at her north London school
The classes quickly spiralled to 70 pupils paying 10p a session. Ages ranged from six to 60s. There ‘is no upper age limit’, she said.
Scher didn’t hold auditions, but had a waiting list that once stretched to 5,000 and pushed her students to be their best, without focus on fame or fortune.
‘We do not tolerate hubristic behaviour here,’ she told a class in the Nineties.
‘Being an actor is just a job. Compared to being a midwife, it is really nothing and you should all remember that.’
She prided herself on a philosophy of promoting love, peace and understanding.
Her heroes were Anne Frank and Winston Churchill.
After setting up her drama school, she would incorporate them into her lessons and begin with a ‘Winston’ word on the whiteboard for students to read and understand.
She received an MBE in 2013 and was given a lifetime achievement award at the National Film awards in 2018.