Anna Scher's maverick drama school in north London

For 50 years Anna Scher has taught acting to north London children, with many, such as Kathy Burke, Daniel Kaluuya and Adam Deacon, becoming household names. Scher is celebrating her 50th year teaching drama. In that time, she has created numerous stars, given hope and purpose to kids who had none, started her own theatre, seen it taken away from her, had a traumatic breakdown and fought her way back to good health and standing. At 73, she is once again thriving and getting the recognition she deserves.

Scher started out as a primary school teacher working with children whose first language was not English. In lunch breaks and after school she started a drama class in the school library. In 1970 it moved to a council hall across the road. Actor Linda Robson went to the drama class with her schoolfriend and future Birds of a Feather co-star Pauline Quirke. “None of us really wanted to be actors,” says Robson. “It was like a youth club. The pensioners used to play bingo after the drama class, so when we were doing our class all the old girls used to be chatting all the way through it.” In 1975, Scher took over an old church in Islington, which was renamed the Anna Scher theatre and established as a charity.

Former students say they didn’t simply learn about acting; they learned values. Conflict resolution has always been part of Scher’s curriculum, for example. “More than just giving me a career or direction in life, she gave me a moral compass,” Wood says. “She’d teach you about Mahatma Gandhi and you’d learn respect for others. Over time, by osmosis, all these things would become part of you.”

In 2000, Scher fell into a deep depression and had a breakdown. She took leave from the theatre. Two years later she was given a clean bill of health and said she was ready to return. Impossible, the board of trustees told her. They had appointed a full-time principal to replace her. Today, Scher teaches from a hall in a nearby church. Empson recently attended a party there to celebrate Scher’s half-century of teaching.