Anna Scher: She Launched Many An EastEnder
By Larry Jaffee
Researching the backgrounds of EastEnders actors, especially those
younger than 50, one name keeps popping up: Anna Scher.
Her acting school in the London neighborhood of Islington provided
training for numerous young thespians, many of whom ended up walking
the cobblestones of Albert Square.
Here are just some of the names: Susan Tully (Michelle Fowler);
Sid Owen (Ricky Butcher); Gillian Taylforth (Kathy Beale); Adam
Woodyatt (Ian Beale); Patsy Palmer (Bianca Jackson) James Alexandrou
(Martin Fowler); Natalie Cassidy (Sonia Jackson); Martin Kemp (Steve
Owen); Sylvester Williams (Mick McFarlane); Troy Titus-Adams (Nina
Harris); Brooke Kinsella (Kelly Taylor); Judith Jacob (Carmel
Jackson); as well some of the more recent, such as Phil Daniels (Kevin
Wicks) and Jake Wood (Max Branning). It's a virtual who's who.
Reached by telephone by the Walford Gazette, Scher is humbled by
the success of her former students, some of whom she still is
regularly in touch, such as Taylforth, an Islington resident. "We
recently had a reunion drink," says Scher, who notes that she's no
longer associated with the school that long bore her name and she ran
for 35 years.
Scher was ousted from the school in 2000, following a breakdown.
But four years later she resurfaced with a new drama programme, dubbed
"Anna in Exile," for youngsters set up in a church a few streets away.
Her old school, which also grew into quite a successful talent
agency, has been re-christened as The Young Actors Theatre.
Although she started out herself as an actress, Scher realised
that she received much more enjoyment being a teacher, and launched
the school in 1968.
"Improvisation is a staple of the work," she explains, as to why
her young students have gone onto greater things. "It produces very
Scher remembers when EastEnders began in 1985, the producers sent
around to her school casting agents to observe the classes to find new
"Sometimes they would like someone, but it was not quite the
right fit for the part they had, so they'd write a part," she adds.
"They would watch the actors, and several people made it," she says.
For example, Cassidy immediately impressed all who saw her as a
'YP' (young professional), even as a 'tween (she was 11 when she made
her EastEnders' debut). "We called her a 'second Kathy Burke,'"
reminisces Scher, referring to the highly regarded British actress.
"Everyone thought, What a fantastic girl!"
Since the 1970s, some of the young actors who were discovered at
Anna Scher ended up in Grange Hill, the BBC kids programme, whose
alumni includes Todd Carty (Mark Fowler) and Tully. "That was the
first generation," Scher looks back on those years fondly.
Tully told the Walford Gazette in 1995 that she "used to pay
Scher 50 pence per lesson to study acting,"and that she was still in
touch with her former teacher.
Young actors must realise that success is hard to achieve, Scher
emphasizes, and she urges them to have "other qualifications to earn a
While Taylforth studied at the Anna Scher Theatre School, she
also worked as a secretary before being cast on EastEnders.
Patsy Palmer told the Walford Gazette in 1995 that Scher herself
told her she won the part of Bianca. "The school is a brilliant place
for young people to learn about acting. Anna is a wonderful person and
the school is an excellent place for kids to really use their emotions
and imaginations. It doesn't push them into a career. In fact, the
kids there are not allowed to do commercials until they are sixteen.
Pretty good policy, I think. Commercials can make kids a bit to
spoiled and rich before their time."
In the book EastEnders: The Inside Story, two pages are devoted to
how series co-founders Julia Smith and Tony Holland visited the school
on 13 July 1984 to find some talent for the cast. (The series debuted
19 Feb. 1985.)
"The Anna Scher Theatre is in North London. Anna is a pushy, vital
Irish woman who takes her adrenalin neat. Unlike a lot of drama
schools, where the students are admitted, ironed out and then sent to
the outside world as 'actor' all looking and sound like one another,
Anna's school cashes in on what the students already have, themselves.
She doesn't flatten their personalities or accents even. On the
contrary, she encourages them to use them. Her students aren't taught
how to act, they're helped to dig in themselves and be. Just the sort
of non-acting acting that we were looking for. Every so often the
school has an 'open evening'. Julia and Tony had been invited to
attend such an evening. They invariably start with a warm-up session
that consists of a lot of hand-clapping and a sing-along, during which
the audience is encouraged to participate. Then the class split into
groups, and various improvisations are staged.
"Not all the participants in the class are new. Frequently old
students will drop by just to keep their hand in. On the night that
Julia and Tony were there, Judith Jacob had been as good as ever.
Susan Tully had been very impressive. Natural and unaffected, she had
expressed hidden depths of emotion inside herself. There was a third
person who had caught their attention. Gillian Taylforth, a stunningly
attractive blonde, slightly older than most of the others. But it
wasn't her looks, or the range of her acting skills that had drawn
them to her. It was her voice."
Martin and Gary Kemp thought so highly of Scher, based on the
eight years of training they received from her when they were kids,
that they went back to her for private lessons for a few months after
they were already cast to play the Kray brothers in a feature film.
Remembers Martin Kemp in his autobiography True, "I walked out of
Anna's that first day with mixed feelings of excitement and
fulfillment that I hadn't felt in years.... She taught me important
lessons for life. Her big saying was never forget your three
P's—Professional, Punctuality, and Point of Focus."
Losing The School
A 2004 article in The Guardian detailed the "Kafkaesque"
situation in which she warned to not use her own name for any rival
acting programme she might be considering.
According to the article, Scher was not offered her job back, but
in September 2002 she was invited to return to the school to teach two
classes a week. The following December she was offered the opportunity
to continue to teach if she agreed to an 86-point plan from the new
Among her objections, according to The Guardian, was this
stipulation: "The method of delivering the drama is to be controlled
by the director under the overall authority of the trustees. The
content of classes must follow the object of the charity, namely
education through drama for young people. Classes cannot be used as
blackboards to advance issues such as peace studies, discrimination
studies, or the like."
Scher was steadfast to not do anything different from how she'd
always done things. "I said, 'No way, read my lips, there is no way
I'm going to sign this.'"
The training that Williams received while a student at Anna Scher
inspired him to start his own acting school in 2001, Characters (see
page 8), as he explains on his website.
"I wanted to create something that had the feel of a club, but
the qualities of any well renowned Drama School, like for instance,
Anna Scher's Theatre, was a club, but had the discipline and
educational value of a good school."
Since leaving EastEnders, Williams has taken active steps to
regenerate inner city London by starting a drama school and an actor's
agency that encourages arts and positive creative action in deprived
areas that has also extended to other cities around England.
"Anna would take kids off the street. Her legacy could never
really be forgotten," Williams sums up.
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