Television and cinema from the 1970s to today might look and sound very different without the work of drama teacher Anna Scher, who has died aged 78.

Anna Scher nurtured the talents of scores of screen stars, many of them working class, through her Islington theatre school.

The careers of actors including Kathy Burke, Ray Winstone, Daniel Kaluuya, Gary and Martin Kemp, Brooke Kinsella and Phil Daniels were all boosted by her affordable and inspirational drama teaching.

Black Panther star Kaluuya thanked her in his acceptance speech after winning the 2018 BAFTA rising star award, and Burke tweeted that she was "responsible for hundreds of us having a better life".

Born to Jewish parents in Cork, Ireland in 1944, she started out as an actress, but when her dentist father told her to get a proper job, she worked as a columnist for the Islington Gazette, where the editor gave her 'carte blanche' to write about what she wanted.Hackney Gazette: Anna Scher getting her MBE at Buckingham PalaceAnna Scher getting her MBE at Buckingham Palace (Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images)

But it was when she joined Ecclesbourne Primary School as a teacher in 1968 that she started an extra curricular drama club, attended by a young Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson.

Because many of her early pupils were not fluent readers, she focused on improvisation, backed by a mantra for discipline and professionalism, while never talking down to her often working class students.

The school found success, moving to a council hall in nearby Bentham Court to accommodate the growing numbers. Victoria Willing, who is now a playwright, attended while living in Camden Town with her artist parents Paula Rego and Victor Willing.Hackney Gazette: Anna Scher at the celebration of 46 years since founding her theatre schoolAnna Scher at the celebration of 46 years since founding her theatre school (Image: Archant)

"You went to a hall on an Islington council estate and handed over your 10 pence," she recalled to the Ham&High.

"Ray Winstone and Pauline Quirke were in the serious Friday group but we were in the Wednesday group. I was a bit of a posh Camden girl, but it was very accessible and unstuffy and we'd sit in a circle and try things out. I wrote a silly play when I was 14 and Martin Kemp played a thief called Fingers Kemp."

By 1976 with thousands on the waiting list, she moved to a converted mission hall in Barnsbury Road and established the performing arts school as an independent charity.

Scher once told the Islington Gazette: “Believability is important for improvisation. Once it’s believable, it’s worth it," and her young performers were exceptionally natural actors suited to television work.

Despite the casting directors of Grange Hill and Eastenders coming knocking regularly, she never allowed the children to boast, and remained as proud of the children who did not become stars.Hackney Gazette: Daniel Kaluuya thanked Anna Scher when winning his BAFTA for best newcomer in 2018Daniel Kaluuya thanked Anna Scher when winning his BAFTA for best newcomer in 2018

The Barnsbury resident never forgot her school was rooted in the north London community. She punctuated her lessons with inspirational thoughts by everyone from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Martin Luther King and Gandhi, and taught students to resolve conflicts through communication skills.

"I try to empower children to speak up and give them a voice," she told the Gazette, adding. "An actor has to have the three hums; humility, humanity and humour."

Brooke Kinsella, Nathalie Cassidy, Patsy Palmer, Dexter Fletcher, Linda Robson, Reggie Yates, Jodhi May and director Joe Wright all passed under Scher's tutelage.

When she took time off in 2000 due to a breakdown, she lost control of her school but continued to teach in church halls, with classes still continuing under a former pupil at St Silas Church Pentonville in Penton Street.

Scher also campaigned widely for peace and AIDS awareness, she was granted the freedom of the borough of Islington, awarded an MBE in 2013, and a lifetime achievement award at the National Film Awards in 2018.Hackney Gazette: Former pupil Kathy Burke presented Anna with the Inspirational Woman Award in 2011Former pupil Kathy Burke presented Anna with the Inspirational Woman Award in 2011 (Image: PA)

Her agent Nic Knight wrote on X: "It is with deep sadness that I must report that Anna Scher, the best and kindest drama teacher in the UK for the last 50 years, has passed. Joining her husband, Charles, in a better place to rest. She will be missed but never forgotten."

Kathy Burke wrote on X: "RIP Magnificently mighty and wonderful Anna Scher. Pictured here with partner in crime, the gorgeous Charles Verrall who passed away only last month. These two people were responsible for hundreds of us having a better life. We thank you and love you."

Actor and writer Adam Deacon wrote on X: "So upset to hear that my drama teacher and mentor Anna Scher has sadly passed away. I’m truly heartbroken. I owe everything to this amazing woman.

"She helped me and so many other working-class kids coming from a bad start to not only get a chance to have a shot in the acting industry and change our lives, but also gave us the skills we needed to get by in life.

"Thank you for all the wisdom and resilience you installed in us. You always had the warmest heart and the strongest of morals. You were never judgmental and would go out of your way to help anyone. You’re a legend."

Anna Scher was born on December 26, 1944, and died on November 12, 2023.