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My best teacher

The first play I ever saw from backstage was a school production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, which my mother, Ann, directed. I must have been about nine and I was hooked. I just couldn't understand how these people, who weren't that much older than me, could remember all their lines.

My brother and I, from when we were toddlers, used to put shows on in the garage at home, but the first chance I got to go on a real stage was when I went to Hutton grammar school. Ken Jagger, a very good teacher who used to organise all the school productions, avoided all the old stuffy plays and went for Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound and Peter Shaeffer instead.

My mum and dad were always very encouraging, helping me with lines and ferrying me to and from productions, but it was mum that really helped me. On the first night of one of my early plays, she was driving me to school and we both started to sing "I like a nice cup of tea in the morning", and from then on every first night I take myself to a quiet place and sing the song to myself. Mum apparently does, too. It's my only superstition, but it has to be done.

Although Mum was an English teacher, she never taught me at school, but at home she taught me how to approach work. Whatever the subject, she showed me how to break the work down into manageable chunks, not to try and tackle the whole thing in one go. She taught me always to look for the connections which would make things real and more enjoyable. For example, she approached Latin as if it were a cryptic crossword puzzle. Finding the links between the Latin words and the English: finding the roots. It stopped being a chore and became a discovery.

It worked with other languages, and those huge 19th-century novels. I took German up to A-level, a language she did not speak, but her technique helped me gain a good grade. It is still something I use when I'm faced with a new script to learn - a bit at a time.

However good the teachers were at school, they were never able to give me the time that she had, even when she was marking and preparing for her classes until 11 at night. The notes she made for her O-level pupils were publishable. Your teachers change from year to year but she was there constantly until I was 18, always explaining and encouraging.

I could always ask her those questions which I thought I might get laughed at if I asked in class. Probably the most important thing she taught me was how to enjoy learning and discovering. And that all things are possible. I still see her encouraging her grandchildren in the same way.

Both Mum and Dad were very supportive when I chose to study drama at Manchester. I think they would both have been relieved if I'd have chosen something more stable, but they never tried to persuade me against acting. I think they realised that if, when I was 12, I was willing to put on a dress to play a woman in front of rugby-playing schoolboys, I must be serious.

My mum taught me most when I was a child, she has never been a critic of my acting. The only thing she ever said that was even slightly critical was after she saw me playing a Nazi officer in the TV play Christabel. My haircut was very severe and in one shot, taken over my shoulder, my ears just about filled the screen. When she rang to tell me what she thought, she said my ears had not spoilt it for her "too much".

Actor Philip Bretherton was talking to Alison Shepherd


1955 Born in Preston, Lancashire

1966 Hutton grammar school, Preston

1973 University of Manchester

1977 Tours Europe with London's Cherub Company

1980 Tours Germany as Brad in The Rocky Horror Show

1982 First television role with Leslie Ash in Balance of Nature

1992 First series of When Time Goes By

1998 BBC2 series Holding On followed by Real Women on BBC1

2000 Joan of Arc, Birmingham Rep. Joins cast of BBC1's Casualty as Dr

Andrew Bower

2002 Plays Earl Park's manager Stefan Hauser in ITV's Footballers' Wives

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