My best teacher - Phil Daniels

A drama club teacher introduced the `Quadrophenia' star to the power of improv

Tes Editorial

I didn't enjoy school. My mind wasn't on it. I didn't like maths - neither did we have very good maths teachers. I liked things like social studies and geography. I liked history, but all that war history seemed to be a bit of a lie. So in class, I talked and played truant quite a bit.

I went to Argyle Primary School in King's Cross, north London. My secondary was called Rutherford Comprehensive, which was in Bells Street, off Edgware Road, Marylebone. It was an all-boys school and it was quite oppressive.

My favourite teacher did not come from my school. She was my drama teacher from an after-school drama club I started going to when I was 13. It was the Anna Scher Theatre School and I went twice a week.

In the school holidays, Camden Council employed Anna to go around the empty schools to do theatre and education. One day I went along with a mate of mine to collect his sister from a class. We sat at the back and tried to take the mickey. Anna was too wise for us and got us involved. I was hooked, but my friend wasn't.

One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much was that you didn't have to go if you didn't want to. It was artistic and she was interested in you as a person, not just as a pupil. It brought out my artistic side instead of my negative side, which at school was fighting and being tough. School didn't have much drama and what we did do was just silly.

At the drama classes we studied improvisation. We learnt to understand our lives through this technique, so it was both theatre and education.

Anna was a peace activist and there was something about her enthusiasm that rubbed off on you. She had long blonde hair and wore a 1970s-style flowing mauve dress with black tights and a sort of mauve bandana. She called everyone "darling". I think originally she did a bit of acting but then became a teacher. She taught at a primary school before setting up her drama school. She was quite strict, too. You didn't mess with her. She treated us like grown-ups, not children. She was our agent as well and she looked after us.

The lessons were 90 minutes long and when I started they cost 10p. By the time I got to the professional group, which was held on Fridays, it went up to 50p. The professional group were people who were working actors. My contemporaries were Linda Robson, Pauline Quirke, Dexter Fletcher and Gary and Martin Kemp.

About two months after starting at Anna Scher's, I got my first proper acting job. The BBC was filming a version of Verdi's Falstaff and I played a little urchin. I was paid pound;16 and it got me out of school.

By the time I was aged 15 or 16 I was working regularly and school became a bit of a waste of time. Anna once phoned my mum about an audition I had to go to and my mum phoned the school, only to find out that I was playing truant. My parents stopped me going to Anna's for two weeks as punishment.

What inspired me at drama school was the freedom of improvisation, which is what Anna taught. She inspired me to be inventive. That suited me as I always thought I was artistic. School didn't bring that out in me.

Phil Daniels' acting career spans 35 years, from the cult film `Quadrophenia' to `EastEnders'. His autobiography, `Class Actor', has just been published. He was talking to Sheryl Simms.

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