On stage when I did something and everybody laughed, I felt so at home

On stage when I did something and everybody laughed, I felt so at home, so right in my skin. I just knew then that I wanted to be an actress - Miss Potter recognised it too

On stage when I did something and everybody laughed, I felt so at home, so right in my skin. I just knew then that I wanted to be an actress - Miss Potter recognised it too

Being taught by Nora Potter was the best thing that happened to me. She changed my life by making me see what was possible, and it was because of her I became an actress. I tried for years to track her down - without success - to say thank you, but it wasn't until the National Teaching Awards ceremony last year that we met up again.

She had wanted to become an actress but lacked the courage, and instead became an English and drama teacher. She gave me a part in the school production of The Tinderbox and there was a moment on stage when I did something and everybody laughed; I felt so at home, so right in my skin. I knew then that I wanted to be an actress - she recognised it, too.

It was hard for people from our background in those days. In the north, you didn't know that drama schools even existed, and nobody in my family had gone into the theatre. Miss Potter told me how it could be done. My dad wouldn't have any of it. He had never had the opportunity to go to university and was longing for me to go.

I was in my second year at Prescot and Huyton girls' grammar school when Miss Potter joined. I remember the first day she came into class. She was very attractive, with short blonde hair and an hourglass figure, and she took no nonsense. She was a terrific teacher and we adored her. I remember reading a Keats poem for her in front of the class and she was so complimentary, she gave me great confidence.

Miss Potter started a spoken English competition, which I won. I remember practising for ages, reading to Mum and Dad every night. She took a school party to Stratford to see Coriolanus. Just before the play started they announced that Olivier had broken his leg and his understudy would be appearing instead. We all groaned, then out came Albert Finney and we all fell in love with him. I told him about this when I worked with him recently and he said: "Imagine what it was like to be in my dressing room when I heard you all groan!"

We lived just outside Liverpool and I used to be taken to the Playhouse by my godmother, Lavinia, for my birthday treat. We would have lunch then go on to a matinee. My mum took me to the ballet, which I adored, and when I was 12 I went with the school to Sadler's Wells to see Tosca and I remember being transfixed with the wonder of it all.

Miss Potter suggested I try to get into Rada, and because my father was against it I rebelled. I stomped off and left school after one year in the sixth form and got a job in the tax office, in Mathew Street,just near the Cavern in Liverpool. Then I got involved with the Liverpool music scene and worked for the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein. I was also in an amateur drama company that entertained in old folks' homes, but it wasn't until a relationship went wrong and the Beatles had gone to London that I started thinking again about acting professionally. I was nearly 22 when I went to the Webber Douglas drama school.

I'd lost touch with Miss Potter and couldn't find her to tell her. I went to a school reunion but nobody knew what had happened to her. When we finally met up - on the stage at the awards - I was thrilled to discover that she had not forgotten me. She kept a diary of the time when I was at school and had written about me. She told me I was one of her favourite actresses and although she had felt there was something familiar about me, she hadn't recognised me as the Susan Wright she used to teach. We are great friends now, but at school there was a distance between us. She never made me feel I was any more special than any of the other girls. I didn't even know her name was Nora.

The story so far

1943 Born in Warrington, Cheshire

1965 Webber Douglas theatre school

1970-81 Performs with Theatre in Education

1982 Makes first television appearance, in Coronation Street. Plays Sheila Grant in Brookside until 1990

1996 Appears in film Brassed Off

1998 Appears in The Royle Family on BBC2. Show moves to BBC1 for subsequent two series

2000 Royle Family wins best sitcom Bafta

2001-2 Guest appearance in The Play What I Wrote at Wyndhams Theatre

2001 Reunited with teacher Nora Potter

2002 Plays psychological profiler Dr Grace Foley in Waking the Dead, BBC TV series

Actress Sue Johnston was talking to Pamela Coleman

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you