My best teacher

19th May 2000 at 01:00
When I was 11 Ann Tipping was my elocution teacher. She lived in Chigwell, Essex. Please enjoy the irony: my mother sent me for elocution lessons, I became an actress with the RSC, now I'm in Eastenders.

After two introductory classes, in which we learnt how to put "ts" on the end of words, Mrs Tipping told my mother I was worthy of private lessons. These went on until I was accepted for Rada (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). One incident changed my life.

I was 14, lazy and uninspired. One day, in the tiny library of my Private School for Young Ladies, this best teacher of mine, usually so easy-going and humorous, really went for me. She shouted: "You are such a lazy cow. You could be one of England's finest young actresses and you're going to throw it all away because of your laziness. You're given this talent and you are showing it no respect."

By this time she was crying. I was crying. I went home extremely shaken. Ann telephoned my mother and apologised, saying that she had gone too far, but that my attitude was frustrating. From that day I have worked hard at what I do. When I feel like skiving I still hear her words ringing in my head. Mrs Tipping really shook me and I'm very grateful.

The only reason I went to a private school was because I had a twitch. The doctor told my parents that I must not have any pressure, so I was sent to a very "nice" school: Braeside school for young ladies in Buckhurst Hill, Essex. The boys from the neighbouring school took great delight in coming over and deleting the "e" from the sign, so that it read Braside.

I had no desire to go to university; all I was interested in was drama. I don't know what I would have done without the focus given by Mrs Tipping. It's easy to assume that such personal coaching is part of the "old days" and that nothing like it happens now. Yet my younger son, who is dyslexic, has just been through a similar period. His talent is also for acting.

Both of my children have attended state schools. UntilI was 14 I didn't realise that some people paid for their children's education and others did not. Politically, I was totally unaware until I reached drama school. I believe that everyone has an equal right to education. Now I find myself putting my boys through some exams privately because of this emphasis on league tables and results. If they're predicted to fail, the schools don't enter them. Well, you know they might just scrape a C if they're encouraged, and what's wrong with trying?

I have other memories of school. I was the only girl whose period lasted all term so that I could avoid hockey. On one rare occasion that I did participate I had spent the previous night in agony, trying to sleep in rollers. It was drizzling pretty hard, so I wore a headscarf to protect my hair for the date that night. But there was no arguing with the teacher - I think her name was Mrs Parker. She insisted that I take off my headscarf and let my hair get ruined.

Another teacher I liked was Mrs Davies. Everyone in the class passed English literature O-level in 1967 thanks to the work she put in. I remember performing part of Twelfth Night for her. In order to produce this piece of drama Mrs Davies had attended a night class to learn about production. This sort of dedication made me feel motivated.

Louise Jameson was talking to Jonathan Harrington

THE STORY SO FAR

1951 Born in Wanstead, London

1971 Graduates from Rada

1973 Joins Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, at the Aldwych theatre

and touring the US

1976 Plays Leela, assistant to Tom Baker's Dr Who

1978 More TV science fiction, The Omega Factor

1981-84 Two series of Tenko, and two children

1984 Susan in Bergerac

1990 Back to RSC, marries artist Martin Bedford

1996 Joins Royal National Theatre

1997 Joins Eastenders as Rosa di Marco, separates from husband

2000 Leaving Eastenders. New projects include book about Shakespeare, stage work, and opening a jazz club


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