Patsy Palmer

18th July 2008 at 01:00
A drama teacher who loved children and never turned anyone away opened the stage door for this actress
A drama teacher who loved children and never turned anyone away opened the stage door for this actress

Anna Scher was amazing: spiritual, never judgmental, and completely stuck in the Sixties and Seventies. She loved all children, and was enthusiastic and giving. Her theatre school in Islington, London, was the place pupils went when their families couldn't afford to send them to full-time stage school. We paid 50p a time and it was worth every penny.

I loved drama and went there after school, as did Sid Owen, Gillian Taylforth, Phil Daniels and Susan Tully, who also appeared in EastEnders. Anna took all of the classes and would let any child into the school. They didn't need to audition. She was never prejudiced and let us all express ourselves without being too strict. I stayed with her until I was 21, when I started in EastEnders. She was a big influence in my life, and without her I would not have had the same experiences.

I was brought up with my two brothers by my mum in Bethnal Green, in London's East End, and went to Columbia Market Nursery School, just up the road from where I lived. I came from a loving home and I love my mum and dad, but there were family problems and they broke up when I was just a kid. It is hard to pinpoint how that affected me, but I think it made me seek instant gratification a lot of the time.

I ended up at Haggerston School in Hackney and throughout my school years was bullied because of my red hair. They used to call me ginger nut and the insults really hurt. I had a terrible time and cried a lot. I suppose that's one of the reasons I misbehaved.

I was never horrible or did anything especially bad, but I was a joker at school, making everyone laugh. I'd pretend to be a chicken sometimes and, although others mucked about, it was always me who got caught. The teachers would order me out and say: "Go and sit in art", so I went to the art classroom a lot. I liked art, so sometimes would plan it so I'd get sent there.

I loved Spanish classes and wish I'd learnt more of the language, but I was hopeless at maths. Up until about age eight, I could do some numbers, but then it just went. As an adult I was told I was dyscalculic, which is like dyslexia with numbers, which was a relief because before that I thought I was just stupid.

I got on well with Mr Townsend, my maths teacher, and used to swap music albums with him, Fleetwood Mac and stuff. He showed respect for me and was a nice guy who I could communicate with. He was chilled out and had longish hair and would wear a shirt and blazer, but not a formal one, more shabby. He had a way of using praise to get the best out of his pupils, instead of focusing on grades and levels.

I was six when I performed in my first show, and it was all by accident. My brother, Albert, went for the audition for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at London's Westminster Theatre. I wasn't meant to audition, but my mum had to wait outside and I started crying, so the casting director put me on his knee to comfort me. Next thing I knew, I was up on the stage singing in the chorus.

When I was 12, I wrote a play about prostitution and won an award at the London Festival of Plays. Drama changed my life because I was never academic on paper, but I was intelligent creatively, which was recognised more at Anna Scher. The praise and encouragement I got there gave me the confidence to explore my creativity and raised my self-esteem.

I have the greatest admiration for teachers, for their patience and understanding. I'm sure I drove mine absolutely insane

Patsy Palmer, 34, starred in the TV children's drama series Grange Hill and later as Bianca Jackson in EastEnders for six years. She is now back in the programme. Patsy lives with her husband and three children in Brighton. She was talking to Phil Mills.

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