Ida Schuster for JC by Jenni Frazer March 2020
Ida Schuster is, hands down, the grande dame of Scottish theatre and the pride of Glasgow Jewry.
And at 101 — Ida was born at the very end of the First World War, in 1918 — she has become almost certainly the world’s oldest podcaster, enthusiastically embracing the new technology to talk about her life and times.
Ida has made eight sparkling ten-minute episodes, Old School, for a podcast produced in Glasgow by Big Light, a new digital broadcasting platform. The first two episodes have already been released on line and fans are keenly awaiting each instalment.
She was the second youngest of nine children, born to immigrants to Glasgow’s Gorbals district from Vilnius, Lithuania. One of her five sisters, Ray, married Avrom Greenbaum, the founder of the Glasgow Jewish Institute Players, and the Schuster siblings — including one of her brothers, Leon — became the core of the theatre company.
But though it was an amateur company — coming second in the highly competitive West of Scotland Drama Awards in 1938 — it was run on fiercely professional lines, with Greenbaum a hard taskmaster for his young actors, and giving Ida herself the best training for her chosen career.
When war was declared in 1939, Ida — whose future husband, Dr Allan Berkeley, had volunteered for army service and became a prisoner of the Japanese in Java — joined up herself, as a Waaf (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). She and Allan married in 1945 and raised two sons, Howard and Peter, while she became one of Scotland’s best-known theatrical names, acting, writing and directing, on stage, film and TV.
Her throaty chuckle and evident enjoyment of the podcast opportunity shines through each of the Old School episodes. As someone who is often consulted on Scotland’s theatrical and film history, she jokes: “Ich bin ein archive”.
The actor Alan Cumming (Eli Gold in TV’s The Good Wife) made his film debut with Ida Schuster and he has sent a recording to introduce Ida’s podcasts. Cumming has also made a podcast as have Billy Connolly and crime writer Val McDermid.
With a wicked glint in her eye, Ida talks unscriptedly about her upbringing and early training, hamming it up furiously for admiring visitors and quavering: “It’s all terribly gratifying, you make an old woman very happy”.
Old School and the trailer, read by Alan Cumming, is produced by The Big Light and is available on Apple, Spotify, and elsewhere.