Brief Encounters star Penelope Wilton has told What's on TV how the Ann Summers parties of the 1980s gave women a lot more than just silk nighties and sex toys...

Brief Encounters star Penelope Wilton reckons the introduction of Ann Summers parties in the 1980s kick-started a ‘feminist time’.

Penelope plays butcher’s wife Pauline Spake in the ITV drama about a group of women who become demonstrators for the sexy underwear firm in 1980’s Sheffield.

Talking to What’s on TV, Penelope was adamant that hosting these parties gave women of the decade the confidence to celebrate their womanhood.

“These parties were there to say it’s all right for women to enjoy sex, it doesn’t just have to be the men, women can enjoy it and talk about it. So it was a sort of opening… although they probably wouldn’t have regarded any of themselves as being feminists, it was quite a feminist time in many respects,” said Penelope, arguably best known for playing Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey.

Penelope added that she understood more about the sense of empowerment these women felt when she met some of the real women who were demonstrators for Ann Summers back in the 80s.

“One woman told me she’d been in a very difficult relationship and had three children and a husband who denigrated her when she took [hosting] up,” revealed Penelope. “After about six years she’d made enough money to leave her husband, put two children through university, lost a lot of weight, found a new partner and has got an Audi!”

Penelope thoroughly enjoyed filming the party scenes in Brief Encounters. Some might say a little too much!

“Sticking pictures of people’s willies on your forehead is something I’ve never done before but, I must say, I laughed a lot,” she said. “I drew a number of them with smiling, happy faces, which one of the directors kept and I said: ‘They’re not to be put on social media at all’. We did have to do it a great deal, so by the end you get a bit silly.”

Penelope’s not sure what her Downton character, Isobel, would have thought of Ann Summers’ parties. “In her time, in 1926, I think she’d have been deeply shocked. But I think she’d be delighted if she lived now!”

Brief Encounters continues on Mondays at 9pm on ITV.