Are you enjoying playing Sylvia?
“It’s wonderful, but I will limit my time. With TV, after four series I always say ‘Thank you, that’s the end of it!’ That’s why I left Doc Martin. There are other mountains to climb. Other rivers to swim. I absolutely respect people who spend a long time doing something, I really do, but I am not made like that.”
This week, Sylvia releases Norris from the cafe loo where he was locked in overnight after sneaking in without paying the 20p Sylvia has decided to charge all customers…
“Norris comes in with a delegation expecting some sort of retribution. Sylvia’s not worried – she can keep up with the best of them. Roy, of course, is appalled and tries desperately to keep his mother from fresh excesses.”
Sylvia gives Roy a hard time, but presumably you’ve had to find some redeeming features in order to play her…
“She is not just the mother-in-law from Hell or the harsh autocratic woman. She is a mixture of things and a well-rounded character. She’s an amalgam of lots of people that I have known over the years and the writers give you such a lot in the scripts.
“Age brings a lot of things we don’t like, but it can also bring a liberation from worrying about what other people think. Sylvia takes it to the nth degree and I would never go that far.”
Among your many successes, many of us remember you from the classic 1980s BBC series Tenko…
“People ask me about Tenko a lot and I don’t mind at all as I am very proud of it. It was a seminal piece – the first time that women had been the engine of a piece that was a series.”
Do you have a favourite role?
“My favourite role is always the one I am doing at the time because I am totally immersed in it. I couldn’t pick out one – that would be like asking somebody who out of all their friends was their favourite. I’m just glad that people have enjoyed what I have done.”
“A lot of people come up to me to talk about my work. Because I am not a pop star or a celebrity, they don’t come screaming or waving autograph books, they are very nice and polite.”
Away from acting, what do you like to do?
“I paint. At the moment I am mad about pastels. But I look at my work and say, ‘Oh Christ, why can’t I do this properly?’ I just fiddle about and enjoy it.”
But you’ve no plans for retirement…
“I’ll act until the legs or the brain, or, probably, both go!”