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Cranford star Francesca Annis tells What’s on TV about her new role in ITV’s female-led wartime drama, Home Fires. Based on Julie Summer’s novel Jambusters, it tells the fictional tales of the women who ruled the roost and held the home front together during World War Two. And it turns out the picture postcard village of Great Paxton is full of dark secrets, knotty issues and personality clashes!

What can you tell us about your character in ITV’s new Sunday night drama Home Fires?

“I play Joyce Cameron, who is president of the Women’s Institute in Great Paxton. She’s on a lot of committees and quite bossy. Joyce is someone who’s aware of her own self-importance, that’s for sure!”

What’s her greatest challenge as president of Great Paxton’s Women’s Institute?

“It’s interesting; Joyce is the old guard and is being usurped by the new guard – the younger, more forward thinking Frances Barden (Samantha Bond). Joyce is a formidable woman, who has a lot of issues with the younger members. There’s a tussle between the old school and the younger, who are trying to make changes, which Joyce is opposed to!”

Do sparks fly?

“There is tension between the old guard and the new! At this time all these institutes were run by educated, upper class women. They were good women who wanted the best for their local society but, as they were often very conservative, they had absolutes about how things should be run. Home Fires deals with the democratising of the Women’s Institute, when all that was beginning to change.”

Did this mean confrontation with Samantha Bond’s character, Frances?

“We did have some set-tos. But that’s how new movements make change. Joyce wants to step down from the WI when she doesn’t get her way. She thinks they’ll be sorry for being horrible to her!”

What attracted you to working on such a big ensemble drama?

“It seemed to me that it was very unusual and admirable that they should be doing a programme about women, with the majority of the leading parts all women. I also thought the subject matter, the changing face of the WI at the beginning of the second world war, is a really interesting one. I’m really proud of it.”

During your career have you noticed a sexist attitude in the acting profession?

“I don’t think I noticed it that much. I was quite feisty so I didn’t have anything to do with things that didn’t suit me. In retrospect, I’ve always been quite independent and opinionated. But there is so much more female drama around now and that’s good.” 

What do you think is the key to longevity in this business?

“Listen to yourself because then you don’t wear yourself out by trying to do what everybody else wants you to do.”

ITV’s new six-part drama Home Fires commences on Sunday May 3 at 9pm. It also stars Claire Rushbrook, Mark Bonnar and Anthony Calf.