The return of the dishevelled detective

DAVID LEON as DS Joe Ashworth and BRENDA BLETHYN as DCI Vera Stanhope
DAVID LEON as DS Joe Ashworth and BRENDA BLETHYN as DCI Vera Stanhope
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Her crime-solving character Vera Stanhope rarely cracks a smile, but laughter and light-heartedness seem to accompany actress Brenda Blethyn wherever she goes.

Anything can set the Oscar-nominated star off, from discussing Vera’s frumpy wardrobe to joking about “him indoors” - her art director husband Michael Mayhew.

As the youngest of nine, growing up in a working class household in Rams-gate, Blethyn learnt to see the funny side of life from an early age.

“We didn’t have much. But my mum used to say, ‘We’re not poor, we just don’t have any money’, because we were rich in lots of other things,” she recalls.

“We laughed a lot, and it’s great to be able to laugh. If you can find the absurdity in yourself, and laugh at it, you can get through so many difficult problems.”

Humour is also crucial to her relationship with Mayhew, who she has been with for nearly 40 years but only married in 2010.

“He makes me die laughing.

“I’m just so fond of him, I love him to bits. And I think it’s reciprocated,” she says, smiling.

The pair divide their time between south-east London and Kent, and keep in touch via Skype when Blethyn’s filming ITV crime drama Vera on location in Northumberland and the North East.

“Wherever I am, Michael comes and spends time with me.

“To be honest, it’s so full on working on Vera that he came up one time and I hardly saw him, because I was just too busy,” the 68-year-old confesses.

“When I’d come in, he’d have cooked me a lovely meal and I thought, ‘Oh God, I can’t sit and chat or watch telly or anything’. So I said, ‘You know what, you’re better off down by the seaside [in Kent].”

Shooting the four stand-alone films, each two hours in length, is exhausting work.

“I’m in nearly every scene - it’s long, long days.

“Sometimes, if we’re at some of the beautiful coastline or moor locations, there’s maybe an hour’s drive each way, on top of the 12 or 13-hour day of filming.

“Plus I have to learn tomorrow’s lines when I get home.”

The toil is worth it, as Blethyn is clearly very fond of her brilliant but somewhat shambolic character, based on the novels of Tynemouth author Ann Cleeves.

“I’ve had so many letters of support from all over the world, some of them not even written in English, saying ‘Vera bellissima’, nice words like that,” says the star, looking smart in a fitted cream jacket and black blouse.

“What I really like about Vera, is that they’re maintaining this character and have totally avoided the temptation to either glamorise her, or make her less abrasive.

“What you see is what you get with Vera.

“It’s great to have a character of a certain age, a woman in authority, without the need for lipstick.”

In episode one DCI Stanhope is tasked with investigating the death of a pensioner found stabbed on a Newcastle train at the height of rush hour. She’s joined by her right-hand man, Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth (David Leon), whose young daughter is a key witness in the investigation.

As ever, there’s a steady stream of guest appearances, including Hustle’s Robert Glenister and EastEnders actress Kellie Bright.

n Vera, Sunday, ITV, 8pm