Brenda Blethyn grew up in post-war Ramsgate
When you see Brenda Blethyn on the big screen, it is hard to believe she grew up as the youngest of nine children, in a house with no bathroom, rationed food and playtime spent on bombsites.
"I had a very very poor upbringing," explains Brenda.
"I was born just after the war and lots of people were in the same boat. I went to a Catholic school, and many of my friends were from big families.
We didn't know we were poor and it was just so ordinary to us."
Brenda was the youngest of nine children
Brenda lived in a rented house in Ramsgate which was in such a poor state of repair that it was pulled down as soon as the family moved out of it. "It was a tall house but there was only one room per floor, so in total there were only four rooms plus a scullery.
"With all us lot in it, it was a bit of a squish so I had to sleep in the parlour. I had a little tiny bed along the side of the room but this was the space that we lived in mostly, and ate our meals in. I never had my own room until we moved into a council house when I was 14."
The house was also without a bathroom so it was off to West Cliff Park baths on a weekly basis. "We went once a week whether we needed it or not!" laughs Brenda. "My mum used to say look at the dirt on that child's neck; you could grow potatoes on that child's feet! She was a very funny woman my mum."
Brenda inherited her sense of humour from her parents
As she speaks it is apparent that Brenda has a lot of respect and admiration for her mother. "My mum was very encouraging to all of us. The glass was always half full, it was never half empty. She always made us feel like we were capable of anything if we set our minds to it. She would say 'it doesn't matter that other people may have a head start on you, work hard and you can achieve whatever you want'.
"Whilst we had nothing there was a lot of hope and happiness and laughter - that was my parent's legacy to us."
Well known for her sense of humour, Brenda insists she also inherited that trait from her parents. "My mum and dad were both funny. My memories of them were that they were either laughing to bust or else rowing. There didn't seem very much in between. They'd have this argument where he'd go: 'Sit down!' Mum would go: 'No YOU sit down!" He'd go: 'SIT down!' Then she'd go: 'No YOU SIT down!' But they were both already sitting down!" Laughs Brenda.
A holiday resort
In those days before package holidays, Ramsgate was a bustling seaside holiday resort. During the summer months the town was full of visitors, mostly from London, and street after street of little terrace houses would take in visitors on a bed and breakfast basis. The place was prosperous and the beach would be packed with holiday makers.
"There's a beautiful beach at Ramsgate, a big sandy beach and you were hard pushed to find a little space for yourself," remembers Brenda. "There were amusement arcades galore, with rifle ranges and all sorts of games like bingo and there was the ghost train and scenic railway - so many things were going on. But then as soon as cheap package holidays came along, everyone started going off to Spain. But it seems to be becoming more popular again now."
During the holiday season Brenda and her brothers had a scheme to make some extra money on the side. "It was great because my brother made a wheelbarrow that was big enough to carry people's luggage. So if you waited outside the train station and said 'carry your luggage sir?' They'd pile all their cases on top and Terry would wheel their cases to wherever they wanted to go. He did a roaring trade! He'd make a shilling or sometimes half a crown and he'd always give me some.
"He didn't really want me with him - I was a hindrance because I wanted to sit on top of the cases! I'd say: "Me legs are tired Terry! Terry, me legs are tired - I want to sit on the top! He was so tolerant - still is!"
Starring with Michael Caine in Little Voice
As a child, Brenda and her family often had to make their own entertainment. They would sit round a great big table and play games, draw pictures or make up stories. But as a weekly treat her parents would take her to the pictures. "Back then there was an ashtray on the back of every seat so you'd have to gaze through a cloud of smoke to see the screen; it was appalling when you think about it."
"I loved Norman Wisdom - we used to laugh like drains. Once my mum was laughing so hard she took her teeth out. When we got home, we were just going to tuck into our fish and chips and she said: 'Oo I haven't got me teeth. Where's me teeth? Brenda go back down the Odeon and see if they've found them'.
"So I went to the Odeon and the man said: 'Just a minute ducks', and he brought out this big box: 'Would you recognise em?' I thought what does he mean? He opened the box and there were about a dozen sets in there that people had lost in the cinema! How terrible!" laughs Brenda. "That Norman's got a lot to answer for - years later I told him that when I worked with him too."
With no television or radio, Brenda had nothing to compare to the characters she watched on the big screen. "For me it was like the people on screen were from Mars - these really big 40 foot high people."
Who would have thought that a few years later that little girl would become one of those 40 foot tall people on the screen.