Brenda Blethyn — things you didn't know about the Vera actress

 Brenda Blethyn attends the Shooting Star Ball in aid of Shooting Star Children's Hospices at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in a black top.
Brenda has become a national treasure thanks to her TV roles. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Brenda Blethyn is one of the UK's most esteemed actresses and boasts an impressive CV of stage and screen credits

She was catapulted to global fame with her lead role in the film, Secrets and Lies, which earned her BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards, and has starred in television productions like Anne Frank: The Whole Story and War and Peace.

But it's Brenda's role as DCI Vera Stanthorpe that has really won the nation's hearts.

With her trademark oversized rain mac and fisherman's hat, Vera solves baffling crimes in the backdrop of Northumberland. Fans have fallen in love with the work-obsessed detective, so much so that the series, an adaptation of Ann Cleeve's detective novels, has reached an amazing 12th season. 

Here are a few interesting facts you probably don't know about Brenda Blethyn...

Brenda Blethyn was one of nine children

Brenda Blethyn was born Brenda Bottle on February 20, 1946 in Ramsgate, Kent. The youngest of nine children, she was raised by her mother, Louisa, a housewife and cleaner, and her father, Charles, a former shepherd and mechanic for Vauxhall. 

Growing up, money was in very short supply, but Brenda has happy memories of her childhood. In a chat with The Guardian she revealed:  “There were tough times. But we got tons of affection. You might be reprimanded severely for something, but there was laughter, cuddles, pride and support in equal measure.”

Brenda credits her mum and dad for giving her the desire to act: “When we were kids we didn’t have a television. A lot of the time, we didn’t have a wireless either, because the bill hadn’t been paid. But they were terrific storytellers. Dad would get up and act out a story, while mum would make fun of him.” 

She originally wanted to join the Army

Brenda's love of film began at a young age when her parents used to take her and her siblings to the cinema.

But despite going on to achieve incredible success as an actress, it wasn't always part of Brenda's career plan.

She told us: "When I was younger I always wanted to join the Army, It's the idea of camaraderie and people working together. My family had a very strong work ethic and my brother Brian was in the army and ended up being a Major."

She didn't start her acting career until she was in her late 20s 

Brenda began her professional life as a stenographer and bookkeeper for a bank, before working as a secretary for British Rail.

At 18, she married her first husband, graphic designer Alan Blethyn (whose name she has kept to this day). The couple split in 1973 after nine years when Alan left Brenda for another woman. But instead of wallowing, Brenda's divorce prompted her to turn her hobby of amateur dramatics into a career.

She studied at the Guildford School of Acting, and in 1976, joined the Royal National Theatre.

During her seasons at the National, Brenda won praise for her stage roles, and in 1980 she scooped the London Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress in Steaming

That same year, she made her television debut in Grown-Ups, directed by Mike Leigh. The power pair joined forces again for the 1996 drama Secrets & Lies, which was Brenda's breakthrough role, and earned her an Academy Award nomination.

Since then Brenda has starred in several blockbusters, including Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Clubland.

She buys Vera's on-screen outfits 

Vera Season 12 in 2023

Brenda is responsible for buying Vera's infamous bucket hat.  (Image credit: ITV )

Filming Vera takes up a big chunk of Brenda's working year, and even in her down time, her iconic alter-ego is never far from her thoughts.

So much so, that Brenda keeps an eye out for additions to the DCI's wardrobe when shopping for her own clothes. Did you know she purchased Vera's infamous green bucket hat from a stall in Newcastle market?

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald she shared: “My husband says when I finish Vera, my body comes home a month before my head,” she says. “You never let it go. It must the same with you when you’re writing a piece. You don’t put your pen down at five o’clock and stop thinking about it, right? You might be cooking or eating your dinner, and it’s still going on."

She based Vera's accent on someone famous

When Kent-born Brenda took on the lead role in ITV's Vera, she knew she had to perfect a different dialect.

The thespian has confessed she used This Morning's late agony aunt, Denise Robertson, as inspiration for Vera's soft Geordie lilt after meeting her at an ITV party.

“It couldn’t be strong because if you miss anything, you’ll lose track of the plot," she explained to Radio Times

In fact, Brenda has got so good at doing Vera's accent, she's even managed to trick people into thinking she's a born and bred northerner.

“Any criticism that I get is generally from southerners who expect a broader accent. In fact, some locals think I’m a Geordie, which is a great compliment."

She's a dab hand at DIY

Brenda Blethyn as Kate in Kate & Koji

Brenda Blethyn as Kate in Kate & Koji.  (Image credit: ITV)

While you might not expect to see Brenda spending her weekends plumbing in toilets, that exactly what she is capable of. 

She told us: "I'm good at DIY . I've laid a floor, taken out a fire place, put in a while basin and toilet on my own, and plumbed it."

"I'm a bit like Vera in that respect... she would be capable too. I wouldn't do it now, though. I can afford to pay someone else to do it!"

She receives saucy fan mail

Vera star Brenda Blethyn: 'I love classic darts show Bullseye!'

Even mac-wearing vera gets saucy fan mail! 

Despite Brenda's alter ego being far from glamorous in her rain mac and bucket hat, the actress still gets her fair share of rude fan mail. 

She once told us: "I get some saucy letters, some of it, believe it or not, for Vera! Even Vera gets the phwoar factor!"

She's got a surprising guilty pleasure

When Brenda's not busy filming, she likes to spend her spare time binge watching darts-themed game show Bullseye

She told us "I'm a massive fan, I watch it on Challenge. You have got all the gameshows on there, but I just love Bullseye. I also watch all the quizzes, Tipping Point, The Chase and Eggheads!"

She was engaged to her husband for 35 years

Brenda's mum and dad were engaged for 20 years before they decided to take the plunge and get hitched. 

Similarly, Brenda and her artist partner Michael Mayhew had a 35-year-long engagement before they made it official in 2010. 

Brenda can't say enough good things about her other half, describing Michael as a 'kind and honest' man. She told The Guardian: "He (Michael) is Taurus and I'm Pisces; my dad was Pisces and my mum was Taurus. So long relationships might be something to do with the stars..."

The couple didn't have any children, which is something Brenda ponders about. "But there's no point in having regrets, it's a waste of energy, " she insists.

Brenda is very close to her siblings' children and grandchildren and starred alongside her great-niece Kelly Scott in an episode of Vera.

Brenda Blethyn's fact file 

Most frequently asked questions about the star...

How old is Brenda Blethyn?

Brenda Blethyn is 77, she was born on February 20, 1946.

Is Brenda Blethyn married?

Brenda Blethyn has been married to art director Michael Mayhew since 2010.

Does Brenda Blethyn have any children?

Brenda Blethyn does not have any children.

Where was Brenda Blethyn born?

Brenda Blethyn was born in Ramsgate, Kent.

How tall is Brenda Blethyn?

Brenda Blethyn is five foot one.

Twitter: @BrendaBlethyn

We work hard to ensure that all information is correct. Facts that change over time, such as age, will be correct, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of the last article update.

Claire Crick
Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch

Claire is Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch and has been a journalist for over 15 years, writing about everything from soaps and TV to beauty, entertainment, and even the Royal Family. After starting her career at a soap magazine, she ended up staying for 13 years, and over that time she’s pulled pints in the Rovers Return, sung karaoke in the Emmerdale village hall, taken a stroll around Albert Square, and visited Summer Bay Surf Club in sunny Australia. 

After learning some tricks of the trade at websites Digital Spy, Entertainment Daily, and Woman & Home, Claire landed a role at What’s On TV and writing about all things TV and film, with a particular love for Aussie soaps, Strictly Come Dancing and Bake Off

She’s interviewed everyone from June Brown — AKA Dot Cotton — to Michelle Keegan, swapped cooking tips with baking legend Mary Berry backstage at the NTAs, and danced the night away with soap stars at countless awards bashes. There’s not a lot she doesn’t know about soaps and TV and can be very handy when a soapy question comes up in a pub quiz! 

As well as all things soap-related, Claire also loves running, spa breaks, days out with her kids, and getting lost in a good book.