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Pauline McLynn: 'Dot Cotton and Mrs Doyle both found their style early in life'

The Conversation

By Oscar Quine

Father Ted's indomitable Mrs Doyle on fear, families and the general inadequacy of fruit tea.

Q. You're starring in the stage production of East is East, set in 1971. How much do you think has changed since then?

A. Sadly, some things haven't changed. The play deals with racism, with people's problems with multiculturalism - and it's always amazed me that people haven't learned to deal with that. I think because of events in the east, quite literally, people are getting fearful again because we often fear what we don't understand. Then, of course, there are the politics of the family.

Q. Someone once said that children learn politics as soon as they learn to play one parent off against the other. Did you have a political upbringing?

A. I'm laughing because that's so true - and the truth is often a very funny thing. I have two younger brothers. Of course, we had the rough and tumble of family life. They variously called me "hook nose" - because I do have quite a large nose - or "verruca head" was another favourite. Quite inventive that one, I thought.

Q. You've said before you are left bewildered by the English class system. You're travelling all over the UK with the show. Have you had any elucidating experiences on the road?

The class system is alien to me all right. In Ireland, you're a peasant or not. Well we're all peasants, really: I'm certainly from a very working-class background. Anything to do with peerage, we don't know anything about that. Oh, but we do have a few. Isn't Bob Geldof a sir?

Q. I think he is. And Bono?

A. Haha, yes, Sir Bono. I think he's a world peer at this stage.

Q. Do you remember how Mrs Doyle's 'go on, go on' catchphrase came about?

A. That was Graham (Linehan) and Arthur (Mathews - the programme's creators). They based Mrs Doyle on every granny and auntie that you've ever met in your life, no matter what country you live in. The feeders, the ones who will press a glass of whiskey on you at 10 in the morning on the grounds you're on holiday and why wouldn't you have it. Graham's mother would try to push sandwiches on Arthur while they were writing, so in many ways Mrs Doyle was based on her. But she's just one of those archetypal women - we all have them.

Q. You've played Dot Cotton's daughter-in-law in EastEnders. She strikes me as quite the Mrs Doyle.

A. Yes, yes. There was quite an amount of tea in EastEnders. She's a woman who's found her style early in life. It's a similar thing with Mrs Doyle: she found her hairdo, no need to improve on it.

Q. You support Aston Villa, as does, apparently, David Cameron. What do you make of his recent blunder when he confused the team with West Ham?

A. I'm going to forgive him because he might be an idiot when it comes to football, but I guess it's the claret and blue. Their shirt colours are pretty much the same. But, do you know what? I don't think I've ever made that mistake; just saying. They're very difficult colours to wear by the way.

Q. Who's the funniest person you've ever known?

A. I've known lots of wonderfully funny people. There is one amazing US comedian who has straddled all of the generations of American stand-up comedy. His name is Dom Irrera. If a gig isn't going well, he'll start banging out the old classics. He'll floor you with his one-liners.

Q. And lastly, how do you take your tea?

A. Weaker than you might imagine. My family in Galway leave the teabags in the mug, even if they're just having a quick one. I'd take mine medium strength. I also have very little time for fruit teas. They smell lovely but deliver nothing.

The plug

Pauline (53) is an Irish actress and author, who played Mrs Doyle in Channel 4’s sitcom Father Ted. Brought up in Galway, she studied history of art and modern English at Trinity College, Dublin, where she joined the drama society. McLynn has appeared in Shameless, EastEnders and Bremner, Bird and Fortune and has written seven novels. She is appearing on stage in East is East which is touring around the UK. For venues and ticket information go to trafalgar

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