Bletchley Circle: There aren't the roles for women in their fifties... we barely exist, says Julie Graham
The Bletchley Circle is back after four years. Star Julie Graham tells Georgia Humphreys about revisiting the female-led ITV drama
Julie Graham has learnt some acting jobs are particularly hard to let go. The Scottish actress says she and pal Martin Clunes are always plotting ways to bring back William and Mary, the much-loved drama they starred in together in the early noughties.
Meanwhile, she jumped at the chance to revive another memorable role - as crime-solver Jean in The Bletchley Circle, which is returning with a US-set spin-off series.
"We've proven that people want to watch women on television and they want to watch female-led shows," remarks Graham (52), who grew up in the town of Irvine, in Ayrshire, but now lives in Brighton.
"Initially, when we did Bletchley, that was a huge hook because it was quite unusual. For that reason, we were disappointed that it didn't carry on but, you know, programmes come and go.
"But then, to be able to revisit that, with new characters and new women and the whole fresh new storyline, was incredibly exciting."
There's no denying the ITV drama, which last aired in 2014, also appeals because there's "not that many parts for women in their 50s".
"Film is the worst - it's like we barely exist," suggests Graham, whose breakout role was Megan on At Home With The Braithwaites, another ITV hit.
"And that's why all those fabulous film actors are turning to television. I think the more that happens, the better."
When The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco starts, many years have passed since we last saw the women, but Jean is working in a library and living her same old life, while former colleague Millie (Rachael Stirling) is flitting around from job to job.
Their adventure across the pond comes because, during their time working as codebreakers at Bletchley Park together in the Fifties, a young girl they both knew was murdered, which, Graham explains, "Jean always felt somehow responsible for".
"Millie notices in San Francisco there's been a very similar, almost copycat, murder after all these years and she goes to Jean with the idea of investigating it," the actress elaborates.
"She says, 'I've got a cousin in San Francisco - we could just go and kind of have a look'. So, Jean, eventually, is persuaded."
Asked if she has anything in common with her character, mum-of-two Graham says: "I suppose we're both quite ballsy. I mean, she's ballsy in a different way - in an un-showy way. She reminds me of a lot of women that I grew up with: Scottish, Presbyterian, quite staid, quite, unemotional is the wrong word, but people who kept their counsel, were very wise and were people that you could go to."
She adds affectionately: "I had an aunt Meg, whom I based Jean on. She was somebody you could go to with a problem and you just knew that she would solve it. I think Jean has got that kind of reliability."
The new episodes of The Bletchley Circle were actually filmed in Vancouver, which Graham describes as a beautiful city.
And she loved having her kids - Edie May was born in 2004 and Cyd Betty two years later - fly out to visit for a month.
"It was hard not being there (at home)," she admits. "The time away filming was a little bit long. But FaceTime is a wonderful thing - it's a game-changer."
Graham points out that, thanks to such a variety of TV channels these days, plus services like Netflix, her kids sometimes stumble across her old work.
Then, the quick-witted star leans in to share a funny anecdote.
"I was mortified the other day," she begins, a smile on her face. "I was in this series called Bugs and it was a, kind of, not very good spy programme; actually, it was terrible, let's be honest. I did one episode playing a car thief. Like most car thieves, I was in a catsuit and a pair of high heels.
"That popped up at 11 'o'clock one night and Edie was wetting herself laughing. She was just going, 'Oh, mum, it's so bad! Look at you, what are you wearing?'
"They (her daughters) are really lovely, they're really supportive. But they'll also tell you if they think it's c**p!"
One show Graham's kids do love watching her in is ITV comedy Benidorm. She joined the cast in 2015 as the head of a new family, Sheron Dawson - a character she loves, because she's just so "outrageous".
"Also, it was just so refreshing to read," she recalls of the script. "It was the first time in my whole career that I've played a woman that's my age who's got young children."
Graham filmed her first series of Benidorm the same year her husband, actor Joseph Bennett, died.
The pair met while appearing in a play together in 2001, and married a year later.
And the star confides she's always found work to be cathartic, no matter what's going on in her personal life.
"If you go through tough times, work is always a tonic, I think, for most people," she notes. "I just happen to be able to do something that I really love, and when you're in a good place, working is just a bonus.
"I love to work and this working-mum thing, I never feel guilty about it, because I want to set an example, especially because I've got daughters, to let them see that that's what the real world is - you have to work.
"I've always said to them, 'I don't care what you do, just do something you love and do something you can do anywhere in the world'. Those are my only two pieces of advice."
The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, ITV, Wednesday, 9pm