ELAINE C. Smith is delighted to be returning to the Glasgow panto stage after 13 years.

But it’s not long before conversation with the Sleeping Beauty star produces revelations that are far removed from fairytales.

Elaine, who has had a long stint Aberbeen, turns to current themes of sexism and misogyny.

But doesn’t this bright light world of cross-dressing, of tales of Princes and Princesses and Fairies suggests much more of an equal opportunities platform than straight theatre?

“Not really,” says Elaine with a wry, knowing smile.

“I think women have to work twice as hard to get there in panto. For example, if you put a man in a dress that’s funny. A woman, so what?”

What about encouragement? “I’ve been told in the past women just aren’t funny. In fact, Rikki Fulton once declared that to be the case. But to be fair, he later came to see me in panto and then wrote me a beautiful letter in which he said the panto was the best thing he had ever seen.”

But there are many others who didn’t – and perhaps still don’t – think women can front panto?

Elaine’s voice drops to a more serious note; “Look, I’ve seen women in panto who are rubbish. But I’ve also seen men who are rubbish.. Yet, here’s the real injustice. So many men are allowed to go on stage for a fifteen year stretch to give them a chance to find their comic persona - whereas a woman has to arrive the finished article. The female has to arrive and be Sarah Millican.”

Elaine quotes examples of female Scots not being given the chance to lead panto from the front such as Dorothy Paul and Una McLean.

Elaine and Barbara Rafferty broke the mould when the pair appeared as Uglies in the King’s Theatre, Glasgow’s production of Cinderella in 1996.

But up to that point was there a pervading notion that women should stick to the prettier parts?

“Yes, definitely,” she says, laughing. “And there have been times during panto season when I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and wondered why my husband is still married to me.”

Her voice becomes more serious. “The thing is women can create problems for themselves because at times we have a problem with our vanity.

“ I know of women who have gone on a diet for months before they appear in panto, who are so concerned about revealing a fabulous figure.

“But you can’t look gorgeous and be funny. Pamela Stephenson, for example, was too attractive to be really funny whereas the likes of Phylis Diller, Victoria Wood, Dawn French and Catherine Tate have all been prepared to look terrible.”

The actress takes on a more reflective voice; “What I would say to young actresses is it’s all very well being pretty when you’re young but longevity comes with being prepared not to look pretty.

“And the key point about panto comedy roles for women is you have to be able to make an a*** of yourself.

“In this panto I’m going to be Wonder Woman at some point. And it won’t be a pretty sight. But will it be funny? Oh yes it will.”

If women have to accept more of a comedic responsibility in panto, Elaine says they should also be given the chance to play wider roles,, not just the Evil Witch, the Virginal Girl or the Good Fairy. But she admits playing an Ugly these days wouldn’t work.

“The climate has changed too much. I think men can take the brutalist approach but the misogynistic lines don’t sit right when coming out of an actual woman’s mouth.”

Elaine has long battled to eradicate sexism. “Well, things have changed in the thirty years I’ve been on television when it was ‘okay’ for men to comment on your t***. Over thirty per cent of those working on Two Doors Down, DoP’s or whatever, are women.

“But before I became well known I could give you, like most young women, about forty incidents of abuse. In my Twenties, with big t*** and Farrah Fawcett flicks I was seen to be fair game.”

“I remember going to have my photos taken once, someone who was doing lots of theatre shots, and I went to his studio, which was in his house.

She was once harassed by a photographer, physically attacked on night in Edinburgh.

“A guy ran past and put his hand up my dress, which had a split, ripped the dress off me and ran away. His pal, running behind, then shoved his hands between my legs. I was humiliated and degraded.

Elaine took to the nearest police station to report the attack. “The desk sergeant took down the details then said; ‘Don’t you worry, hen. When we catch him we’ll let you pull his trousers off.’”

A similar response emerged one year in Kirkcaldy when working with Scottish Youth Theatre summer school. Elaine was attacked in a dressing room. “It was like a scene from a Hitchcock movie.”

She escaped, but again, police response was far from what she’d hoped for. “The police said ‘Was it your boyfriend who did it? Have you had some sort of fall-out?’”

Elaine registers how difficult it has been for some actresses to report sexual harassment crimes. But she believes that “sometimes women are their own worst enemy.

“Being a proud feminist that doesn’t make me turn a blind eye to some things women do. There are women you and I know who have made careers out of marrying very carefully, the men who will look after them

“Yet, here’s the thing; do you blame the women for going along?”

Elaine highlights the dilemma by recalling an old Nesbitt episode. Mary’doll, desperate for cash, becomes a cleaner, but finds herself being sexually harassed by the boss.

“That’s the women I worry about,” she says.

“Woman having to contend with some smelly wee guy who happens to be the chief cleaner. And yet they desperately need the job.”

She adds; “The men usually carry out these acts because it’s about power. The answer is to put more power in the hands of women.”

And better, wider roles for women. Not just pretty girls?

“We all want to look pretty when we’re younger. “I was Cinderella once. But the reality was I hated every minute of it.”

• Sleeping Beauty, the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, until January 7.