THERE’S a moment in Anita Dobson’s past that really should have been photographed in black and white.

It early morning outside the Citizens Theatre in early 70s Glasgow and the milk and rolls are still on doorsteps.

A young East London actress has arrived on the sleeper train but the theatre, understandably, is fast asleep.

At a loss, she sits on top of her suitcase staring across the broken-bottled, dirty-tenemented, oily-puddled landscape, all too aware the Gorbals was a perilous place to be.

But soon the photograph is replaced with a happier snap.

“Just then a lady from the cafe next door came out and asked [authentic Glasgow accent] ‘Are you aw’ right, hen?’ She could see I wasn’t. The next I knew she’d scooped me up, took me under her wing and was making me breakfast.”

The moment underlined the feeling all would be well during Anita Dobson’s time in the city.

Yet she could never have imagined she would go on to become an established actress in theatre, an iconic soap star with 30 million watching her every eye-twitch in EastEnders. She could never have predicted she would one day return to Glasgow to play the thoroughly wicked Miss Hannigan in Annie! as she does this week.

Back then, fresh out of drama school, she wallowed and wondered in the Glasgow experience.

“When the theatre opened, I dragged my suitcase past the stage door. But my eye was taken with the stage door itself.

“I asked this bloke who worked there why all the holes and scratches? He said, ‘They’re bullet holes from drive-by shootings.’

“I was horrified. ‘What if you leave through the stage door, I asked?’ He shrugged and said, ‘Well, you’re deid.’”

Thankfully, no-one died during Dobson’s time at the Citz (except perhaps on stage, during a performance of one of Strindberg’s less accessible works).

All the time, all Dobson thought about was squeezing the life out of this new exciting adventure, working with the likes of Giles Havergal and Rupert Everett.

And Dobson’s eyes were being opened ever wider.

“What was really a shock at the Citz was discovering the young men in the company were playing young women’s parts,” she says, reminding us that gender fluid casting is not entirely new.

“But then I was cast as the juve lead in Tartuffe and, well, I loved it. We got to do great work by Pinter and Strindberg and the Scottish play and it was like being back at drama school, learning all the time.”

Did the then auburn-haired actress have a great time socially?

“I had a couple of boyfriends,” she says, “and yes, I had such a good time up there.

“I was so lucky to be offered a room in Kersland Street in the west end with members of the company.”

Her voice descends a little: “I remember we were broken into while we were doing the Scottish play. It was the curse, I think. But I love Scotland. And my husband’s mother is Scottish.”

The teenage Anita Dobson had been desperate to get out of the East End of London. Her parents, a dress-cutter and a seamstress, were encouraging of their two daughters, but the late 60s were all about taking a sensible job, marrying a nice man and having a couple of kids before you were old enough to know any better.

Dobson followed that path initially. When she left school at 16, working life began at Prudential Insurance but saw marriage and children as entrapment.

And encouraged by her father steering his daughter in the direction of Shakespeare, Dobson knew she wanted to become a serious actor.

EastEnders would have been a surprise, then? “Yes, I hadn’t planned for it. And I had no idea it was going to change my life in so many ways.”

Her profile must have created huge pressures? “When [the Queen Vic] happened I went from nought to 100 overnight. I was once the second most photographed woman in Britain. So all that was a shock for a jobbing actress from Stepney. But now I love it when people come up to talk about the show.”

Over the years, however, Dobson has gone on to appear in a range of theatre roles, some classical, some popular, from Hamlet’s Gertrude to Mama Morton in Chicago.

“I’m fortunate to be in a financial position whereby I can choose what I want to work in,” says the wife of Queen guitarist Brian May.

Right now, Dobson’s choice is the touring Annie! You can be sure her Miss Hannigan will be more angular, real, than perhaps that of Paul O’Grady or Craig Revel Horwood?

“Well, I don’t know what they did,” she says in mildly reproving voice.

“I just do what I think is right.” But closer to reality? “Yes, probably. But Miss Hannigan is also funny.” And vulnerable?

“Yes, I think all villains are vulnerable. They feel persecuted, they are paranoid and schizophrenia pervades their brain.” Trump-like? “Funny you should think of him,” she says with an agreeable laugh.

Does she feel she’s a different actress now from her Glasgow days?

“Yes, we evolve. Nothing stands still.” Does ageing bother her? “It is what it is, darling. When you’re younger you go through these periods of thinking, ‘I’m not tall enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not thin enough.’ But as you get older you realise none of that matters. The cup is half full.”

She adds: “Nothing is easy in life. We’re not here for an easy time. But everything that happens forms the person you’re going to be.”

And Glasgow helped form Anita Dobson. “It certainly did, darling.””

Annie, the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, until Saturday.