Underrated: Queen of the stock-in-trade

Ah, the British jobbing actress: what a glorious creature] She may never attain the highest rungs of stardom (though there is Emma Thompson and there was Julie Andrews) or be sold as a sex symbol (though there is Greta Scacchi and there was Julie Christie) but she embodies virtues beyond the price of rubies. She is able to turn her hand to all things: light comedy, heavy drama, musicals, sketches, a multitude of accents. She has no contempt for the popular; the popular (a nice little sitcom, a soap opera) pays the rent and subsidises those ill-paid forays into the theatre, to essay Pinter, Shakespeare and Ibsen. She has a sense of humour about herself too. She must. Her parts are, more often than not, attendant on the leading man and even these will shrink after 30, a disgraceful waste of a precious national resource: just as experience is making her better and better, her opportunities become fewer and fewer. She has her pride, but she values common sense. Asked to narrate a children's series, adorn a panel game or appear in an ad and she will smile and crisply answer, 'Yes'.

Lynda Bellingham is the epitome of the neglected species, sister under the skin to Barbara Flynn, Deborah Findlay, Paula Wilcox and Janine Duvitski. Most punters probably think of Bellingham as the Oxo Lady (the character lacks even a name), if they think of her at all. That's their loss, not hers. True believers first noticed her in General Hospital in 1972, attracted not only by her skill (she underplays with a twinkle) but by her unfeigned physical warmth; Bellingham's air of wry humour seems inextricably tied to her creamy skin colouring and brunette-going-on-russet hair.

Like all good company, she's someone you wanted to see again, and you did. There she was on The Professionals, The Sweeney and Z Cars, series that gave her little chance to shine, though shine she did, her naturalness speaking volumes amid the macho heroics around her. Bellingham has a priceless in-built reality, the first thing grander leading ladies lose as they totter toward mannerism. She draws empathy by doing her job with the minimum fuss. She's just there - a tactic guaranteed to repel the notice of critics who like to consider themselves 'serious'.

Yet, for devotees, her professionalism is as intoxicating as the headiest perfume, be she winging it on The Pink Medicine Show or bringing a depth of unexpected feeling to a role as thankless as James Herriot's wife in All Creatures Great and Small. How happy we were to see her belatedly elevated to co-star status for LWT's comedy Second Thoughts; happier still to witness her resistance of the cheap laugh, preferring to play her divorcee with a truthfulness other, self-inflated names would do well to copy.

(Photograph omitted)