THERE’S A moment in Anita Dobson’s that really should have been photographed in black and white. Here’s the scene; it’s milk-and-rolls-still-on-doorsteps early morning outside the Citizens’ Theatre in early Seventies Glasgow. A young East London actress has arrived on the sleeper train but the theatre, understandably,is fast asleep.

The anxious look on the young actress’s face has managed to win out over the excitement she felt on arrival in her new home, ready to embark upon a career. She’s at a loss. She sits on top of her suitcase staring across the broken bottled, dirty tenement, oily-puddled landscape, all too aware the Gorbals was a perilous place to be. “You could almost see the tumbleweed going down the road,” Dobson recalls, relaxing in her theatre dressing room in Newcastle.

But soon the photograph could have been replaced with a happier snap. “Just then a lady from the café 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 Dobson’s time in the city. Yet, she could never have imagined she would go on to become an established actress in legit theatre, an iconic soap star with 30m watching her every eye twitch in Eastenders. She could never have predicted she’s one day return to Glasgow to play the thoroughly wicked Miss Hannigan in Annie! as she is 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). And 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, wallowing in this little highbrow theatre world set, paradoxically, in an enclave that was then a midden.

And Dobson 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 flud 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, learning all the time from people such as Mike Gwylim.

Dobson grins in recall; “I remember (December 1972) walking down the corridors of our Close Theatre next door and realising on both sides there were rows and rows of cages with live rats in them. I discovered they were staging Dracula, and the rats were for Dracula’s lab, and each night Mike had to pretend to bite a rat’s head off.” She laughs, “It was a very evocative place to work.”

Did the then auburn-haired actress have a great time socially? Was it a rites of passage adventure with lots of young men seeking to capture her attention? “I had a couple of boyfriends,” she smiles, “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 tone 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, were a dress-cutter and a seamstress, were encouraging of their two daughters, but the late Sixties was all about taking a sensible job, marrying a nice man and having a couple of kids before you’re old enough to know any better.

Dobson followed that path initially. When she left school at 16 working life began at the Prudential Insurance Company. It was fun, she loved wearing a suit and capturing the attention of male colleagues, but saw marriage and children as entrapment. And by now, helped on by her dad steering his daughter in the direction of Shakespeare, Dobson knew she wanted to act.

A successful grant application took her to Webber Douglas drama college and then Glasgow. Dobson’s choice was to be married for ever to the likes of Pinter and Moliere. But God laughs at your plans, doesn’t he? Eastenders? Soap television? “Yes, I hadn’t planned for it. And I had no idea it was going to change my life in so many ways, darling,” The profile must have created huge pressures? “When it all happened (the Queen Vic arrival) I went from nought to a hundred 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 it about the show and sign things.”

Over the years however Dobson has gone on to appear in a range of theatre roles, some classical, some populist, 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,” she says.

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.

Theatre fans will love her Miss Hannigan. 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. Life is about teaching us things. Everything that happens forms the person you are going to be.”

Anita Dobson is happy with her lot. She can look back and smile, but mostly it’s about the moment, and satisfying the need to go out there and entertain.

But is there any part of her that regrets not sticking around at the Prudential and having the 2.4 children. “Not a bit of it,” she says laughing. “And the world should be pleased. During my time there quite a few claims went missing.”

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