WHATEVER happened to Katy Murphy? Thirty years ago, the the actress was revealed to the world in John Byrne’s BBC comedy drama Tutti Frutti and fast became the nation’s poster girl: Miss Toner was Miss Nippy Sweetie 1987.

In the same year, washhouse stage comedy The Steamie showed Murphy’s talent to be about more than the ability to deliver lines dryer than cotton bed sheets on a windy day. Her Doreen’s wide-eyed optimism was wondrous.

In recent years we’ve seen smatterings of Murphy but in acting terms the woman with the mad curls has all but vanished, like a BBC salary negotiator’s social conscience.

Right now, the actor is in the kitchen of her very nice flat in North London’s Crouch End, the quaint, quirky little hamlet which attracts showbiz types like hopefuls to an open audition. (Clare Grogan lives nearby, as do Bill Paterson and Annie Lennox.) The dark curls have gone, replaced by a dark blonde colour. But the big energy revealed in so many roles remains.

“I love it here,” says Murphy, smiling, of her home for the past 19 years. “I’ve lived in different parts of London so I’ve had a chance to compare. I bought a long time ago, and I was very lucky.”

But what of acting, Katy? We haven’t seen you in yonks. And actors need to act, don’t they? The fact they chose the applause business in the first place suggests if denied performance they will fall into the dark cracks of ordinary existence.

Murphy grins and says it ain’t necessarily so. “I don’t feel that way. You see, I work three days a week in teaching. I teach reception class, which is four and five year olds, and on a Wednesday I work with children with additional needs. It’s really interesting and wonderful to do that as well.”

Yet she was once super-successful, receiving plaudits for the likes of A Mug’s Game and Donovan Quick. How can she simply jettison that essence? “To be honest, it’s never felt that black and white. It’s been more of, well, acting isn’t happening at the moment so I have to look at something else. And there have been chances to go into the acting world again. It all feels quite fluid in a way.”

Murphy, unusually for someone so skilled at performing, never set out to be an actor. Growing up in Glasgow’s east end housing scheme Cranhill, teaching was the plan, studying at Glasgow University before discovering a love for the stage.

The shy young woman found her voice when others wrote it for her. She once said: “When you’re not beautiful, you have to find something else in these characters.” Murphy found a great deal. “I think I was so lucky,” she maintains. “I had a really good innings, with writers such as John Byrne and Donna Franceschild, but there are lots of people out there who are very talented but who don’t get that one thing.”

That “one thing” was Tutti Frutti. “It was an amazing piece of work to be involved with. It made me think: ‘Wow, I could maybe do this for a living.’ After that there was a period when I went from one job to another,” she says of the likes of Byrne’s Your Cheatin’ Heart. “It was a fantastic time.” Did she ever become a little diva-like? Did she buy a Maserati and employ minions to powder her nose or fill in her coupon?

“No, I didn’t buy a Maserati but yes, I’m sure there were times when I did go on about myself,” she says, smiling. “My family were too nice to tell me off for being self-indulgent but I look back and think: ‘Oh God, why didn’t someone tell me to shut up?’”

Had her curly head swelled to the size of Cranhill? “No, I was angsting about everything. And you know, that’s what I love about teaching. It’s so healthy. You’re looking outwards, rather than inwards. You’re looking at the children or the families who need your help rather than yourself.”

The school world doesn’t know her as Katy Murphy. She’s Margaret, the name on her birth certificate. “It’s nice to have this other identity,” she says. It means she can be part of two worlds – the one where she does the show-off stuff and the other in which she helps others. “Well, I’d call it self-expression, rather than showoffy,” she says, laughing.

Right now, Murphy is set to re-enter the world of self-expression. She’s starring alongside Steven Duffy in a new short film Bridge, written by Franceschild and directed by actor Iain Robertson. (“A crowdfunding piece about the kindness of strangers which is reliant upon the kindness of strangers.”) “Donna has written a beautiful piece and has managed to cram in such compassion,” says Murphy. “It’s about a woman who is not in a good way, she’s in despair, in a state of total isolation, and then human contact is made. So for me it’s about thinking how she got there.”

Has Murphy ever been affected by depression? “I’ve been sad but I haven’t suffered. But I do know depression is a horrendous illness. And my understanding of the condition was helped by having played Francine in Takin’ Over the Asylum [a BBC Scotland television drama from 1994 also starring David Tennant] so I have some awareness. There are triggers to depression. It can be a bereavement, or poverty, or losing a home or a relationship.”

Murphy has been divorced “for many years”, bringing up daughter, Lola, 19, – “she’s great, very tall” – alone. But what of her mother? “I’m happy single,” she maintains. Don’t you miss the companionship, or even the frisson of the first date? “Well, it’s been so long. I’m nearly 55 now. I guess if having a series of relationships is your norm, that’s fine. But for me the norm is not that. And I have a wonderful family and friends. And a busy life.”

Murphy pauses for a second and adds: “Well, if someone happened along, and there was a connection, well ... but honestly, I’m happy to be single. Really. The things I felt were indispensable when I was younger aren’t now.”

The actress laughs. “But I do like a rom-com,” she adds. “They may involve dreadful gender politics but it doesn’t matter.”

How does the dual identity situation work out? Does she play the role of Contented Teacher for a while until the lure of the spotlight drags her back to the stage? Does she hear of a good play coming up and give the agent a poke?

“No,” she says, grinning. “It just doesn’t occur to me. I wait to be asked. I always think if folk wanted me they’d get in touch with the agent. Although it’s lovely when it happens.”

Murphy reveals oodles of humility during conversation. Ben Hur chariots tied to her ankles couldn’t drag showbiz tittle tattle from her, despite the experience of working with the likes of Colin Firth in BBC drama Donovan Quick or David Essex in moody rom-com The River.

Of course there’s a confident, “show-offy” side to her character which allows for performance, but this is offset by innate shyness. She certainly wasn’t the sort of child who’d perform at the opening of a fridge door. “I can’t believe I once got up on the stage and sang in The Steamie,” she recalls with a mock shudder.

Even now Murphy has trouble with auditions. “It’s so hard,” she admits. “The nerves really get in the way. I’m just not good at them and I’ve had so many bad ones. I just think: ‘I want to leave now.’ But it is what it is.”

In her teaching career she reveals she becomes a nervous wreck when she has to become a committee chairperson for an evening. Surely, Margaret, you can take off the school uniform and turn into Super Katy – and act the role of Confident Chairperson?

“That’s when acting can help,” she says. “But what I really love about having a bit of acting experience is the help it gives when working with small children. If you do a funny face or a voice you find five-year-olds to be a magnificent audience.”

For crowdfunding details about Bridge visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/bridge-short-film--3#