She's famous for being the superbitch of film and TV but Stephanie Beacham is all set for comedy.

STEPHANIE Beacham plays the game of being one of the legendary superbitches of stage and screen so well that she had her publicity shot as the Wicked Queen from Snow White put on her bus pass. Talking about turning 60 in February she says: "It's remarkable but the most fabulous thing is the freedom. It's just divine, when I got my bus pass I put on the photograph I got of me as the Wicked Queen from Snow White, with crown. The sweet man in the Post Office said 'I know I shouldn't be letting you use this photo but I think it's such good fun I'm going to'. I'm longing to be asked to show my ID.

"I loathed being 40 and I wasn't too keen on 50 but I'm proud as hell to be 60 because already I've started losing people and I realised that I've just been incredibly lucky and if I dropped down dead tomorrow I've lived 17 lives in this one existence. I just look at my cv and it makes me faint."

Having acted with everyone from Marlon Brando to today's cult comedy star Catherine Tate, she admits that she can't pick out a career highlight.

But her next role is as a retired stage actress in the latest touring version of Hay Fever by Noel Coward, which plays Newcastle's Theatre Royal next week.

"I couldn't not do Judith. All the dames have done her, she's just one of those characters. How glad am I to have done the Vortex with Rupert Everett and now to be doing Hay Fever. If you want something to take your mind off al qaida and terrorists I think this is as good as anything. It's pure escapism. I love comedy best, especially in the theatre because you know whether it works or not straight off," Stephanie adds.

"It's enormous fun to play another of those impossible women. But they do become a little bit like over-staying house guests because they swamp into your life in rather an alarming way."

She does admit that she never got into the character of Phyl Oswyn for bizarre ITV1 series Bad Girls. "I can't believe I had so many series of it and I never had a character. Poor Old Phyl, I never quite knew who she was. I think there was a lot of me in her. Amanda (Barrie) and I spent most of our time in the dressing room reading newspapers and listening to Radio 4. The word is skived," she jokes but is aware that taking on the role gave her fresh credibility with a new generation of TV watchers. "You just need that visibility."

But her next role is one of grandmother and spending the summer with her grandson at home in Malibu. "I'm doing a little movie afterwards. I'm only going to come out and do what I want to do now I must admit."

Stephanie reveals that seven-year-old Jude calls her "Glamma" and she specifically made her panto debut last year for his benefit. "It is the truth that somehow Jude is just the most important man in my life but luckily my boyfriend (Alfie Harrison) has a daughter and they get on terribly well."

Is it possible for her to juggle relationships with children, grandchildren and a career? "I have to have more time for me now, but I went straight from panto into this and I'll come off the road completely out of puff, spend time with Jude and then we'll just have to see where the poor boyfriend fits in because he's got his own stuff to do," she says.

She's well-known for raising the profile of deaf awareness having been been born with no hearing in her right ear.

"I think deafness is very hard to understand because you can't see it. It is also desperately boring for the person who is deaf because they can't follow everything and people are always the wrong side of me and I can't hear a word. I lend as much time as I can," says Stephanie who finances hearing dogs for the deaf.

"My dog at the moment is called Spotty and he's doing quite well. They are all rescue dogs," she says, revealing that she was tempted to take on BBC2's The Underdog Show where celebrities and rescue dogs are featured doing obedience tests.

"I just pay for the training and then turn up and take a bit of limelight at somewhere like Crufts and go in for a relay race and bribing the poor creature all the way. I won using a lot of naughty snacks," the actress says.