Former Coronation Street actress Sarah Lancashire has hit out at the "ludicrous prejudice" held against soap stars by some writers and producers in the TV industry.
Lancashire, 49, starred as blonde barmaid Raquel in the ITV soap for six years until 1996, briefly reappearing in an episode in 2000.
The Last Tango In Halifax actress told Radio Times magazine: "Soaps are a double-edged sword. There can be prejudice from some writers and producers who feel you will lower the currency of their work if you've been in one. You have to rise above such ludicrous prejudice."
She added: "Sometimes it's necessary for soaps to hang on to an audience by sensationalising, but it's a beast I don't understand any more, an art form that has fostered extraordinary talent. It's a great arena to learn your craft before you move on. There's no such thing as a 'soap' actor, though.
"We're all actors and work across an enormous amount of media - radio, television, or standing outside a supermarket in a Weetabix outfit. I haven't done that, but when I see someone doing it, I think 'There but for the grace of God...'"
Lancashire, who stars as a police sergeant in new BBC1 drama Happy Valley, added: "I won't say I'd never go back to a soap because an actor's life is so precarious. You can have the most wonderful patch when everyone wants to work with you, and in the blink of an eye the phone won't ring for a month, even a year."
She told the magazine that it was not just actresses who experienced prejudice in their professional life as they got older.
"There's some truth that roles for older women are harder to come by, but it's wrong for actors to monopolise the ageist thing," Lancashire said. "In every profession you reach an age when people look at you suspiciously. Accountants, bankers, teachers are all pushed aside."
Lancashire, who is married to Peter Salmon, director of BBC North, said that young people " get a raw deal" today and that she worried about how the future would pan out for her own children.
"They have so much choice, but very few opportunities," she said of the younger generation. "They compete for jobs, have to work with no pay and feel terribly grateful to people who would never have done that."
She added: "It worries me because my children's prospects are so different to mine. I don't know if they'll ever be able to own a house, or if they'll be living at home when they're 35."