Vera super-fan set to travel to Newcastle from Australia in hope of spotting Brenda Blethyn

A devoted fan of Vera will be arriving in the North East from Australia within days in the hope of watching some of the last ever filming for the series.

And she says it would be 'the joy of a lifetime' if she manages to spot its star Brenda Blethyn, let alone speak to her.

Christine Bennett, known as Chris, lives in Essendon in the state of Victoria and describes herself as "an avid Australian fan of the series" - so much so that she is now known among her friends as both 'Vera's number one Australian fan' and a die-hard fan of Brenda Blethyn. When she heard the news that the long-running series is now coming to end - which she admits caused her to shed a tear - the 70-year-old was eager to fly over to what she calls "Vera-land".

She says: "I only decided to come over three weeks ago. I wanted to see if I could actually see the last series of Vera being filmed, plus visit all the Vera sites." Chris will be flying solo and, undeterred by the length of the flight taking her to the other side of the world, she can't wait for her June 5-24 visit.

She has been trying to find out if filming still will be taking place during her stay "so I could perhaps get a glimpse of Brenda". She adds: "It would be the joy of a lifetime if I do."

A chance to meet the actress would be the ultimate dream - "wishful thinking" she suggests - but she has discovered that Blethyn will be opening a fair at Charlotte Straker House in Corbridge, Northumberland, on June 15 so aims to attend that too. As she counts down the few remaining days to her trip, she says: "I'm so excited!"

It comes as a surprise to hear that Chris only discovered the series, inspired by Ann Cleeves' series of books, less than a year ago but she fast became a devoted fan and has now watched every episode several times. "Boy have I caught up!" she says.

She recalls how she was first introduced to the crime drama by a friend, Sue, who had migrated to Australia as a child but still enjoys British shows and who apparently spotted some similarities between Blethyn's character and her pal. Chris says: "Last July Sue recommended Vera to me.

"At first I was resistant because I've watched a lot of cop shows then finally relented because she said I was a lot like Vera. It's the bluntness of her words and liking to be by myself that Sue meant.

"Vera is a bit frumpy and large. I wouldn't say I was frumpy but I am large. Brenda is 5ft 1ins whereas I am 5ft 7ins - I probably fit Ann Cleeves' description better than the TV show Vera but I'm not slovenly like Ann's character!"

Chris, who has enjoyed murder mystery stories since the age of 12, has read all the books by Whitley Bay talent Cleeves who is her favourite author. She reads Cleeves' Shetland and Matthew Venn series too and calls her "such a talented writer".

She says of her mammoth Vera catch-up TV session which had such a profound effect: "I've seen each and every one of the 13 series at least three to four times and will watch again. The writing is brilliant; the characters and acting is flawless; the scenery is awesome and for a whodunnit the plot thickens as the episode goes on.

"Mostly I can't guess who the actual perpetrator is until it is revealed. That's the main thing I enjoy about this show. Vera has it all." She adds: "I also like watching Vera because the characters seem true to life.

"Unlike a lot of other cop shows Vera doesn't dwell too much on the personal lives of its characters but focuses on the crime. We get a bit of Vera's life but that's to be expected seeing the show is called Vera.

"I was devastated - and shed a few tears actually - to hear that Vera is finishing but can understand that Brenda is 78 and it would be taxing on her to be on set nearly 10 hours a day."

The Vera fan has a personal photograph signed by Blethyn as well as a Vera-theme artwork created by co-star Riley Jones. She would not like to see another actress step into Blethyn's shoes, she says, but adds: "Perhaps they could make a new series with Joe at the helm - but they better not call it Vera!"

Brenda Blethyn in Gateshead this week
Chris Bennett's personally-signed Vera photograph

This will be Chris' first visit to the North East although her third to the UK, following a trip she made to mark her retirement in 2018 and, ahead of that, one in 1986 with her then-11-year-old son to the Isle of Skye - chosen purely because it was the setting of a murder mystery book called Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart which she had enjoyed.

This time she is looking forward to seeing the North East's "amazing scenery" which features in the Vera, including its countryside, national parks and coast. She loves the sea in any season and, having taken up painting during Covid, she often paints coastal scenes.

She adds: "Saying that, I am looking forward to seeing the castle ruins that feature in some Vera episodes and am anxious to visit Holy Island. It seems that the North East has all this to offer."

Once her flight lands in London she'll be making the journey to the region and is due to arrive late on June 5 in Newcastle where she will be staying during her holiday. In the meantime, she has been keeping abreast of all the news articles written about Vera and says: "I'm getting very excited to visit Vera-land and other parts of the North East when I get there."

Fans everywhere have been dismayed by the news that the series currently being made is to be the last. The long-running drama is hugely popular worldwide while its North East setting has proved a massive tourism boost over the years, attracting visits from hordes of viewers and bringing knock-on economic benefits in what has been dubbed 'the Vera effect'.

Local fans are always quick to spot cast and crew on location and crowds regularly gather to watch the action, with the show's friendly star recently photographed giving a cheery wave to onlookers in a break during filming scenes in Gateshead. The actress has often spoken highly of fans. In 2020 another devoted fan from Australia caught the eye of Blethyn when she dressed up as Vera and shared an impersonation of the famous character on Twitter - to which the actress responded 'Bravo".