. * Brenda "Bren" Furlong (Victoria Wood) — (born 24 December 1957) The deputy manager of the canteen, and arguably the most ordinary of the characters. She had an unhappy childhood as her mother had her taken into care, and had an unhappy marriage to an alcoholic of whom she was frightened. She is very good at solving her colleagues' problems but often doubts her ability to overcome her own hardships. She is somewhat scattered, often forgetting adjectives and suggesting implausible alternatives and has a near encyclopedic knowledge of cinema which she makes many metaphorical references to. Several times in the first series it is hinted that she has feelings for Tony, though nothing comes of this until halfway through the second series.
* Tony Martin (Andrew Dunn) — The divorced canteen manager, whose battle against cancer is a running storyline in the first series, prompting him in the second to want to do more with his life than simply running a canteen. Though he talks and thinks about women a lot, he has very little luck with them. He is attracted to Bren, but is too shy to reveal this to her for a long time. He is also a smoker and uses this as an excuse to escape some of the more surreal conversations of his co-workers
* Dolly Bellfield (Thelma Barlow) — (born 8 April) Something of a social climber, Dolly is the cattiest of the dinnerladies, always having a bitchy remark to make about those around her. Prim and prudish, she frequently snaps at people that they ought to moderate their language, and frowns on Twinkle's sexual shenanigans. Perhaps because of earlier problems, alluded to in the first series episode "Moods", she is fixated on her weight and dieting. She has been married for thirty years and hopes to move to the nearby upmarket suburb of Mobberley after her retirement. Her constant regret is that her son Stephen lives with a marine biologist called Marcus (the audience are left to draw their own conclusions as to the living arrangements). Her husband, Bob, pretends to be deaf when they are in company and can't go to the toilet when with visitors, though Dolly claims "He can hear a bag of oven chips being opened from three doors away!"
* Jean (Anne Reid) — Dolly's best friend, Jean is very often the stooge for her mordant remarks. Jean is somewhat unhappily married to cheating husband Keith at the start of the series (with a grown-up daughter, Liza), and in the second series he leaves her for a dental hygienist. After getting over the shock, and rediscovering self-confidence that she'd forgotten she ever had, she has a fling with a security guard (Barry "the love muscle") before settling down with Stan. She should wear her glasses for reading, but never does.
* Twinkle (Maxine Peake) — The youngest member of the team, she turns up late every day and tries unsuccessfully to borrow cigarettes from Tony. No matter how sarcastic she may be however, it is clear that she regards the other members of staff as good friends, particularly Bren to whom she turns for help on several occasions. She lives with her wheelchair-using mother, for whom she acts as carer, and spends her evenings getting drunk and falling into skips. She loses a lot of weight between series. She is also a closeted football fan, much to Tony's amazement with her depth of knowledge.
* Anita (Shobna Gulati) — (born 15 September 1975) Pleasant, but rather dim, Anita is a kind and loyal friend to her colleagues, empathising with them and often helping them to solve their problems without even realising it. She is somewhat desperate to have a family and children, becoming pregnant in the second series after a one night stand with a visiting decorator and terrified of the implications, leaves the baby on the fire escape on Millennium Eve, attaching a note asking Bren to look after him. However, she realises that she must face the consequences of her actions and returns to take the baby back. She is a big fan of Celine Dion and would like to call her first daughter Celine.
* Stan Meadowcroft (Duncan Preston) — Stan is the uptight handyman of the factory, who lives with his father. He spends his days cleaning bins and grumbling. He is also particularly close to Bren as she seems to be the only one who knows how to successfully handle his moods. After his father's death he decides to get his life going again, embarking on a brief relationship with a nurse before dating, and ultimately proposing to his colleague Jean, which she accepts in the final episode. He keeps a toupee for special occasions (such as the royal visit) and holidays.
* Petula Gordino (Brenda Furlong) (Julie Walters) — Bren's selfish and manipulative mother, who had Bren taken into care as a child because she was cramping her style. She sometimes seems to forget that Bren is her daughter. Whenever she pays Bren a visit, it's usually because she wants money or a favour. She appears to live in a fantasy world where she is a close friend (and usually a lover) of the rich and famous, but in reality is a down-and-out who lives in a caravan behind a petrol station. In the second series, she embarks on an affair with an Asian man and claims to be pregnant with his child. In the final episode, she dies off-screen. It is revealed that her real name is also Brenda Furlong.
* Philippa Moorcroft (Celia Imrie) — The scatty and disorganised manager of the Human Resources department, having apparently landed the job because she was having an affair with the factory manager, Mr Michael to whom she refers as Mikey. According to her mother, she failed several of her O Levels. Her well-meaning attempts to relieve the dinnerladies' stress or help them in their personal lives generally have the opposite effect. In the second series she decides to break up with Mr Michael, and, having spent days planning how to do so to the smallest detail, she is furious when he dumps her first. She later begins a relationship with a colleague, Tom Murray 'from my office'. Philippa is the only character in the series who comes from the south of England.
* Jane (Sue Devaney) — A member of the planning department, she had only a minor role in the first series, usually ordering the toast round for meetings. In the second series, she played a much more major part, having an ongoing wager with the canteen staff that Bren and Tony would or would not manage to 'get it on' by Christmas Eve. She has a drunken snog herself with Tony whilst on holiday in Marbella.
 Minor Characters
* Norman (Andrew Livingston/Adrian Hood) and Big Glenda (Sue Cleaver) — bread suppliers to the canteen. Norman is a work shy agoraphobic and bigamist (technically), and Glenda seems to overtake Norman's duties when his agoraphobia is plaguing him. Norman often attributes the cause of his condition to an incident when he "fell off a diving board in Guernsey", and was horrified to be told that Siobahn had left Bananarama when he came round in hospital. He also developed a fear of bread in the second series. Glenda was undergoing 'bladder' surgery, the nature of which is never directly mentioned (apart from a comment that it was to correct 'a bit hanging down'), though Tony often jokes that she is a transsexual and once likened her to Desperate Dan.
* Connie (Dora Bryan) — Jean's mother, a tracksuit wearing nymphomaniac who flirted shamelessly with Tony at the canteen worker's tea-party for the mothers.
* Enid (Dame Thora Hird) — Dolly's mother, who uses a wheelchair. She lacks a sense of humour, has a sour view on everything (such as her daughter's weight gain during puberty) "she had the biggest bottom on Whitefield" and dislikes southerners. According to Dolly, she was once trapped under a Blackpool tram for nearly five hours.
* Jim (Eric Sykes) — Stan's father, with whom he lived until series two when he died. He was a Desert Rat in World War II and various anecdotes are made about this throughout the show, such as his life being saved by a mess-tin and saving a man's life with a tablespoon.
* Hilary (Elspet Gray) — Philippa's mother, who is patronising and very upper-middle-class.
* Peggy (Linda Bassett) — Jean's sister, appears to collect Jean during her breakdown during her divorce. She is as equally as catty as Dolly, much to her consternation.
* Mr Michael (Christopher Greet) — Member of staff of HWD Components but his position is never mentioned although it is hinted he is a manager or even managing director. He hasn't actually been seen doing any work and was in a relationship with Philippa (the reason she moved up to Manchester). A fan of trad jazz, sexual intercourse, jigsaws and custard.
* Babs from Urmston (Kate Robbins) — Petula's guest to the factory's Christmas Party and Tony's blind date in series one. She's very slow, dimwitted and has the tendency to repeatedly tell people that she's from Urmston. She is very knowledgeable in catering appliances, which piqued Stan's interest at the Christmas Party. She made a brief appearance in series two after witnessing Petula's caravan exploding due to a faulty gas connection Petula made with a pair of tights. After Petula recovered from being flung into the car wash, Babs was sent to the factory on a request for Brenda's holiday money.
* Malcolm — An inflatable mannequin of a man usually dressed in a suit, Malcolm was owned by Anita, who sat him in the passenger seat of her car while driving to discourage thieves. She often talked for him and used him as a decoration for the Christmas party. Tony once remarked that, compared to Anita, he provided fairly interesting conversation.
* Liza (Jane Hazlegrove)- Jean's daughter, who gets married in the first episode.
* Keith (Peter Lorenzelli)- Jean's husband, who appears at the Christmas party, but later leaves Jean for a "lipless dental hygienist from Wales".
* Bob Bellfield (Jack Smethurst) - Dolly's husband, who came to the Christmas party and annoyed Dolly by apparently feigning deafness
* Steve Greengrass (Steve Huison)- Unlucky office worker who can't mix his foodstuffs and who broke his leg when he slipped on some orange juice spilt by Anita.
* Bob the factory worker (Bernard Wrigley) — Usually seen struggling to get served whilst the girls talk, and seen with Jane collecting for Mr Michael's retirement at Christmas.
* Ken (David Hatton)- Factory worker who apparently has a wife at home with Alzheimer's, and who got bored with Yoghurt after 30 years and was encouraged by Bren to "go wild and have custard".
* The Pie Man (Graham Turner) — A strange man who likes Judy Garland and who seems to have an attraction to Tony. He gave Tony some mince pies as a gift, which made Twinkle ill after she ate eight of them.