June Brown At 90 – A Walford Legend, coincides with the performer’s 90th birthday.
June has appeared in Granada Television’s Coronation Street, ATV’s Gentle To Nora and the beeb’s The Duchess Of Duke Street; however it was of course through her role as Dorothy ‘Dot’ Cotton in BBC One soap opera EastEnders that she became a major television personality.
“Give us a tea, Lofty. And a glass of water so I can take a Paracetamol.”
Those were the first words June ever uttered as Dot and they would prove to be a turning point in EastEnders’ history.
Back in the 1980s: June Brown as Dot Cotton in EastEnders.
Same place 30 years later: June Brown as Dot Branning in Albert Square.
Celebrating a milestone birthday, June Brown At 90 – A Walford Legend, spends half an hour in the company of one of Albert Square’s most beloved actors, as she talks about her life and career. From her early days in theatre, to the reason she believes she was cast as Dot, June Brown’s views on almost everything are both surprising and entertaining.
“I loved it when Dot went hysterical” – June Brown
In the programme June – who trained at London’s Old Vic Theatre school – briefly reflects on her work before EastEnders, revisiting the Noel Coward theatre that saw the beginning of her career more than sixty years previously. She is also seen sifting through a collection of photographs of herself in various roles including as Mrs Parsons in ITV’s Coronation Street and Nannie Slagg in an elaborate production of Gormenghast broadcast by the BBC in 2000.
“My sister happened to look at The Times and there it was advertised the Old Vic Theatre school, I wrote in and I got an audition.
“The Noel Coward theatre is very special to me because it’s where I began and it was one of the happiest times of my life.” – June Brown
June in ATV’s 1969 production of Gentle to Nora, where she starred in the lead role.
As Alice Penny in London Weekend Television’s Oranges and Lemons which aired in 1973.
June (right) in her first soap role as Mrs Parsons, the mother of an organ boy, in a 1971 edition of Coronation Street
June talks of how, in the early days of EastEnders, she was looked upon as a rival by a fellow cast member and how she made her character more than ‘just a list of illnesses’ and she also reveals the effect Dorothy Branning has had on her life and the opportunities it has given her, from a BAFTA nomination to revealing all in Calendar Girls.
But who is June Brown? And how similar is she to her EastEnders’ character? Funny, eccentric and straight talking, while Dot might be often impersonated, June Brown is unique as the BBC One documentary aims to reveal, June however doesn’t consider herself a star, just well known.
“Gretchen [Gretchen Franklin, Ethel in EastEnders] said to me one day ‘We’re not stars June, we’re household names.’ and then she named two soap powders.
“Acting is a very ephemeral business. It’s only in the memory of the people who have seen it and it’s only there for as long as they remember.” – June Brown
Born in Suffolk in 1927, June was the elder of five children. During World War II, the future star was evacuated to Wales and later served in the Wrens. Her first husband, actor John Garley, suffered from depression and took his own life. June went on to marry Dixon of Dock Green star Robert Arnold in 1958 with whom she had six children. She remained married to Arnold for several decades until his death in 2003.
June with the late John Bardon as husband and wife Dot and Jim Branning.
June as Dot in a scene from Christmas 2016, the character had recently lost her job.
June has, throughout her long and varied career, worked across television, radio, theatre and film with Play For Today; The Sweeney; Z-Cars; Minder; Crown Court; Doctor Who and Bean (1997) also among her credits. However, she is best known for one role in particular – that of long-suffering Dot, mother to the Square’s ultimate bad boy Nick Cotton (John Altman).
Dot was not a part of EastEnders’ original cast, debuting in the fledgling soap opera’s fortieth episode on July 4 1985 on an initial short-term contract which was later extended on the strength of June’s work. June continued playing Dot until 1993 – leaving over concerns as to how her character had developed. However, she was lured back to reprise the role in 1997. In 2003 the BBC, acknowledging the character’s popularity, broadcast a spin-off show about Dot’s early life.
In EastEnders‘ storylines Dot was often taken advantage of by murderous son Nick and bigamous first husband Charlie (Christopher Hancock), the latter was killed off – in a move June Brown and John Altman once said they hadn’t approved of – in a 1991-aired storyline involving an off-screen lorry crash. Nick, who even schemed to do his old ‘ma’ in more than once, came and went from her life for 30 years before being killed off from a heroin overdose in February 2015.
June with Liz Smith and Sam Kelly in ITV comedy period drama Now and Then.
June Brown and Anna Nygh in Sylvia Plath biopic Letters Home
The movie ‘The 14’ with June in the lead role
In other storylines Dot has fought off cancer, helped her best friend Ethel Skinner (Grethen Franklin) to die in some of EastEnders’ most moving scenes ever; and she was also a part of a popular double act with second husband Jim Branning (John Bardon) for several years. The writers have also been able to mine Dot’s friendships with characters such as Ethel, Lou Beale (Anna Wing) and Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard) and ability to reach out to Walford’s lost souls for material down the years.
The Albert Square mainstay’s latest storylines – aired just before Christmas – saw her diagnosed with AMD / wet age-related macular degeneration after suffering a deterioration in sight and lose her job at the launderette after the decision for it to be turned into a dry cleaners.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to her [Dot] now. She’s lost her job. Her raison d’être as it were. You should really have a job in EastEnders but it is very difficult to go against the writing.” – June Brown
Due to her distinctive mannerisms and turns of phrases, tragi-comic Dot has become something of an icon. She’s been parodied in cartoon sketch series 2DTV, Alistair McGowan’s Big Impression show and in the 1980s and 90s she was also one of the few Enders’ to have a Spitting Image puppet created for the satirical sketch show.
The term “Dot Cotton syndrome” – referring to Dot’s well known penchant for a fag – is used within the health industry to describe elderly people who refuse to refrain from smoking, despite health risks, as it is their only pleasure left in life.
Central Television’s Spitting Image puppet of Dot Cotton.
Alistair McGowan as Dot Cotton in his BBC Big Impressions show.
June was awarded an MBE for her services to drama and charity in 2008 and a year later was nominated for a BAFTA for her role as Dot, after a groundbreaking episode of the soap featured no other actor but herself. The episode titled Pretty Baby was written by EastEnders script veteran Tony Jordan and aired in January 2008. It featured Dot reminiscing about the past as she tape recorded words of comfort for husband Jim, who was recovering from a stroke in hospital.
June’s BAFTA nomination – her first – was only the second time an actor had received such a nod for their work on a soap opera, after Coronation Street star Jean Alexander was nominated in 1983. In the documentary June admits that she couldn’t wait to film the single hander episode and found the process easy. She also reveals how her family made her a ‘NAFTA’ award as a consolation prize for losing out on the BAFTA.
June Brown At 90 – A Walford Legend features contributions from many Walford regulars including Danny Dyer, Adam Woodyatt, Gillian Taylforth, Rudolph Walker, Lacey Turner and Natalie Cassidy.
“June Brown is a one-off, a genuine national treasure. It’s been a privilege to be given the chance to capture her magic.” – Executive Producer Caroline Wright