June Brown – Walford’s Dot Branning – has spoken about the early days of the long running BBC One saga and how ‘soap’ was perceived as a career killer due to being typecast.
Brown, who also made an earlier appearance in Coronation Street, reveals that by 1985 she felt her acting career was coming to an end.
“The show had been running for 20 weeks when I joined.” June told The Guardian, “I’d seen an early episode but there was a lot of shouting so I’d switched it off. I wasn’t into soaps.”
She may have only seen one of the 40 aired editions but it didn’t prevent her popping along to a casting call at the BBC’s Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, North London, where the programme has been made over the past 27 years.
June believes she was given the role of Dot Cotton – as was – thanks to a recently transmitted role in ITV cockney drama Minder back in 1984. While Dot was only initially to appear for three months the shows boss – the late Julia Smith – liked the character and wanted more.
“Six weeks in she’d taken on a life of her own and they asked if I would be permanent.” Brown recalls, however she accepted the role knowing it could be the last part she’d ever play. “In those days, it could ruin your career because you’d be typecast…. I’d had a dreadful year and thought my career was down the drain, so I accepted.”
It proved to be a shrewd move, June not only has played Dot on-and-off ever since – more on than off – a host of other stage and television roles have come her way thanks to the gossiping religious hypochondriac. Brown has recently recorded a new TV sitcom Heading Out and in recent years has appeared in ITV’s Margery and Gladys as well as Channel 5’s opening comedy drama Hospital! and big screen movie Bean.
Before EastEnders there had been roles in several drama productions including long running police series The Bill and sci-fi cult Doctor Who.
Dot is of course June’s longest running role, and while it offers financial security it can be a tough recording schedule.
“Characters can get under your skin when you play them for a long time. Bill Treacher, who played Arthur Fowler, said he found himself crying at home all the time when his character had to have a nervous breakdown. Sometimes I’ll feel down and realise it’s because of a depressing plot… a soap like this is day after day and it stays with you.”
EastEnders airs on BBC One with a repeat on BBC Three.