Michael Keohan celebrates the life and times of one of Britain’s best-loved performers, June Whitfield.
June Whitfield, who worked with a host of big star comedy names ranging from Tony Hancock, Terry Scott, Frankie Howerd, Harry H. Corbett and Kenneth Williams, is one of the best known female faces on UK television screens.
June was born in November 1925 in Streatham, south London. She didn’t herald from a showbiz background with her father working an a business officer for a telephone company while her mother was a housewife, however pursued an amateur career in acting. It was her mother’s love of the theatre that took June into the world of dramatic art performance and dancing.
Following professional training at RADA Whitfield took her first steps onto the stage in 1944, however it would be radio – and later television – where she had some of her biggest successes.
June first appeared on the BBC in April 1951 in The Years of Plenty, which celebrated ‘fifty years of show business’. She returned in August 1952 as part of an adaption of stage show Love From Judy, a production she was performing in at the Saville Theatre, London.
It was in December 1953 in the radio series Take It From Here, starring Dick Bentley and Jimmy Edwards, that she was hired directly by the Beeb to star in the programme as a regular through to 1961. The show written by Frank Muir and Dennis Norden had been a listener favourite since 1949.
Other radio series included Starstruck alongside Bob Monkhouse and his then comedy co-star Dennis Goodwin, Curiouser and Curiouser with Peter Sellers, The Spice of Life with music band leader Ted Ray and variety show London Nights.
She made her first movie in 1946 appearing as a dancer in Associated British Picture’s Quiet Weekend.
Other movies would follow, notably in the Carry On franchise where she appeared first in 1959’s Carry On Nurse and last in 1992’s Carry On Columbus with Carry On Abroad and Carry On Girls between.
It would be television however that made her a household name. Initially, a self-confessed ‘comic’s tart’ June would ultimately become a star in her own right. Her first regular television series as a character actress was in the BBC’s Fast and Loose, a comedy showcase for Bob Monkhouse and Dennis Goodwin which ran for two series.
Serious parts were also forthcoming across her entire career with roles in BBC police saga Dixon of Doc Green, Armchair Theatre and The Rag Trade. In the early 80s she also featured in Thames TV’s Minder for a guest spot alongside Dennis Waterman and George Cole.
However, comedy would be where June was most at home and big names were keen to hire her for their series. Bob and Dennis worked with her one last time on My Pal Bob, while she became a semi-regular on The Benny Hill Show, appeared numerous times alongside Tony Hancock, and was hired for many appearances on The Arthur Askey Show.
In 1968 she became a regular on Scott On… a showcase for comedian Terry Scott, it would be the beginning of a long-running on-screen partnership.
In 1974 Scott and Whitfield starred in Happy Ever After, running till 1978 it was replaced with a similar series Terry and June which ran for a further eight years.
During this period June also made guest appearances in comedies such as Bless This House with Sid James, The Dick Emery Show, Mike Yarwood in Persons, and Morecambe and Wise.
When Terry and June ended in 1987 it was the start of a whole new era for Whitfield. A remake of Terry and June with a gay couple Terry and Julian starring Julian Clary saw her make a guest appearance, down with the new wave of comedians she returned for another spot on camp Clary’s All Rise For…
In 1992 another modern comedy performer Jennifer Saunders cast June as her mother in off-the-wall sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, alongside others such as Joanna Lumley, ran for over 30 episodes and ran until last year. Quite a different kind of sitcom lured June over in 2001 as she joined Last of the Summer Wine.
The series began in 1973 but had suffered the loss of key actors with the death of Bill Owen and the departure of Kathy Staff (who had quit to return to Crossroads). June would remain with Summer Wine until its demise in 2010.
Further serious roles kept June busy with a visit to Coronation Street in 2010 and The Royal in 2005. She called her autobiography …and June Whitfield, recognising the fact that for most of her career she always got second billing.
Michael Keohan is a radio presenter and has worked for stations including Lite FM and Capital Radio.
He also from 2008-2009 wrote a monthly personal showbiz column for ATV Today.
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