June Brown is one of Britain's best-loved actors, legendary for her role as chain-smoking gossip Dot Cotton in the BBC soap opera EastEnders.
June was born on February 16, 1927 in Needham Market
She has had a long TV career with small roles in Coronation Street as Mrs Parsons (1970); in Doctor Who (season 11, story 070: "The Time Warrior" playing 'Lady Eleanor Fitzroy'), medical soap Angels, history-of-Britain Churchill's People, long-running comedy drama Minder, police soap The Bill, and cult sci-fi Survivors. She also had a bigger part as Mrs Leyton in the very popular costume drama The Duchess of Duke Street (1976), and played Mrs Mann in Oliver Twist (1985).
Her big break came with her casting as Dot Cotton in EastEnders from 1985, about which there is more below. This has brought her the fame to to work on many other projects. For television, these include the wartime big band comedy Ain't Misbehavin' (1997) and playing Nanny Slagg in the BBC's big-budget production of Gormenghast in 2000.
She has also had a number of small roles in several famous movies, appearing as the grieving mother of an undead biker in British horror flick Psychomania (1971), as well as Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), uncredited in Straw Dogs (1971), Murder By Decree (1979), Nijinsky (1980), The Mambo Kings (1992), and the hugely successful Mr. Bean film spin-off Bean, aka Bean: The Movie (1997).
She has also been active in theatre, directing Pin Money by Malcolm Needs in London and Double D in London and Edinburgh. She has also played Mrs Danvers in a production of Rebecca, in Windsor and touring Britain. Other plays she has appeared in include An Inspector Calls, The Lion in Winter, A View From The Bridge, and numerous pantomimes.
June is best known for her iconic performance as Dot in EastEnders. With a cigarette
firmly wedged between her lips even around flammable fabrics in her job at the launderette
, Dot is a devoutly Christian
moraliser but also nosy, judgemental and sharp-tongued. These contradictions in her character have led to her place in many of the show's finest moments.
She appeared in the first episode of the show in 1985, and although she left for a few years in the early 1990s, she is still there in 2003, showing no signs of wearying; she is a large part of the history of Albert Square that has made EastEnders in recent years such an interesting show.
At first, she was Dot Cotton, married to Charlie (Christopher Hancock), a long distance lorry driver, with a son, Nick (John Altman). Nick was the show's main villain in its early years, a thief and drug dealer without morals. Despite his transgressions, Dot always took him back in, always forgiving him and blaming herself for the way she had raised him.
Eventually, Charlie was unmasked as a bigamist and killed in a motorway pile-up, but Nick continued to be the bane of her life. His darkest deed was when he slowly poisoned her in an attempt to get his hands on her bingo winnings. Eventually she shopped Nick to the police, and he later ended up paralysed in a wheelchair thanks to Mark Fowler (Todd Carty).
Dot had one grandchild, Nick's son Ashley (Frankie Fitzgerald). However, he took after his father rather than his grandmother, and he soon paid the price. Nick planned to kill Mark Fowler by tampering with Mark's beloved motorbike, but Ashley tried to get his own revenge on Mark by stealing the sabotaged bike, and ended up crashing and dying.
More recently, Dot has found happiness in the unlikely figure of Jim Branning (John Bardon). Dot seems perpetually attracted to roguish men, but Jim at least has a heart of gold. This is despite his lazy and tight-fisted personality and his constant scheming to get cheap drink, owing to the poor level of pensions provision in modern Britain. He proposed to Dot at the top of the London Eye, but when she went away to visit a sick relative, Jim was seduced by Doris.
Time for some trivia: Dot's impressive hairstyle is really June's own hair without the aid of any wig or hairpiece, but it does take three quarters of an hour to prepare. According to her agents, Associated International Management, Dot Cotton was the first and for a long time the only fictional character to appear in the satirical puppet show Spitting Image.
Dot and Ethel
Dot's greatest moments have come out of her friendship with Ethel (Gretchen Franklin
). One of the show's most acclaimed episodes consisted simply of Dot and Ethel talking for half an hour. And in 2000, Ethel's life ended in one of the show's most shocking storylines.
Ethel was terminally ill with cancer, and asked her old friend Dot to help end her life. Dot wrestled with her conscience, worrying how to square her love for her friend with her Christian beliefs, but eventually she did as Ethel asked. Following this, Dot was plagued by guilt and sought desperately to be punished in order to give her conscience some peace.
She confessed to the police that she had killed Ethel, but they refused to press charges, claiming there was no evidence. So in order to be punished for something, she took to shoplifting. When she was caught and prosecuted, she was let off with a caution, but she considered that insufficient punishment for the taking of a life, and moved on to more serious theft and vandalism. Even that only brought a fine of 400 pounds, but following the verdict she caused trouble in court until she was sentenced to fourteen days in jail. This proved enough to assuage her guilt.
More information about Dot's past came to light in the BBC special Dot's Story, written by Jeff Povey and broadcast on January 1, 2003. This showed Dot returning to rural Wales to visit her adopted mother, and told in flashbacks the stories of Dot's harsh childhood. She had been sent to Wales during World War II as a child evacuee to escape the bombing of London having been effectively abandoned by her real mother, and she found herself living on an isolated farm with the childless couple Will and Gwen. Gwen loved Dot as a daughter, but Will often treated her brutally, until tragic events unfolded led to the young Dot abandoning the one person who truly cared for her and running away.
Dot's often tragic life, bravery and moral sense contrast with her dry wit and interfering nature and make her such a complex and interesting person, her condemnation of others countered by far greater guilt about her own actions. Dot is often one of the show's great comic characters, as when she inadvertantly took marijuana to help with her arthritis, but she is also capable of being greatly moving, and much of this is due to June Brown's acting talents. Without her range, pathos, comic timing and acting ability Dot would be a one-dimensional caricature. May she be one person who smoking never kills.
"Eastenders". BBCi website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/eastenders/ (February 26, 2003).
"June Brown". Associated International Management. http://www.a-i-m.net/JuneBrown.htm (February 26, 2003).
Any more information about June or Dot, in particular June's earlier life and career, would be gratefully received.