Celebrate a milestone birthday and all things Dot Cotton as EastEnders actress June Brown chats about her life and career. Featuring famous Walford faces.
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She's a lady of immense experience, you know?
She's a lady of the world.
OK, guys. Here we go. Let's stand by for rehearsal.
Getting to 90 is an achievement in itself.
Getting to 90 and working in this industry,
erm, is something remarkable,
and June is still there, right up at the top.
You know, she's just an amazing...an amazing lady.
-Shall we have a look at it on camera?
-Yes, of course.
-Is that all right, my darling?
I've worked with some very famous people over the years,
and very powerful people, very good actors...
There's just something about her that, you know, she...
You go, "Wow."
Hello, Jim. It's me, Dorothy.
'It's very difficult to talk about Dot without thinking of June.'
Do you realise, Jim, we'd have been married six years soon?
Who would believe it?
You just can't imagine Dot Cotton as anybody else, really.
I've got to face facts - with my nerves, I've got to smoke.
You silly little man!
She made that character.
Everything you see is what June added herself.
All those little bits like the cigarette, the...you know,
and the way the curl came in her hair - that's what she wanted.
Jim, it is important that we find out what the youth of today
is doing with themselves. I don't want...
Ooh, I say.
Oh, and you'd better change the bedding as well.
'She has turned Dot into an icon.'
She created Dot out of nothing, and she has kept Dot going,
with all her, you know, little bits and bobs that she has,
for 30-odd years, and that is... that's incredible.
People ask me if I'm like Dot.
There's not an awful lot of me in Dot, I don't think.
I don't take her home with me.
I'm not one of those who lives the part.
That's an amateur... That's a very, very amateur approach.
I'm trying to think how I'm different...
She's got quite a high opinion of herself, actually, Dot,
and I don't think I have.
Now, you want to tell your children what I used to tell my Nick.
"Nick," I used to say, "just be a little discriminating.
"Remember at all times that you come from a good home
"and don't let yourself be tempted by low types."
She's very pleased with herself.
Oh, I say.
And I suppose I have been happy often in my life...
Ah, not like Dot.
What have I done?
I'm not a gossip.
I talk about people, people's situation and things,
but only because I care about them and I'm concerned about them.
I would have gone round theirs but I didn't want to interfere,
cos you know me, Carol, I ain't one to pry.
It's Jim what's curious.
In my life, and Dot certainly wasn't like this,
I did have a lot of love affairs.
Why is it, Ethel, that men,
even religious men who collect Bibles,
can only think of the one thing?
'The only way I am like Dot is in my feelings about spirituality,
'only they are rather advanced for Dot -
'but, apart from that,'
I'm not...really like Dot at all, I don't think.
I wanted to go into the medical profession in some way or other.
Acting wasn't important enough to think about,
and that was a hobby -
that was nothing to do with what you did in life.
It was all chance. Most of life is chance, or some people's.
Mine certainly was.
The bar, I was going into the bar...
I wonder why. SHE CHUCKLES
'My sister happened to look at the Times,'
and there it was advertised, the Old Vic Theatre School.
I wrote, I suppose, and I got an audition.
They said, "Well, yes, you are in,"
so I burst into tears,
because in those days I cried when I was happy
and I cried when I was sad.
'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.
I wish it were September 1948,
and I wish I were 21 again.
I landed up living in New Bond Street,
and the flat cost £4.20 to you, four guineas, erm...
a week, and we shared it and we paid £1.35 each rent.
We used to go to concerts and we went to the Proms,
and, yeah, we went to theatres.
I love the stage.
You see, it's alive, this theatre.
It's had live words spoken in, live reactions -
everything's been live.
I just want to act, you see.
I really do.
I've been thinking lately and just wondering.
You do - as you get older, you...
you look back at what you've done and how you've behaved,
You do take an inventory of yourself in a funny way.
Oh, The Taming Of The Shrew.
Well, I'd had five children by this time,
and I got this offer to go to Sweden to do a tour.
There we all are. SHE LAUGHS
I think that's me.
I don't know what all these things are.
What's that one?
Oh, that was at the Royal Court.
That's Coronation Street.
That is whoever I was...
Oh, Mrs Parsons!
There's Nannie Slagg.
I enjoyed Gormenghast.
That was very difficult, that hat, because it was so vast.
I'm a doctor, you know. SHE LAUGHS
I don't know what I'm a doctor of.
I must ask them one day.
Now, that's another lovely part I played, Hedda -
I really loved that.
I was very fortunate in my looks, shall we say? Yeah.
That's the National. It was a lovely play.
It was with... Judi Dench played in it and I played Judi's sidekick.
Doris I think my name was.
I always had the most interesting names -
Doris, and I had several Dorothys and Ednas and...
That's me doing... Now, I directed that and also played her.
It was all about sex toys.
Ooh, yes, it's quite lewd, isn't it?
But it was very funny.
The only one I was REALLY naked in was Calendar Girls.
I was the only one who actually took all my clothes off
in the naked scene for the photographs.
That's my favourite one of Dot,
but it's the baby's face that I like!
"Will it be me?", he's saying. SHE LAUGHS
MUSIC: EastEnders Theme by Simon May and Leslie Osborne
By the time it got to EastEnders, I'd had a dreadful year.
I'd had about three jobs in that year, that's all - nothing -
and suddenly this audition for EastEnders came up.
I think I got the job because I was punctual.
I was doing A Christmas Carol, some piddling part -
I shouldn't use that word -
in A Christmas Carol at the BBC down the road,
and I said, "Well, I can't stop long because I mustn't be late."
And she said, "I wish all actors were like you,"
when I'm not really a very punctual person.
There's time, and, as one of my drivers, Dave, used to say,
"Is it real time, June, or June time?"
And I should say, "Most likely June time,"
which is ten minutes afterwards.
So, erm... And I think that's why I got the job, really.
The character actually existed before June even came along
to play her, because she was mentioned by Pauline.
Pauline was moaning about Dot,
and was moaning about Dot through the first...15, 20 weeks.
I've got to get these Servis washers sorted before Dot gets here.
And it wasn't until about episode 40 that we actually saw...Dot,
but, because she'd been mentioned, we were already familiar with her.
We already knew she was a hypochondriac.
We already knew that she was always going to Dr Legg's.
We knew about her son Nick.
So, we felt we knew her before she'd even turned up,
and when she did turn up, June just created this incredible
character that she has stayed true to...ever since.
Give us a tea, love, will you?
And a glass of water so I can take a paracetamol.
Can you hang on a second, Dot?
Only, we're heavily involved in things mechanical over here.
But my head feels as though a circular saw's going through it.
I got a script, you see, and it was a series of illnesses,
and I thought, "I can't play a list of illnesses."
You know, "I've got this here pain, it goes up here,
"it comes down there and goes down me back.
"And then there's...this," and I thought...
And then I thought, "Well, why? What can I do?"
And I thought, "Well, she is a hypochondriac,
"and she's always worried about her illness. Why?
"Because nobody loves her.
"Her husband comes and goes, steals her money, her jewellery.
"Her son, the same -
"he threatens her with a knife and all sorts of things -
"and she has no-one who really loves her."
If it's money you're after, you're looking in the wrong place.
Nah, nah, nah. I was just looking for something.
-Yeah, something I left behind.
-And what might that be?
-It was an address.
-It must have fallen out of my pocket or something.
-What? Into the drawer?
-Probably fallen down the back of the chair.
-Oh, Nick, stop it.
"My Nick was a tower of strength," she'd say.
And they'd seen him, you'd seen him threaten her with a knife,
you know, but she covered up for him all the time.
In fact, I used to get letters from children who really wanted me
to be their mother, because they wanted this mother who would
protect them from all their misdoings, you know.
And this mother who'd never let her son down,
never, never question whether...
Never said anything about him to anybody else. Protected him.
I won't trouble you again, I promise.
Well, that should be enough.
Well, it'll have to be cos it's all I've got.
Well, it's what you came for, ain't it? Now you've got it, you can go.
My lovely John Altman, my Nick,
he used to go round on his tour, Chicago and things,
frightfully good he was in Chicago,
and he'd find these launderettes and he'd pose outside them,
and he used to send me lovely cards as Nick, all misspelt, you know.
"And has me dole cheque come?"
You know... SHE LAUGHS
"I think I'm getting better with me spilling."
You know, and always spelling "your son", you know, "Y-O-R-E S-U-N".
You know, "Yore sun, Nick."
Now, I was just about to do some of these cards,
but I'm very, very behind.
There you are.
June, I heard them call you on set.
Oh, are they? SHE LAUGHS
Well, if they're ready for me, I'm not ready for them.
There was quite a simple thing that used to go on in EastEnders -
normal sorts of conversation between two actors who'd talk
quite loudly to each other, quite normally, and that was what it was.
Cos people like you don't get all that many chances.
Yes, old misery guts.
'Gretchen was a very witty person.'
She was a very naughty person as well in many ways,
and she didn't really...
Actually, I heard that how she looked upon me,
a new character arriving, was as a rival.
I was coming to see you.
-About your carnival costume.
We had a scene together in the pub,
and Wendy said to her, Wendy Richard, she said,
"When you and June are together on the screen, you are like two bulls."
And Gretchen thought, "Oh. Oh! I can work with that."
You know, I thought it'd be such a waste,
you know, me being a genuine Walfordian,
and I didn't want you getting up on that float and people pointing at you.
Well, why should they do that?
Well, I mean, you might get the period wrong,
and I know all there is to know about Walford in 1936.
-So do I.
-Not as much as me.
After that outburst, I suppose you don't need my help.
Oh, very well, then - I shall offer my services elsewhere.
From that moment on, she worked with me, and what we did,
we always concentrated on each other.
That is really the secret.
Oh, dear God, forgive us and especially me!
And, of course, dear Ethel,
who is a simple soul. DOT SOBS
-Did you get the fig rolls?
"Oh, I thought you was dead," says Dot.
Well, it was lovely. It was...
Well, it was...
That was what I miss, that sort of...
That sort of drama -
not the drama of rape and arson and murder,
but the drama of a situation, you know, just between two people.
I thought you was...
Thought I was what?
I thought you was dead!
I'm not ready to go yet. I've only just drawn me pension.
I was frightened!
She was very hysterical at times, Dot.
I loved it when Dot went hysterical, you see.
It's nice to have a character with a few more than one facet,
that's the point, and I think what happened in the early days,
I'd get a scene and I'd think,
"I don't think Dot behaves like that."
And then I'd think, "Well, I'll try it. I'll see if I can work it in."
So that Dot then began to do things that were unexpected
of her character,
and that is also interesting,
if her character isn't always the same.
Gretchen and I actually worked together extremely well
and enjoyed it.
She wouldn't ever admit that.
She had her line where she was dying,
when Dot had given her the medication, you know,
the pills, where she had to say, "You're my best friend, Dot."
And she said to me, "I'm not going to say that,"
but when it came to it...
You know who you are?
You're the best friend I ever had.
She couldn't admit that she actually did love me quite a lot,
Gretchen, you know, but I knew that it was...
It was her character - it's what she was.
Once in a wonderful blue moon,
you get that part so completely right
that you don't have to act it any more, it acts itself,
and it happened to Natalie, who plays Sonia.
I've done a terrible thing.
She had a scene with me, it was years ago,
and we had more or less a two-hander,
because she'd stolen back her baby that had been adopted,
until suddenly we were in a bedroom and she'd picked up Dot's Bible.
Here it is!
Why don't you find the bit that says this is the right thing to do?
-Of course it is, because it said so!
So we should all do as we're told and believe every word!
It's nothing! It's a bunch of cliches!
'She suddenly got so much tension.'
She flung this Bible down, and at the end she said,
"What happened, June?"
And I said, "You had a second consciousness."
It quite frightened me.
I was taken aback by what she did, you know.
How could you do that? This is me Bible.
I was no longer an actress, you know, it was...
Dot not knowing what had happened, but...
So, it happened to Nat, she didn't know what it was,
but I knew what it was.
I think working with June Brown on set is
a completely different experience from working with anybody here,
down to the fact that, yeah, she is very old school,
extremely professional, and knows how she wants to play the scene,
and I think, with June, as long as it's truthful, and everything
she does she believes in, you'll get the best performances.
You can't tell me what's right or wrong or what to do with Chloe,
-because you've never really lived.
-And you have?!
Television, to me, is like instant coffee, you know,
as opposed to the real thing,
and I'm not very good at instant things like that,
you know, because you...
Some people are very fortunate, they've only got to look at a light
and they've got tears there in their eyes.
Now, I can't do that.
I have cried in EastEnders.
I think my tear...ducts are blocked now, cos I hardly ever do,
but I get over it, cos I say, "Well, it's not my job to cry -
"it's my job to make the audience cry."
Which is true.
SPOON CHIMES TWICE
I had a whole episode to myself...
..but the only reason that it happened was because
John Bardon had had a stroke -
the actor who played my husband, Dot's husband, Jim.
It's me, Dorothy.
I'm sitting here in the kitchen and I'm talking to you.
You won't be able to see me, just hear me,
so I suppose I could be anywhere, really,
but I'm not.
I'm in the kitchen at the table.
'I couldn't wait to do it. I was like,'
you know, a greyhound in the slips.
I was holding on to a fire or whatever I've got, a radio or...
Oh, the recorder, with props there, you know, saying...
waiting to give it to me, saying, "Come on, come on, come on."
You know? Oh, no...
They didn't hear me - that was just to myself.
"Come on, come on, come on. Get a move on. You know, come on."
You know, I loved doing it. I loved doing it.
I mean, it's... To an actor, it's a pleasure to have a lot to say.
I can't be like Ethel.
I'm frightened of showing me emotions.
I'm frightened of letting anyone in, cos every time I do...
I lose 'em!
And how do I explain that?
'I really enjoyed it,'
but it was... You see, this is...
People used to say, "It must have been very difficult."
And I thought, "No, it was really easy."
Cos you could answer yourself, and you can time it for yourself,
and you could leave a pause as long as you wanted,
and you could come right in on yourself.
You could... In other words, you could direct yourself. SHE LAUGHS
For that single-hander, I was actually nominated for a Bafta.
The nominees for actress include a poignant monologue that
showed us the hidden layers of a much-loved EastEnders character.
The Bafta at the time was the height of approval,
as it were.
If you won a Bafta, it meant something.
It meant you were a proper actress.
-And the Bafta goes to...
..Anna Maxwell Martin for Poppy Shakespeare.
'I was a bit disappointed.
'I would have liked to have got it, quite honestly.'
I don't think so much of it now,
because suddenly they're giving awards for public choice and...
and reality TV and...
and that's not acting.
They don't do that for films, do they?
I've got a Nafta instead.
A silver face made of tinfoil,
and my daughters had made it for me -
Lou, Soph, and maybe Naomi.
My granddaughter had it put on her face,
and we poked one eye out, which is there, and...
and stuck it on a cigarette as its stand,
and in one of those things for moths with a hole in - that was the base.
And that is in the case with the Baftas at EastEnders
to this very day.
When I came in, EastEnders was already incredibly famous.
I'd never seen anything like it.
We used to go out together and we'd go to nightclubs,
and we could get in anywhere because we were EastEnders.
It was lovely, but you didn't think about being a star.
Please welcome the unique June Brown!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
June Brown is here, alias Dot Cotton.
So this is June Brown.
Please welcome June Brown.
I got, actually, quite happy about doing interviews...
I think I've got a turn coming on. LAUGHTER
..and I'd always try to think of something different, you know.
I still want to play Cleopatra.
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
I wouldn't have been able to have done any of this
if I hadn't done EastEnders,
if I hadn't acted Dot.
That gave me an enormous amount of confidence,
therefore I was already liked as a character wherever I went,
to do a PA or a chat show.
I was... I already had the audience with me.
-There you go.
-You look so amazing.
-I'm just going to show my legs.
LADY GAGA SQUEALS, AUDIENCE CHEERS
And so you... You were able to say whatever you liked
and...and...and be funny and amusing
or, erm, say slightly outrageous things,
because of that confidence.
Shall I come and sit on your knee?
-LAUGHTER AND CHEERING
-You probably want to...
'Gretchen said to me one day,'
"We're not stars, June - we're household names."
And then she named two soap powders. "Like," she said...
I can't name them, but that's what she said.
-I'm annoying you?
-Leave her alone - she's a star!
I talk about being well-known.
I never talk about anything more than that.
I don't know what's going to happen to her now.
DOOR SLAMS She lost her job,
so she's lost her raison d'etre, as it were,
and you would find that very difficult.
You have to have a house. You have to have a position.
You have to have a place, a job.
You should really have a job in EastEnders - that was the point.
But it is very difficult to go against the writing.
If they decide to change you or the writers change,
not deliberately, or just that's what happens, and...
But I am a great fighter.
I'm very much a terrier.
I try to twist 'em round a little.
There is a way of twisting. It's just the way you say it.
It ain't what you say, it's the way what you say it, you know, it's...
It's that, so I must admit to that.
I'm very bossy, really.
I think I can do things better than other people, which is dreadful,
but they know I'm like that, so it's no surprise to them,
My first day in EastEnders wasn't on set, it was...
-I'm sorry to interrupt.
I've got a flower delivery here for...
a June Cotton Dorothy Brown, or is it Dorothy Branning?
I've... I've gone and mixed the name up, rather.
Erm, sorry to interrupt.
-Who is it?
-Oh, it isn't!
-You didn't tell me.
-No, I forgot.
-There we are.
-Well, it's a lovely bouquet.
-It's not bad, is it?
YORKSHIRE ACCENT: I must say, it's a great bouquet.
-No, it's beautiful, darling.
-You're looking lovely.
-Oh, mate, come on. Concentrate.
-Another one there, sweetheart.
Well, I can't operate in a mess, June.
I mean, I'm bad enough talking all the time.
-If it's all untidy, huh?
-You see these cufflinks?
They were my farewell present from EastEnders.
-Yeah, in 2015.
-I never saw them give you anything.
Oh, you must have missed it.
Well, you were dead at the time!
Yes, but the summer of '85, June, wasn't it, when we met?
Oh, it was lovely.
Yeah, the year Dot, as I call it, when you arrived.
-Yeah, was it, actually? It was '85?
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
May the 31st.
And I'd had my horoscope done by a rather good Indian gentleman,
-who was a diplomat...
..and he'd said that on a certain date, when this happened to that,
when a certain planet, Saturn, reached my Midheaven,
I would have a spectacular success,
and that was May the 31st,
-and that was the first day I was in EastEnders.
I've got a lovely Polaroid of us two, standing under
a "no smoking" sign inside the BBC studio, having a cigarette.
-No, us. The two of us.
-Don't tell 'em all these things.
Well, that was years ago now.
We did enjoy working together, didn't we?
-We certainly did.
-And my real ma has gone.
You're the only ma I've got left, ain't ya?
I often wonder if you brushed past my father down in...
in the West Country, there, when you were in the Wrens.
Brushed past your father?
Well, you might have passed one another by.
He'd have probably gone for you, and there you go.
-Was he an officer?
-I more or less only went out with officers.
Oh, I see.
No, I shan't tell you about it. No, we won't talk about my history.
So, what are you doing there? What are you looking at?
I'm looking for your lovely message that you sent me
to the Heritage Society lunch,
and it went like this -
"Message for today from June.
"Johnny, dear, I wish I could be there with you today to say how much
"I've enjoyed working with you as my Nick, all these past years.
"I was only brought into EastEnders to be Nick's ma,
"and, 30 years later, I'm still Dot and my Nick is underground,
"or was he cremated?
"I wish my Nick was still there to come back and torment Dot.
"Much love and enjoy the celebration of your 40 years as an actor.
"I can beat you there, Johnny.
-"I've done 68."
-That went down really well.
-Well, I mean that, yeah.
'It's a very ephemeral business, acting.
'I mean, now it's captured on television and film,'
but before that, I mean, theatre performances, they've gone.
You see this one, and you go the next night
and maybe the magic's not quite there,
or maybe it is there that night, and...
But it's gone.
It's only in the memory of people who've seen it,
and it's only there for as long as they remember.
Gosh, life gets like that, doesn't it?
Everything is so fast, and they've all got so much to do,
and their heads are full of this, that and the other.
I've never known so many rules and regulations.
You can't do this and you can't do that.
It's worse than the Ten Commandments,
and Jesus only had two commandments and neither of them were negative.
'The world's going like a whirlpool, you know -
'it's going to come to an end.'
Whether it'll come to an end before I do, I don't know.
I'm quite interested to see that, cos I like new things.
Has anybody got a nice half-glass of red wine?
No? Oh, well.
Celebrate a milestone birthday and all things Dot Cotton as EastEnders actress June Brown chats about her life and career. Featuring famous Walford faces and one or two surprises.