Comedy actress June Whitfield tells her own story, from her early days in the West End working with Noel Coward to her fifty plus years of comedy performances on radio and TV.
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For more than 60 years, one woman has been at the beating heart of British comedy.
She has performed with every major British comedian.
She has worked with so many top comedians.
And it shows that she had great comic timing.
Every comic she ever fed a line to relied on her.
Classically trained and born to perform, this actress has hardly
put a foot wrong in any of the comic characters she has inhabited.
She was, always was, an absolute joy to write for,
because not only did she give you what you intended in the lines,
she gave you things you hadn't expected would come out.
Now, sonny Jim, that's no way to speak about your future mummy.
Her range is seemingly limitless.
Song and dance, straight, comic, sedate or seductive,
as well as an all-too-rarely-seen gift for physical comedy.
In a moment, the awful realisation will hit me.
It hasn't hit me yet.
There, it's hit me.
But could a lack of confidence about her looks have led her to discover that her gifts lay in comedy?
She's always said that she went into comedy
because she didn't think she had the looks to do the straight parts.
I could have married anyone I pleased.
-Yes, but you didn't please anyone.
I was never confident in myself, I think that's why I was always, to start with, wearing wigs or glasses
or playing a character of some kind, because I was terrified of appearing as myself.
These are the many faces of June Whitfield.
In 1991, 40 years after her TV debut,
June Whitfield made a brief appearance in the sitcom pilot Absolutely Fabulous.
Set in the fickle and superficial world of PR,
she played Jennifer Saunders' mother in a flashback scene.
Her cameo role was brief, but memorable.
Hello, Edwina, dear.
Good concert? Why don't you come in and tell us all about it?
Your father and I are still up.
Jennifer always said she had always wanted me to play her mother and that's how Ab Fab came about for me.
Here she is.
Where was the concert this time, dear?
Eel Pie Island again, was it?
And who was it?
Anyone we should have heard of?
The Beatles, the Stones, The Rolling Who?
There was never anybody else who was going to play that part,
and we sent it to June and June said yes,
so it was one of these best pieces of casting ever.
Is that cider I can smell on your breath?
Mother was there for all of 30 seconds, but apparently the message
was Jennifer had said,
IF it goes to a series, Mother would definitely be in it.
And I must say, I thought the script was so funny, you know, that I did it.
And I'm very glad I did. It was wonderful.
The success of the pilot ensured that Absolutely Fabulous was given an immediate green light.
It was an instant hit.
And with more than 30 seconds to play with this time, June Whitfield proceeded to do what she does best.
June's done more comedy than almost anybody else in Britain, nay, the world.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
I worked with her most on Absolutely Fabulous and...
her ability to place a line,
I don't know that I have ever come across anybody who places a line as well as she does.
Do you know, darling, the real problem started, sweetie,
because I wasn't even breastfed.
Oh, don't be ridiculous, dear, it wasn't done in those days.
Imagine me having that clamped to my breast.
June was and is a consummate character actress.
She's pin sharp.
-How long have we got left?
-Four days, darling.
You shouldn't eat so much, little piggy.
You haven't got the biggest part in the half-hour,
but my God, you're going to be memorable.
My God, you're going to make sure that what you HAVE got works.
Anyway, sweetie, can I just say at least you're not fat, like me.
What you two don't seem to realise is that inside of me, inside of me,
there is a thin person just screaming to get out.
Just the one, dear?
I always thought of the whole thing as a cartoon, really. Caricatures.
But Mother, I thought, was just this suburban housewife.
But she turned out to be a kleptomaniac.
She climbed through windows.
I think she was quite aware of everything that was going on,
but wasn't going to let on because she wanted to be there.
I think it's time for another of those pills.
Oh, get me a couple, honey.
-They'll help you with your periods.
It was great. And the laughter, I mean, was so genuine in the studio, which, again, is good to hear.
Sometimes you see a show on television and the laughter sort of goes, "Haaaa...
"Haaa." And you think, "I don't think so."
-I've got condoms and Femidoms.
-Have you opened these?
They don't put fingers on these glove things...
MAN: June's had a very long career in comedy and I guess you could say part of that is just keeping working.
Get out, get out! They let the water in any way.
I think she has had periods when the work hasn't been there,
and, of course, in order for somebody like June to work, you have to have the parts that June is fantastic for.
Those parts have been plentiful and June's career has included unforgettable highlights.
She starred in one of the most enduring sitcoms in British television.
Her impeccable timing made her the first choice of every major comedian of the '50s and '60s.
She was a major radio star in her mid-twenties
and before that was an established face in London's West End.
The source of this life of solid performing goes back to her early childhood.
To the leafy suburbs of South London in the 1920s,
where a young June Whitfield was no stranger to the stage.
Performing at dancing school, that was in Streatham.
Robinson's School of Dancing. And I went there at quite an early age.
About three-and-a-half, I think.
We donned men's evening tail suits and top hats and things,
and sang various numbers in a trio.
And I can remember I did a monologue with a bit of tatty fur round my face.
Rabbit! I was a rabbit, I think.
So that was the start of it.
And then, of course, my mother was a very keen amateur actress
and her father would never let her go on the stage professionally.
It was all rogues and vagabonds.
So she made it fairly easy for me.
I think Granny nowadays would have been considered a very pushy mother,
because Mum was dancing from the age of three and doing all this.
And my grandmother was very into amateur dramatics.
Would it have happened without Granny gently pushing? I think it probably would.
I think Mum would have enjoyed it,
but because she started so very young, you know, her love of it she found very early, really.
In 1942, at the height of the Second World War, when Britain was being bombarded by the Luftwaffe,
the 16-year-old June Whitfield attended an audition for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London,
where the effect of the war was very apparent.
Well, RADA had a great lack of men.
There were SOME.
Richard Attenborough was just in his last term when I was in my first.
And Miriam Karlin.
In fact, Miriam and I joined on the same day, I think.
We met in the lobby on the way in.
June auditioned and her mother was there,
and that impressed me hugely.
And I remember going back to Berkhamsted and saying, "Mummy,
"there was a girl there called June Whitfield, who was auditioning, and her mother was there."
I said, "Why weren't you with me?"
Anyway, we both got in and I always remember one of the tutors pointed out
that June was clearly the most professional of all of us
because she'd brought her handbag along as a prop.
In 1944, in her final year at RADA,
June Whitfield made her West End debut in the play Pink String And Ceiling Wax.
By the end of the war, she was a professional actress, learning her trade in touring productions.
But in 1950, she received a call to audition for theatrical Titan Noel Coward.
In a fateful decision, June would sing Wonderful Guy
from the smash musical South Pacific, which she had seen only weeks before on Broadway.
And when I was asked to audition, I took that music, you see, and sang that song.
And when I'd finished he said, "Where did you get that song?"
And I said, "Well, I've brought it with me from America."
And he said, "It's not published here yet."
And I said, "I know, but..." And he said, "Oh, well, well done."
And then he said,
"Can you do a South London accent?"
And I said, "Well, I hope so, I was born in Streatham."
So he said, "Very good."
Anyway, that was sort of that.
June was cast in Coward's musical Ace Of Clubs, set in the underworld of London's Soho gangsters.
She was a small-part player, but a small-part player in a show
written, directed and staged by the man known simply as "The Master."
For 25-year-old June, it was to be an unforgettable mix of glamour and socialising,
while still learning everything she could from the great man of theatre.
He was wonderful to work for.
He knew everything. He knew everybody's job better than they did, including the actors.
You know, he was a genius, no doubt about it.
Working with Coward offered June and the cast a passport into the rarefied glamour
of London in the early '50s, where bright young things dressed to kill and partied to the wee small hours.
I think people were consciously glamorous,
and occasionally you'd be invited to something like,
Noel Coward invited the cast to go to the Cafe de Paris
to watch him one evening and another evening to watch Marlene Dietrich.
Come on, I came up from Croydon and I didn't have a penny to bless myself.
It was extraordinary to have that kind of glamour.
The Cafe de Paris in London's Piccadilly
was an exclusive night-time enclave, where film stars and hepcats rubbed shoulders with royalty.
There were tables around the balcony, but all with white cloths,
and you know, there was lighting and I think there were chandeliers and various things.
And these two magnificent staircases, where the cabaret act
would come and stand at the top of the staircase,
take their applause and then come down and do their act.
People like, oh, Liberace,
Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers, one of whom was Andy.
Oh, all kinds of really top-ranked people.
It was a very, very glamorous time.
Yes, I stayed up quite late in those days!
After Ace of Clubs, June's upward momentum continued and landed her Stateside in New York.
It was a former friend from RADA who played a key role in getting her a break on Broadway.
I was in a play called Women Of Twilight.
And there was one part which they couldn't cast.
And I suggested June.
Miriam, really, got me that job.
She had suggested me and she said, "Do you want to go to America?" I said yes.
Broadway of 1952 offered many temptations to young, aspiring actresses.
Although the experiences of New York for Miriam Karlin and June Whitfield contrasted sharply.
I would come rolling in
having done a lot of naughtiness at, sort of, 2:30 or 3 in the morning.
And June would be sitting up in bed
and she would tell me that I owe her
75 cents for some bread.
Or she owed me 45 cents for some milk, or something like that.
And I used to say, "Oh, I don't know, all right, take it."
Women Of Twilight was a flop.
The subject matter, unwed mothers, didn't attract an audience, and the show closed after a week.
But during this week, June befriended two young composers who were bringing a musical to London.
The show, Love From Judy, would change June's life for ever.
When she got to take over the lead role, she attracted the attention of Britain's brightest
comedy writers, who were just then on the hunt for new blood
for BBC Radio's funniest sketch show, Take It From Here.
Well, one day, during Love From Judy, the phone rang,
and the voice said, "Muir and Norden here".
And I had heard of Muir and Norden and I said, "Oh, yes, and I'm the Queen of Sheba."
Because I thought it was a couple of friends having a laugh.
"No, no, no," they said, "it is.
"I'm Frank Muir and I'm Denis Norden."
I said, "Oh, how fantastic."
And they said, "We'd like you to audition for Take It From Here."
Well, we started Take It From Here with Jimmy Edwards,
Dick Bentley and Joy Nichols,
all of whom were very strong, very forceful
comedy characters, essentially.
And then Joy Nichols decided she was going back to Australia, and it was decided that,
to replace Joy Nichols, we would have two girls,
one a singer, and one to do the sketches and the script.
# Take it from here! #
Denis Norden and Frank Muir saw hundreds of performers,
but their minds were made up when rising West End star June Whitfield attended
the auditions, along with singer Alma Cogan, also making a name for herself in London's cabaret circuit.
'With June Whitfield, Alma Cogan, Wallas Eaton
'all inviting you to...
' # Take it from here! # '
June was to play a long-suffering girlfriend in a new strand in the show called The Glums.
With the nation eagerly anticipating the new series,
the pressure was on to find a voice for this new character.
June's mother would make an inspired suggestion.
I was living at home at the time and I said to my mum, "Oh, golly, how am I going to do this, this character?"
And she said, "I know, do it like Mrs G."
And Mrs G was somebody we knew.
-IN A HIGH, TREMBLING VOICE:
-And she talked like that.
Everything she said was in the same tone of voice, whether she was
telling you about a disaster or something lovely that had happened.
It was all the same.
So I thought, "That will do for Eth." And that's how Eth was born.
Isn't it nice sitting here on the sofa,
quietly doing the crossword together?
What have you put down for eight across, beloved?
Eight across? Flobbagob.
Flobbagob? I've never heard of that word, Ron.
Neither have I, Eth.
They were the first dysfunctional family, because Frank and Denis had got fed up
with The Huggetts and everybody being so nice to everybody, so they introduced this awful family.
And Jimmy Edwards was Pa Glum, and Dick Bentley was his son, Ron.
And I was Ron's fiancee, Eth.
Permanent fiancee, because Frank and Denis said it was the time when everybody got engaged.
The thing was that engaged couples, in those days,
did not do it. You see, they knew they were GOING to do it,
and there were some in their circle who DID do it, but on the whole,
while they intensely wanted to do it, they didn't do it.
Look, see! Notice anything about my legs when I walk?
Oh, yes, they keep going past each other.
Oh, no, Ron.
Ron, about what you can see.
Ron...I've... I've shortened my skirt!
It doesn't make me look too sensuous, does it?
It was an incredible piece of writing from Frank Muir and Denis Norden,
but they had two brilliant people to interpret it.
And I think in many ways, that is what established her as a brilliant comedy character actress.
somehow you've just got to smarten up before this interview.
I mean, those shoes you've got on...
They're all right, Eth.
The Sunday paper said brown and white shoes are very smart for summer.
Not one brown and one white, Ron.
'Taking Ron to the tailor.'
Got to get Ron a new suit, Eth.
So they go to the tailor and go in and there's nobody there.
So there's a bell on the thing, so they ring the bell. Nothing happens.
Oh, dear, oh dear, where's the assistant?
Yes, where's the blasted, perishing, blooming assistant?
You can't say that! Shhh! Somebody will hear you.
It's all right, Eth, it says so on the counter, see? "Modern men swear."
I think that writing
just makes me giggle. I love it!
She was, always was, an absolute joy to write for, because not only
did she give you what you intended in the lines, she gave you things you hadn't expected would come out.
And without her, The Glums wouldn't have had a chance. She was a rock.
She was the rock of truth in this nonsense.
At its height, Take It From Here attracted 22 million listeners.
June was now a household name, but not a household face.
By playing Eth in The Glums, June had created a character that was career-defining.
But far more was to come.
Television was stepping out of radio's shadow and would soon become the force it is today.
Comedy was at the heart of the BBC's output,
and before long, there would be very few shows that would NOT make use of June Whitfield's comic talents.
Oh, dear. A-who a-who a-who are you?
I'm the Fairy Queen, my dear.
I rule the skies
-this time of year.
-Oh fairy, dear, what's the reason?
Dost thou not know? 'Tis panto season.
'I worked quite a lot with Arthur Askey.'
I'll have a bash at panto, eh?
'Arthur said one time'
that he always thought of television as just
talking to two people sitting on their sofa.
I'll fix you up in Robinson Crusoe.
'I thought that was a pretty good rule to go by,
'to not be terrified of the thought that millions might be looking.'
June is exceptional.
She didn't have what you'd call that sort of glamorous star quality.
Arturo, I've come back...
'But she was such a consummate professional.'
Your tiny hand is frozen.
I know, my love, it's so cold in here.
'Every job she did, she was so good at.'
'People always wanted to employ her and work with her again.'
Will you take my cape?
Every little helps. Yes, there you are.
She's very un-showbusiness, in that she's businesslike.
SHE SPEAKS GERMAN
Oh, don't be filthy.
With wonderful instinct for comedy.
She'll sidle up and say, "My dear, what if I put this..."
and she's always spot-on.
She's worked with so many top comedians, and it shows
that she had great comic timing, and she was a great foil to them.
-Is it ready yet?
-Won't be a minute.
-The Times Literary Supplement's on the table if you want it.
'June was always a success
'because everyone relied on her.'
-CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYS
-I find Brahms so inspiring, don't you?
# Bom-bom-bom-bom! #
Yes? Oh. Yes.
THIS is, but I like Brahms as well.
I'll go and get the dinner.
'Every comic she ever fed a line to relied on her.'
You should never think that because one person gets the laugh...
How's the laugh fed?
# Oh, won't you buy me lovely violets? #
How does it sound to get that upward peak of the humour?
You get it from someone like June Whitfield.
# Oh, won't you buy me lovely violets?
# Won't you buy me violets? #
What are you selling, child?
Daffodils, you great nit.
I think she's got incredible timing, for a start, which all comic actors have to have.
'She can twist a word or a phrase and make something
'comedic out of something which on the paper doesn't even appear to be.'
Oh, mind out, look. See that?
It's an engagement ring.
-Your dad and me is engaged, all right?
And add on to that another layer of sort of physical gesture or a tic,
or something, which again, I think all her characters are based on people she's known.
Now, now, sonny Jim, that's no way to speak about your future mummy.
'She's very good at what she does.'
And she's a chameleon, I think she adapts very well.
She's always said she went into comedy because she didn't think she had the looks to do straight parts,
which is rubbish, because I think she was very beautiful when she was younger. But obviously that
feeling she's carried with her, so she's always slightly...
She likes to play the second fiddle.
# It seems we stood and talked like this...
# For...we looked at each other in the same way then
# But I can't remember where or when. #
'I was never confident in myself.'
I think that's why I was always, to start with,
wearing wigs or glasses or playing a character of some kind.
Because I was terrified of appearing as myself.
# Seemed to be happening again. #
'I mean, I never for a minute thought of myself as being attractive,'
so I was quite happy doing character things.
I thought nobody will believe it if I start doing something else.
But looking back now, in my old age, I wasn't bad-looking at all!
# But who knows where or when? #
I can remember, even as a child, people would say -
my mother was gorgeous - and people would say, "Oh, she's so like her father, isn't she?"
My dad was lovely, but you couldn't say that he was desperately good-looking.
So I think that went home.
'But a lack of confidence about her looks had its benefits.'
'Never striving for centre stage and always more comfortable in character, June was carving out
'a successful niche for herself in the male-dominated comedy world of the 1960s.'
Mummy's not in.
If you were a 1960s entrepreneur, you'd say June didn't have an act.
# Falling in love again
# Never wanted to... #
June was a wonderful character comic performer.
Frankie Howerd had an act, Tony Hancock had an act.
A jolly nice kite that's made of real nylon.
I know, darling, I've got a nightdress made of it.
'So you gave that person the show and then you needed really good people around them,
'and if you had any sense, June was almost the first person you rang.'
-Would you like to see my conkers?
June had this thing, which she's still carrying throughout her career,
and it's the reason why so many comedians, particularly those who
specialise in grotesque situations, why they go for her. She grounded
the comics around her without detracting from them.
If you're in somebody else's show,
the main thing is
to hope that they can rely on you to do what you are supposed to do,
because they're busy enough worrying about what THEY'VE got to do.
You're not there to promote yourself, you know,
in that way. You're there for them,
and that's what I have always gone along with.
As I say, I think maybe the reason I've worked with so many of them is that I'm no trouble.
Oh, James, it's so nice to see you at home.
I see so little of you these days,
and time hangs very heavy in this great big house.
Your business affairs seem to occupy you more and more.
I sometimes feel that I'm just an unnecessary encumbrance to you.
'The fact that June was playing second fiddle to men,
'I think was simply because that's how it was.'
..not always on at me to talk to you.
Half the time, I don't even know you exist.
I don't think June had ever thought of complaining that she was playing second fiddle.
It's true, she WAS second fiddle to men, always.
I'm a woman, James, and a woman needs something more.
'June has always known that you're in a safer place if you're not top of the bill.'
I'm unhappy, unhappy and lonely.
I had no idea you felt like that, Lettie.
It would have been better for you if we'd had a child.
We've GOT a child!
I suspect there's a bit of her that has gone, "Actually, if I work with
"this very funny guy or very funny woman, and I do a half good job, then I'm the one people remember."
Always quite good to be the one people remember, even if you didn't have the biggest part.
Like all actors, June loved the work, and loved comedy.
Some performers remained remote and withdrawn, but one in particular would become a lifelong friend.
With Frankie Howerd I did radio, television...
Marvellous, I mean, he was great fun.
I loved Frank. We really did become friends.
-It's me, in disguise.
He'd phone up and say, "What are you doing on Thursday?"
I'd say, "Nothing, Frank."
Thinking, I wonder where we're going?
And he'd say, "Right, we'll be round for dinner at eight."
The titular head of the harem.
The titular head?
Yes, you have a point there, yes.
Well, it was so ridiculous.
I had these tassels
on my bra, which I was supposed to flick, which I didn't do extremely well.
And I think that made both of us giggle.
You have no need to worry.
The Caliph is in his robing room, preparing himself for the new maiden he's just found.
Caliph is in there, tell me where...
Is this beautiful maiden by any chance called Saccharin?
Yes. As a matter of fact,
the name of the new maiden IS Saccharin.
-Yes, I thought it might. Whose turn is it now?
June was the funny man's favoured foil of choice.
She worked with the best, and the best knew they could rely on her faultless performances.
But it was in 1968 that she would become one half of one of the most enduring partnerships in comedy.
BBC producer Kenneth Carter asked June to meet up with a comedian
who was about to start work on his upcoming sketch show.
# In this pleasant spot where it's always hot
# I'm the guy who always wins. #
Ken was living I think in Fulham somewhere, and he invited both
Terry and myself to go and meet, obviously giving me the once-over from Terry's point of view.
# Life was pretty thin down here somehow, so I... #
We just chatted and said hello and everything, and I eventually left,
and apparently Terry said, "She'll do."
So that was how we came to do... I came to be in the Scott Ons.
I first met June when we were involved with Scott On.
Terry had done a series of Scott Ons, and June had been his partner
in domestic sketches and all kinds of sketches.
That's how I started working with June, which was a great thrill,
because as a small boy in Scotland where I was born and listened to
the radio on Sunday afternoons, I knew June Whitfield from Take It From Here,
and also from the many works she had done with Tony Hancock and those shows, both radio and television.
She knew and understood the material.
She knew what was needed of the material.
I think that's one of the reasons she's been so immensely popular
with so many comics, who are tremendously neurotic.
Not all of them, but a great many of them are neurotic. Even Terry was worried all the time about the show.
I worked with Terry Scott in a play
and, though socially I thought he was great fun,
he was a nightmare to work with on the stage.
And yet I remember him always, in conversation, singing the praises of June Whitfield,
saying how wonderful she was, and she was magic and a very special person.
So obviously June had a great talent for handling, you know, complex personalities.
'When they got into a disagreement,
'Terry argued exactly like he does on screen, exactly the same.
'June was always, she just stood her ground.'
Well, you did it!
What do you mean, I did it?
I've lived through the Battle of Britain, the Blitz
and the Korean War, but this was the worst night
-of my life, and it's all your fault!
'The rehearsals were always interesting, seeing
'the reality and the illusion of the show being reflected in the reality of their working relationship.'
And he respected her enormously,
and there was a tremendous affection between the two of them.
He wasn't always easy, as I say, he was passionate about his work.
Terry Scott could be naughty, yes, in the sense of,
if there were other people in the show,
and if they didn't know their lines and if Terry saw them reading
a newspaper or something in rehearsal, he'd be muttering.
You know, "Why can't they be learning their lines instead of reading the newspaper?"
Yes, he was a bit of a perfectionist.
Are you by any chance criticising my cooking?
May I remind you, the last time my Uncle Dan was in this house
he said my shish kebab was the finest he ever tasted?
-I'll never forget what he said about my shish kebab.
-How could you? They were his last words!
Sometimes he'd say to me, "I think you should do it this way"
or, you know, "Maybe it would be better if you did this."
And I'd say, "Yes, you're absolutely right."
And then I'd do it really the same way, and he'd say, "That's better."
I'VE HAD IT UP TO HERE!
I'm going out for some fresh air.
You always walk into the cupboard when you lose your temper.
In the Scott Ons, she did some wonderful comic bits and pieces,
and also she was a wonderful physical clown. There was a sketch called The Language Of Dance,
where she plays a ballet teacher who was running this rather shabby school.
Here we are, and I'll explain as we go along
what each of us is saying with our bodies as we say it.
Here am I with my fellow swans, because everyone you see in the picture is a swan.
'And she does, at the end of it, a film of her doing the dying swan, which she narrates.
'It's a wonderful physical piece of comedy.'
..my colleagues that if I should meet a handsome prince with a crown,
and I should fall in love with him and I should marry him, then I would a swan no longer be.
It also showed, that particular sketch, how much respect Terry had for her.
Because in fact, it is June's sketch.
He does one or two bits in there, but really the sketch is...
And without a demur he said "Yes, fine, let's do it". If it was funny, he'd put it into the show.
Also, he trusted June completely.
Anything that she did, I don't think she ever put a foot wrong in all the series we did.
Now here comes Rudi as the Prince.
He's out for whatever he can get in the way of game.
He tells us that he's been walking for miles and his feet hurt him.
Well, I don't think I thought of it as leading at the time,
but I was quite prominent in that, yes.
"Will you me marry?"
No, I cannot you marry, for I am already betrothed to another.
And then he hears the clock strike 12 and he leaps off before he turns into a swine herd.
'Obviously I loved doing it, yes.'
But it's so strange seeing some of these things that I've completely forgotten about.
I suppose that happens.
In a moment, the awful realisation will hit me.
It hasn't hit me yet.
There, it's hit me.
The relationship between Terry and June was very much what you see actually on the screen.
No wonder people thought they were married in real life.
Have you been drinking?
No, no, it's just that I...
I feel affectionate.
'Terry with his enthusiasm, tremendous passion for this, and June was always the calming influence.'
I mean, she had a wonderful marriage to Tim.
Tim was almost the counterpart of June, in that he was almost as calm as she was.
He had nothing to do with showbusiness,
and I think going home to him every night kept her on a very even keel.
He was a delightful man and they were very happily married for many years.
June married Tim Aitchison in 1956.
A surveyor by profession, he was always happy to support his wife in her demanding career.
They were married for 45 years, remaining inseparable until Tim's death in 2001.
He was an amazing man, my dad.
He was a very genial, very... I mean, everybody loved him.
He was very suave, a typical Englishman, really.
And again, a great sense of humour, and he was wonderful with Mum.
He supported her wholeheartedly.
She would, though, with Dad and me, we did have to hear the lines a lot, which I enjoyed actually.
That was quite fun.
I think with Dad, it was a little bit more sort of, "Yes, dear, and try and
"speed it up a little bit like that." But she didn't
do a massive amount of preparing, and we didn't have to walk around going,
"Mum's working," nothing like that.
I think Mum has always very much worked to live, not lived to work,
so therefore it fitted in
around the family, as opposed to the other way round.
Having a successful marriage provided a bedrock for June
in the capricious world of showbiz, and art was about to imitate life when, at the suggestion of the BBC,
June was about to enter ANOTHER happy marriage.
You know how the tune goes!
MUSIC: "Terry And June" Theme Tune
Periodically, over a period of 20 years, I worked with Terry, yes.
First with Scott On, then Happy Ever After, then Terry And June.
And that became Terry And June because nobody could think of another name.
I think it was probably Terry who eventually said, "Oh, let's just call it Terry And June."
Couldn't think of anything else.
We worked together so much that, of course, it makes life easier
because you can anticipate what the other person is going to do.
But if anybody asked about our relationship, Terry would say, "Oh it's great,
"you know, we get on like a house on fire.
"There's nothing we wouldn't do for each other.
"I do nothing for her and she does nothing for me!"
What? Oh, am I covered in it?
Yes, don't go near that hot oven, you'll break out in puff pastry.
I can't get the dough to rise.
Have you tried playing the National Anthem? Boom!
-I think it's the yeast.
-Perhaps it's gone west. Boom!
One of the Terry And Junes we did was called In Sickness And In Health,
and the idea was a contrast between Terry being ill, a man being ill, and a woman being ill,
and how the differences are apparent.
Good morning, invalid. How are you feeling?
I feel like I've got one foot in the grate.
You mean grave.
I want to be cremated.
Terry, of course, going to bed and turns into a child, and June becomes the mother.
Come on, sit up.
-I'll give you your medicine.
-No, not that one first. That's the horrible one, no.
There's a good boy. Now the nasty.
Take the lid off the pink flavour before you give me that, please.
-Don't be such a baby.
-Any delay in administering the pink one gives a nasty taste in my mouth, see?
Hold your nose.
Quick, hurry up, hurry up.
-Come on, June, come on.
-Don't, Terry, you'll make me spill it.
When the boot is on the other foot, when she's ill, because she gets flu
and when he's better, and the man resents it when his wife get ill.
He's got to become the mother, bring soup and things like that.
Just lie there and relax and get well!
-Where are you going?
-To pamper you, damn it!
The idea was that Terry, whether subconscious or not, provoked her
to lose her temper so he could feel he'd have one up on her.
what's your preference in toast? Sweetheart!
I think it was about eggs. How do you want your eggs?
And he keeps going and going on about how she wants them, until I wrote it that she loses her temper.
Whereabouts in the cupboard?
It's in the tin.
What are you doing down here? You should be upstairs relaxing.
The writer would say, "Just say it, do it, because it's a big laugh."
But for June, no, it was the reality of her as a woman with a cold that was the important thing.
That's when she revealed, actually there was this spine of steel that she had.
We argued, at least I argued, I cajoled, "But no,
"you're not feeling well, you're weak, you lose your temper."
"No, I'm not going to do that."
She did it very nicely, very sweetly but she refused to absolutely do that.
That's because of her understanding of who she was.
One other thing, how'd you like your eggs?
-Oh, I don't want eggs.
-You can have them any way you like.
-No, thank you.
-Poached, scrambled, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, just you say.
-I really don't want any.
-Souffle, omelette, devilled...
No, I don't want eggs.
I don't want them hard, soft, poached, scrambled, souffled,
omeletted, devilled, raw, blown, poached or hatched.
For the last time, Terry, I DO NOT WANT EGGS!
She's not well, you know.
I think whatever June is doing, she brings truth to it.
And that's so important, because you need that, not only with
serious and classical performances, but you need truth hugely in farce.
In comedy, just think of the visual things we know June for.
They're always truthful.
I don't like it, Tarquin.
I don't like the idea of it at all.
But he can't stand up in the car, your car hasn't got a sun roof.
Why can't he simply sit in the car?
Because it's important that he's noticed.
-He'll be noticed!
-Vote for Medford.
Medford is made for the job!
Come along, June, let's get this show on the road.
The long life of Terry And June, which was your average sitcom -
which was, in a sense, everything The Glums weren't -
I think the long life of it again could
be contributed to the fact that June made you believe in those two people.
'While Terry was rather Hancock-y in a way,
-'full of pretentions and fantasies...'
-Vote for Medford!
..she always had that core of truth in it.
And I think that's what made that particular series run
as long as it did.
The next turning to the left, please.
What's the point of going down there if you don't know where it leads to?
Take the next left, please.
'I really think the viewers liked it and the critics hated it.'
Vote for Medford.
They thought it was too middle-class, Middle England, middle this, middle that,
and nowadays that just doesn't seem to be acceptable, which is a pity,
because there's a lot of Middle England about.
Terry And June regularly attracted nine million viewers,
but by its ninth series, the BBC buckled to the critical backlash and the sitcom was dropped.
In 1987, after 13 years, the lights and cameras moved out of the Medfords' drawing room.
After Terry and June finished, we were right in the midst of alternative comedy
and I was trying to find other jobs as a writer, coming up with ideas, and I'd go to producers.
I remember one producer said to me when I had presented a story idea, "I'm sorry, what you must understand,
"John, is the age of the flock wallpaper comedy is over."
After the demise of Terry And June, a new generation of performers
and writers were ushered into television.
They may have been defined by their antipathy towards the gentler sitcom,
but when they got their big breaks, they too wanted June on their shows.
And June was happy to oblige.
There are actors, I think, of her generation who
reached a point where they thought,
"Well, fine, I've done what I've done and I'll quietly
"steal away into the wings."
June never really understood that notion. She just kept going.
In 1992, while working on Carry On Columbus,
one of those young performers propositioned June between takes.
Julian appeared at my dressing-room one time and said, "I'm Julian Clary
"and there's a part for you in an episode in my new series."
I said "Oh yes, that's very nice, what's that?"
He said, "Terry And Julian".
I'm sorry about all this, Mrs Wilson, really I am.
I know what you're up to.
'I said, "I see, and what's the part?" "Oh, it's fine.
' "She's the wife of the Governor of the Bank of England." '
And I know why.
And I said, "Yes, and what does she do?"
And he said, "As a matter of fact, she tries to seduce me.
"Now, there's a challenge."
So how could I refuse?
Julian, you're a man
and I'm a woman.
You're a married woman, Mrs Wilson.
-But you're a very attractive man, Julian.
-Yes, that may be so.
But what you don't realise is I bat for the other side.
Can't you just imagine I'm a lorry driver?
June's comedy work remains prodigious
and she appears to this day on the BBC's Last Of The Summer Wine.
But although she's rarely off our TV screens, she has never strayed too far from the radio.
For 16 years, she appeared in the topical sketch show, The News Huddlines.
If the honourable members can stop taking bets on the next Tory leader for a minute,
it is quarter past three and
that means it's question time, and here they are with a smile, a song,
and a slim majority, the Two Johnnies.
It was also on radio that she turned her considerable acting talents to crime.
Yes, I did all the Miss Marples, which was thanks to Enyd Williams,
who decided that she would like me to do it.
I'm very grateful to her, because I loved it, it was great.
I wanted to choose somebody who could play fluffy and innocent, and also with a twinkle.
Lovely June Whitfield has a marvellous twinkle in her voice as well as in her eyes, you know?
One of the Miss Marple stories is called The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side,
and at the end of it, Miss Marple comes upon a dead person, the very
end of the book, and she quotes the lines from Tennyson.
He said, "She has a lovely face.
"God in his mercy lend her grace.
"The Lady of Shalott."
When June did those classic lines, she broke our hearts.
You know, seasoned studio managers, engineers, cast, everybody around.
She just brought tears to our eyes.
I think she's a wonderful serious actress as well as that fabulous comedy ability she's got, you know.
That comedy ability was so ably demonstrated in Absolutely Fabulous, the biggest comedy hit of the 1990s,
and now the programme with which June Whitfield is most readily identified,
but it might never have happened without a gentle push from her husband.
He would encourage her to do things that maybe she wouldn't have taken the risk with.
I remember with Ab Fab, when the script came along from that, it was for the pilot.
Dad said, "I think you should do this", because Mum was going, "Oh, should I?"
and Dad said, "Absolutely."
Talking to yourself, dear?
-That's the first sign of madness.
I thought it was talking to you.
I suppose in Absolutely Fabulous, I mean, some people would say,
"Oh, she has been rediscovered," this is what people keep saying.
She hasn't, I mean, it was June!
She just does a hugely professional job, the character comes alive,
and everybody says, "Isn't she wonderful?" But she's always been wonderful.
We're all out of cocoa and I promised Mr Potter a chocolate cake this week.
This is all my stuff you use, is it?
-All this wheat powder, what is this?
I remember saying to her once that she started by lending this
kind of reality to the absurd figures of Dick and Jimmy, and now
umpteen decades later she's doing exactly the same job
of grounding into...in reality the absurd figures of Jennifer Saunders
and Joanna Lumley, so that in a sense you could say she hasn't progressed at all!
June's career continues.
She remains one of the most recognisable faces in British life.
She's appeared in more than 250 different comedy shows.
It's a unique body of work that spanned the heady days
of musical theatre, the golden age of radio, and the dominance of television.
And the reasons for her success remain the same.
One of the reasons that she has been so successful is she has been given the jobs.
You know, Julian Clary wanted her in his show.
Ab Fab wanted her.
It may be affection, having grown up with her on the box
and Terry And June, but nevertheless you don't just work with someone just because you like them.
You have to admire them as well, and they do admire her.
Call me anything you like.
How about Thursday?
'People ask what was her best work?'
In a sense, you could say Terry And June
because she made domestic sitcom last for much longer
than it was expected to.
Personally, we were highly satisfied with what she did on Take It From Here with Eth.
I think it's a really good thing that some of us are still going.
I mean, me, in spite of being decrepit,
I'll always feel that June has somehow been able to take care of herself in a very sober fashion.
She's been a proper
human being as well as being a jolly good woman.
And a very, very fine actress.
As well as the respect of her peers, June is now one of the few
individuals who have the unofficial title of national treasure.
But there's other accolades in a career that is now in its eighth decade.
Not one, but two appearances on This Is Your Life, and an official title, too.
June Whitfield CBE.
And finally, June sheds a little light on her secret.
I don't think I've ever thought ahead or planned ahead or anything.
taken things as they happen.
After every job, every actor thinks, "Well, that's it, that's the end of my career."
You know, there'll never be another.
if you're lucky, the phone rings and, yes, you do get asked to do something else.
That's the way it's always been.
I've never planned and thought, "Well, now I'd like to do this,
"or now I'd like to do that."
Just sort of wait and see what happens.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
June Whitfield's career has spanned almost 60 years, and she has worked alongside such greats as Arthur Askey, Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Ronnie Barker, Benny Hill, Bob Monkhouse, Terry Scott and Jennifer Saunders.
In this film, June tells her own story, from her early days in the West End working with Noel Coward to her ill-fated Broadway debut, and with the help of rarely seen archive, her fifty plus years of impeccable comedy performances on radio and TV.
June reveals that a lack of confidence about her looks caused her to play it for laughs. She also offers insights into her onscreen relationship with Terry Scott and the secret behind her continuing success.