June Brown never saw herself as a star. Whenever the topic of her dot-cotton fame came up, the EastEnders veteran – who died on Monday aged 95 – would wince and roll her eyes. “We’re not stars – we’re household names,” she said. “We’re like Persil or Daz.” Brown quoted actress Gretchen Franklin, who played Dot’s BFF Ethel for years, but it was a gag that also nailed her own appeal. She could be funny, withered and expressionless – both on screen and off – but with a mile-long melancholy streak.
That’s partly why she was as good as Dot. The cigarette-smoking laundromat owner was as much an Albert Square staple as the Queen Vic pub – a ranting, misanthropic gossip with a heart of gold and compassion where it mattered. Brown gave her character grain, shading, and a sense of inner conflict. Even if you haven’t seen Dot since she first appeared on the soap opera in 1985, you’ve felt her years of trauma in Brown’s withered sadness. Every blow the character had taken in life seemed to have left a bruise – the corrupt son she had blindly defended to the max, the sick friend she had helped die, loved ones who had died .
Brown’s own traumas — she lost a husband to suicide and another to dementia, and two of her siblings died when she was a child — seemed to add weight and authenticity to her performances. “I played two people at once for 35 years,” Brown said in 2020. “Really, Dot wasn’t me, but spiritually she probably was.” They were both chain smokers, both dressed extravagantly, and both seemed reluctant to ever smile to want. When Brown was nominated for a Bafta in 2009 — becoming only the second actor ever to receive such an honor for a soap opera — she didn’t celebrate. “I think the nomination is nice and I wish I was the kind of person who’s full of joy, but I’m not,” she told The Guardian in 2009. “I just can’t get excited about things anymore. I do not know why. I think it’s age.”
Something that underpinned this perspective also appeared to be professional disappointment. Brown was a fantastic actress who anchored many of EastEnders’ best storylines, but her creative bravery seemed to be overlooked by the show on occasion. She always seemed to fight for more risks and more opportunities to show what she can do. For example, when she appeared on a 2009 episode of the stage show Calendar Girls, she was the only star to sniff at the offer of nude underwear. “I thought: This is terribly boring, I don’t want that.”
During her later interviews, she begged the EastEnders producers for better storylines, lamenting long episodes where she more or less walked on set, said a line or two, and then left. “As an actress, I need a proper role,” she said in 2013. “I’ve been in theater since the late ’60s and I’m not a rascal. I resent it.” In 2020, she revealed that she spurned the show’s request for another advance and left voluntarily after stories she seemed promised didn’t come to fruition.
Following this Persil analogy, Brown rose to fame at a time when soap operas were viewed as household furniture rather than actual actors we’d follow to the ends of the world. Based on the breadth and complexity of her work as Dot, she earned a career like that of Suranne Jones or Sarah Lancashire – women so busy and celebrated it’s easy to forget they made their names on soaps. “I think [soap actors] are considered second rate,” Brown said in 2014.
One of the great sadnesses of Brown’s death is that it has been more than a decade since she was given a proper showcase in a special EastEnders episode that was staged as a dramatic monologue. Dot sat alone and reminisced about her life, her loved ones and her losses. It was the 2008 episode that got Brown her Bafta nod, and it was so candid, dark, and gripping that it almost felt like a lost Tony Richardson film — or at least a triumphant nod to the kitchen sink origins of the Series. Today it should be seen as Brown’s greatest achievement as an actress, but also as a testament to what the industry should have always given her.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tv-news/june-brown-deserved-more-than-what-eastenders-often-gave-her-41524105.html June Brown earned more than what EastEnders often gave her