Obituary: June Brown, actress who achieved cult status as downtrodden busybody Dot Cotton in EastEnders

June Brown, the actress who died at the age of 95, spent more than 30 years in post-war theater as an exponent of classic and avant-garde drama and starred in dozens of television plays and series before achieving national fame and cult status as the downtrodden busybody Dot Cotton in the BBC soap EastEnders.

June Brown, who portrayed Dot as a kind of suburban fanatic subject to whiny and sometimes outrageous prejudice, followed a sacred tradition of television comedy dating back to Albert Steptoe and Alf Garnett.

As the long-faced, dark-eyed, chain-smoking Cockney hypochondriac and queen of the laundromat, June Brown’s Dot Cotton wailed with moral outrage and self-righteousness, voicing her opinions on how bystanders plotted and plotted: her husband left, her son tried to poison her, and neighbors exploited their sense of Christian charity.

Dot drew widespread sympathy for her unfashionable candid views and has since enchanted millions of viewers with amused outrage EastEnders Launched in 1985. Between 1993 and 1997, however, June Brown left the show, complaining that the writers had downgraded her character from a grumbling Harridan to a pale shadow of increasingly benign political correctness.

She was initially recommended for the role of Dot by one of the soap’s original cast members, Leslie Grantham, who played Dirty Den and had seen her on an episode of minder. She was pleased that her character became a gay icon and appeared regularly in cabaret in gay clubs.

In February 2008, she received rave reviews for a one-handed performance that filled an entire album EastEnders episode, which earned her a Bafta nomination for Best Actress. She was the first actress on a British soap opera to carry an entire episode alone, with an emotional monologue dictated onto a cassette for her husband to listen to in hospital.

June Muriel Brown was born on February 16, 1927 in Needham Market, Suffolk, the second of five children of a wealthy businessman. She went straight to the Wrens and became a projectionist during World War II showing training films for airmen. Touring plays for Southern Command gave her a taste for acting.

After demobilization, she used her Navy scholarship to study drama at the Old Vic School. In the late 1950s June Brown alternated between London’s two leading experimental houses, the Royal Court with its Theater Upstairs and the Open Space, a basement playhouse on Tottenham Court Road.

Her numerous TV drama credits included the title role of the sad housewife in Douglas Livingstone’s nora; Violet Leyton, the heroine’s bitter mother The Duchess of Duke Street; The bell of the lady’s maid, based on the eerie tale by Edith Wharton; and Edna the intoxicated womana Play for today. She appeared in most of the prime time series of the time, including Dixon from Dock Green, The Sweeney, Crown Court, minder, Doctor Who, Coronation Street (she was Mrs Parsons in 1970), clay hanger and Z cars.

In her private life, June Brown was a spiritualist, working as an unpaid spiritual healer with a Notting Hill mission. Like her screen character Dot, she was a heavy smoker but claimed never to worry about her health.

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In February 2020, she announced her departure EastEnders after 35 years.

A year earlier, June Brown said she was losing her sight after being diagnosed with macular degeneration and couldn’t recognize her friends.

She was married twice, firstly to actor John Garley (from 1950 until his suicide in 1957) and secondly from 1958 to actor Robert Arnold, who died in 2003.

She had six children, one of whom died in premature birth.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Obituary: June Brown, actress who achieved cult status as downtrodden busybody Dot Cotton in EastEnders

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