As she turns 90, we revisit national treasure June Brown’s iconic Sweetie, Darling? interview

Liam Leslie

Please be upstanding for a living legend and national treasure.

She’s best known as God-fearin’, gossip-lovin’ Dot Cotton, but in real life, June Brown is a lithe, fashionable figure of youthful energy, despite being 90. Yes, 90!

When we interviewed her back in 2014, she was more than willing to put down the wine glass and ciggie to dip a slender hand into GT’s sweetie jar…

Of all the people you’ve worked with on EastEnders, who’s your all time favourite?
Oh, Ethel. Gretchen Franklin. She was very down to earth. I’ll tell you a story: she said to Anna Wing, who played Lou Beale, “I hear we have a rival.” Now, that rival was me. I never think of other actors as rivals, but she made it her business not to act with me to begin with. She would always look elsewhere in scenes. Wendy Richard said to her, “when you and June are on screen, you’re like two bulls.” And Gretchen suddenly realised that I wasn’t, well, useless is a horrid word… but I was of use. After that, she always looked at me.

What other performers do you admire?
Meryl Streep. I find her a fascinating actress. She is always different and her accents are brilliant. I wish I’d got an ear for accents, but I haven’t. I find most of them very difficult to do, dear.

Theatre or television?
Theatre. Because on screen, you can act your socks off but you’re at the mercy of the camera, and the director of course, and perhaps the editor. On the stage, people can choose who they look at and if they find you charismatic or they like what you’re doing, they’ll watch you.

What was the best time in your life?
My first thirty years. I loved the 50s. When you were in your 20s, there was a lot of freedom back in that time. We walked barefoot through London; we weren’t frightened of anything. We didn’t drink, but we talked and we talked, because we didn’t have any of these little boxes [June points to my mobile phone]. You see, you’re ruined! I think in the end people won’t talk to each other. You see girls sitting together in silence on their machines. Are they talking to each other?

Why did it take you so long to come out with an autobiography?
It took so long to write! My editor Carly said, “don’t edit it, just get on with it.” But I can’t do that because I’m a perfectionist. I read in a book the other day, somebody said, “you’re a perfectionist”, and the other man said “what else is there to be?” I’m a perfectionist who’s also a procrastinator. What a combination!

Do you think you’ll ever be a Dame?
Oh, no, no, no. There’s a few Dames who I think are worth it. Eileen Atkins, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, because, you see, they’ve done a lot of wonderful work.

Well, you’re the only actor who’s done a single-hander episode of EastEnders…
Oh, that was absolutely wonderful! I daren’t say it at the time because they’d think I’m conceited, but it was the easiest thing I ever had to do, because there was no bugger mucking me up [laughs].

Is there an actor you’d still like to work with?
John Hurt. There’s another one I love and can’t remember his name… I’m so dreadful at names… Tom Conti! I got a laugh trying to remember names when I got a Soap Award, but I just can’t be bothered thanking everybody, it’s very boring.

Liam Leslie

What would you most like to see Dot do?
I’d like a companion but I’m a bit tied up with poor old Jim, because he’s still there in the home. I haven’t had a good storyline since they hung that one hander on the fact that he had a stroke. It was his misfortune that was my good fortune, and if I had won a BAFTA, that’s what I would have said.

You really wanted that BAFTA, didn’t you?
Yes, I nearly got up when I didn’t win because the one who won, Anna Macsue-whaddya-call-it, wasn’t there because she’d had a baby. I was, like, “What?” I used to work two days after I had a baby! I probably shouldn’t have done but I did. Anyway, I thought I’d get up and say “you must all be terribly disappointed that Miss Anna Macwotsit isn’t here, and you won’t get to hear a speech, so I’ll give you mine.” I longed to do it and create a disturbance, as it were.

You’re a troublemaker, you are!
[Laughs] When you get older, it’s lovely. It’s the only good thing about getting old. Absolutely the only thing. [Points to her head] As long as I keep this computer here going…

What’s the thing that makes you most happy?
I don’t know if I ever feel really happy. I try hard but I think I personally am somebody who needs a companion, I need someone to be happy with; I need to share.

Have you ever been clubbing?
Well, it was wonderful when we started EastEnders – we used to rehearse together as a group and afterwards we’d go out with the young people. We’d get into all the nightclubs for nothing because the show was so popular. I met Boy George one night; he’s very intelligent, I like Boy George.

We have to ask – what did you think of Lady Gaga?
Oh, I thought she was an enchanting girl. Very intelligent and very ordinary under that incredibly clever persona. And such courage to be like that. I wish I’d had that sort of confidence when I was in my late 20s.

We want to be as sharp and fit as you at 86! Any tips? [Maybe it’s chain smoking, as she’s just put out her fourth fag and lit her fifth in a half hour interview].
You have to have turmeric and cinnamon. A glass of water every morning when you wake up. And rock salt. It’s what you eat – my heart should be riddled with holes right now. I just go Asian – tumeric, cinnamon, eggs, chillis, black pepper and you’ll live.

Words: Lee Dalloway



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