June Brown is a British actress best known for her role as Dot Branning in Eastenders. Despite her age, she is still very active in Eastenders, as well as a number of one-off television programmes, including one that investigated her family history and a Christmas episode of Strictly Come Dancing. However, despite a solid background in acting, her fame as a household name was late in coming; it has been since she joined Eastenders in 1985 that she really made her name.
The early years
She was born June Muriel Brown on 16 February 1927 in Suffolk, England to parents with a Sephardic Jew background, as well as a bit of Scottish and Irish ancestry. She was the eldest of five, although two of her siblings died at a very young age. She did well at school and left with good qualifications. During the Second World War, she was evacuated to Wales and, when she was old enough, she joined the Wrens. It was her time in the Wrens that introduced her to acting, after which she didn’t look back. She was classically trained in acting at the Old Vic Drama School in London, for which she received a grant.
June married her first husband, John Garley, in 1950, but he suffered from depression and eventually killed himself in 1957. However, she wasn’t alone for long; in 1958 she married Robert Arnold, who had a regular role in the long-running television series Dixon of Dock Green. Together, they had six children, although their second daughter, Chloe, was born prematurely and died when just a few days old. June later named another daughter Chloe in remembrance. June and Robert were married until his death in 2003, by which time they had been married for forty-five years. Since his death, she has remained alone in the house they shared.
Early acting career
June’s acting career has encompassed television, film and theatre. On television, she had recurring roles in Dixon of Dock Green as different characters, appeared briefly in Coronation Street and Z Cars, had a steady role in The Duchess of Duke Street, as well as a number of one-off roles that ensured she has worked steadily from the 1960s through to the present day. Her film roles were not major, but she did have small roles in major films like Straw Dogs and Sunday Bloody Sunday.
In the theatre, she played major roles such as Hedda Gabler and Lady Macbeth in her younger days. Since then, she has worked steadily in the theatre in plays such as An Inspector Calls, Rebecca and, most recently, Calendar Girls.
When she signed up to play Dot Cotton in Eastenders in 1985, she probably had no idea how successful the role would make her. She was not a particularly pleasant character at first; her religious bent meant that she tended to criticise other people’s ways of life. However, her own son, Nick, was a notorious trouble-maker and, over the years, Dot has been forced to accept that no-one is perfect. She was single for many years, but eventually found happiness when she married Jim Branning. Sadly, Jim has had to move into a home because of illness, but Dot has Jim’s family around her and has turned into a mother figure for many of the show’s characters. Running the local Laundromat, she has plenty of opportunity to get to know everyone. Dot is still very much part of the show, but is currently taking a break to write her biography.
What makes Dot such a popular character is the combination of her tragic and humorous storylines. She has had some heart-breaking scenes, especially associated with her son, Nick, whom she nevertheless always forgave. However, when the chips are down, she somehow always manages to bounce back up and makes viewers laugh with her sometimes quirky outlook on the world. June Brown has helped develop Eastenders into a long-running soap opera that shows few signs of coming to an end any time soon.
Although now in her eighties, June Brown is still full of energy and it is hard to imagine her slowing down for a few years yet. Certainly, when she does finally leave Eastenders, the character of Dot Branning will be sadly missed.