June Brown, a mainstay of Britain's 'EastEnders,' dies at 95
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June Brown, a mainstay of Britain's 'EastEnders,' dies at 95
As the memorable Dot Cotton, she appeared in thousands of episodes of the hugely popular soap opera over 35 years.

by Neil Genzlinger

NEW YORK, NY.- June Brown, who appeared in thousands of episodes of the British soap opera “EastEnders” across 35 years, portraying Dot Cotton, one of the more memorable residents of the fictional Albert Square, died Sunday at her home in Surrey, near London. She was 95.

Her death was announced on the show’s Twitter account. In one of many tributes shared by that account, Natalie Cassidy, another star of the show, called Brown “the best character actress ‘EastEnders’ has ever seen or will ever see.”

Brown was classically trained at the Old Vic drama school and had a decent career in the theater until she and her second husband, Robert Arnold, whom she married in 1958, began having their six children.

“Touring was difficult with children,” she told The Daily Telegraph of London in 1995, “so I did a great deal of television work. And, in 1985, ‘EastEnders’ and Dot came along.”

Dot was the mother of the villainous Nick Cotton. Brown was originally contracted for three months.

“Then I was asked if I wanted to be a permanent character,” she told The Express of Britain in 2020, the year her character was finally written out of the series. “I had no idea it was going to be for 30-odd years.”

It turned out that audiences found Dot, a chain-smoking bundle of prejudices, oddly endearing. The Daily Telegraph, in the 1995 article, called her “the holy-rolling hypochondriac, one-woman moral majority of Albert Square.”

Brown enjoyed creating a flawed character — so much so that in 1993, after playing Dot for eight years, she left the show when she felt the writers were dialing back some of Dot’s more objectionable characteristics.

“In the early days Dot was a terrible racist,” Brown explained in the 1995 interview. “But she gradually became more and more politically correct, which was disastrous for the character and the program. It’s no good having a program that is supposed to reflect society but covers it all up and pretends that everything in the garden is lovely.”

She returned in 1997. As the years rolled by, Dot continued to change, becoming less gossipy and more like the fictional world’s matriarch, and Brown was given some meaty storylines — a request from a friend for Dot’s help with euthanasia, for instance, and Nick’s death from a heroin overdose.

A much-praised episode in 2008 was devoted solely to Brown, as Dot made a 30-minute tape recording for her comatose husband. The Observer called it “an absolutely brilliant 30 minutes of prime time — beautifully written, economically directed and faultlessly, movingly performed by June Brown.”

Brown recently dealt with macular degeneration in real life, something that was incorporated into scripts. The character disappeared in 2020 without much fanfare — Dot moved to Ireland. The show’s producers said a return was always possible, but Brown wasn’t interested. “I’ve sent her off to Ireland and that’s where she’ll stay,” she said of Dot.

“EastEnders” Twitter posts said she had appeared in 2,884 episodes.

“There was nobody quite like June Brown,” Nadine Dorries, Britain’s culture minister, said on Twitter. “She captured the zeitgeist of British culture like no other in her many years on our screens.”

June Muriel Brown was born Feb. 16, 1927, in Suffolk, England, to Henry and Louisa (Butler) Brown. Her father owned an electrical engineering company, and her mother worked in a milliner’s shop.

Brown’s childhood was marked by loss. A brother died in infancy. She was particularly close to an older sister, Marise, who died of an ear infection when June was 7, an event that affected her more deeply than her parents seemed to realize.

“People weren’t concerned with psychology then,” Brown wrote in her autobiography, “Before the Year Dot” (2013). “Perhaps it was better because you learnt to survive without sympathy.”

Brown grew up in Ipswich. A career in acting was not at all on her mind.

“I once played the Virgin Mary at school,” she told The Daily Telegraph, “but only because my teacher thought I’d look lovely in blue.”

During World War II she joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service — the Wrens — where one of her jobs was showing training films to airmen. She also performed in a touring revue that performed for troops.

“We took it ’round the Southern Command area and I really enjoyed it,” she told The Independent in 2010. “I got laughs, and that was when the bug got me.”

After the war she studied at the Old Vic and began appearing in plays. By the late 1950s she was turning up in roles on “ITV Television Playhouse” and similar TV programs. In the early 1970s she appeared in several episodes of “Coronation Street,” another long-running British soap.

She credited Leslie Grantham, an original “EastEnders” cast member, with suggesting her for the role of Dot.

“He’d seen me in an episode of ‘Minder,’ ” another British show, she told The Daily Mirror in 2003. “I’ll always be grateful to him.”

A few dozen episodes into the series, Dot made her first appearance. At the 2005 British Soap Awards, Brown received a lifetime achievement honor for her work on the show. “EastEnders” has also been seen on various outlets in the United States for years.

In 1950 Brown married John Garley, a fellow actor, who died in 1957. Her second husband, Arnold, also an actor, died in 2003. Her survivors include five children: Chloe, Naomi, Sophie, Louise and William.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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