June Brown: “The people in Folkestone are pretty relaxed”
PUBLISHED: 10:40 26 May 2020
She has been a mainstay of BBC soap EastEnders for 35 years, playing the much-loved character Dot Cotton, but June Brown says she’d rather be in Folkestone now than Walford
Has she gone for good or will she return? That was the question buzzing through the media when June Brown announced that her alter-ego, EastEnders icon Dot Cotton – or Dot Branning if you prefer – would be no more.
Will she miss Walford? Not as much as she would miss Folkestone. “I lived in Folkestone for years with Robert, my second husband,” says June. “I wasn’t born there – that was in Suffolk – but I have always felt that some of my roots are in Folkestone.
“I used to go and see things at the Leas Cliff Pavilion and then appeared there myself.
“When I heard a few years ago that is was in danger of closing, I just had to support the campaign to keep it open.
“I must say that where we lived was a bit odd. It was an old house and a bit spooky in a way. I suppose it depends on what you believe, but I believe in inexplicable things.
“We used to find that things had moved and it wasn’t us going daft. I put a spoon down once and couldn’t find it. I mentioned it aloud and the next thing I knew a saucepan lid started to rattle. When I lifted the lid it stopped shaking and there was the spoon!
“There were other things too, but it was all part of living there and it didn’t really bother us.”
June still has a home there and has no plans to move back to Suffolk. “I have been a fan of Kent for many years, who wouldn’t be? It’s not known for its fruit and hops for nothing, it’s a beautiful, fertile county with nice people, a great heritage, a nice coast and some lovely theatres too.”
While June was born and raised in Suffolk, such is the strength of her character in EastEnders that it would be easy to believe she was really from the East End of London. “That’s good, it shows that I did my job properly,” she says. “Mind you, being an actress means you have to be all sorts of people from all sorts of places so you have to be careful you don’t forget who you really are.”
June has had a long and varied career, which included appearing in Coronation Street long before she became an EastEnder.
“It all started when I was a teenager,” she says. “I wasn’t even 18 when I joined the Wrens and one of the things we did was put on a play. It went well and I loved it and getting the audience reaction. That was me bitten by the bug. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
June’s work was been wide-ranging. She has appeared in films, television of course, but also on stage in many different productions including in recent years Calendar Girls.
“I couldn’t think why they wanted me, but I did it,” she said. “It was a bit of fun – draughty, but fun. It’s good to work to a live audience; a completely different experience. You get an instant reaction and you know how it is going. When you first get into television you never know until it is screened and that could take weeks or months.”
In Coronation Street, June played Mrs Parsons in 1970 and again in 1971 but she has also played Lady Macbeth, so it is fair to say she has had a varied career.
“I wasn’t sure about EastEnders when I was asked,” she said. “I never expected to be in it for 35 years. It was Leslie Grantham who suggested me and it was only for a few months, but it went on and on. I can still remember my first line, ‘Give us a tea, Lofty’. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.”
June doesn’t talk much about her MBE or the time she did an entire EastEnders episode totally on her own. Her talent goes way beyond Dot Cotton, although that is the character that has gained her the most recognition.
“I owe her a lot but we are not really at all alike, except perhaps for the smoking. I have always been a smoker and at my age I don’t see much point in stopping. I’ve tried the e-cigs but they’re nothing like the same, I don’t get on with them at all. I like a glass or two of red wine as well and a Guiness so it’s probably a surprise I’ve lasted this long. However, I’m still around, I have a few sight problems and that kind of age thing, but I’m still putting one foot in front of the other.
“Although I am not like her, I do share a few of Dot’s views on things, I’m a spiritual person and I believe in standards. I don’t like the way people talk today; there are some awful expressions and words used that make the language a bit cheap.”
Putting one foot in front of the other was always one of her pastimes when she was much younger and living in Folkestone.
“I have always found Folkestone a fascinating place,” she says. “It was a nice town and still is and a lot of people used to go there for days out and holidays. It’s still pretty busy and I like walking around it and going to the shops.
“The people in Folkestone are pretty relaxed and they don’t stare at you when they pass you in the street, I much prefer that.
“I don’t mind talking to people but I have never seen what I do as anything other than my job. I’ve never been the celebrity sort.”
Will we ever see Dot Cotton again? “Not in Folkestone,” she says. “As far as I’m concerned that’s all over. It felt a bit strange after 35 years and I did get a sense of bereavement, but I really don’t think I’ll be going back.
“I know someone kindly said the door will be left open, but I can’t see me walking through it. I think we’ve done all we can with Dot and I’m not getting any younger. I might do some other bits of work, but because of my sight problems it’s not so easy to read scripts now.
“I suppose I am in retirement and what a great place to retire in. A lot of people would like to retire to Kent – I am here already and I like it very much.”