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The Sunday Post: Life before Dot

Michael Osborn

Actress June Brown is inextricably linked with playing one character, the instantly recognisable Dot Cotton (later Branning) in EastEnders for the past 30 years.

She wasn’t actually in the first episode of EastEnders. Dot was originally brought in as a support character for her dastardly son Nick, gracing the cast list for the first time in July 1985.

But Dot - the god-fearing woman who is never one to gossip - went on to become a much-loved figure at the centre of Walford life, with connections to both original and new characters to grace Albert Square.

Brown is now 88 and her career has almost exactly matched the development of TV in the UK. You can follow her long career on screen through the Genome listings.

The actress made her first credited appearance in 1957, playing Aisla Crane in a TV adapation of Edgar Wallace's crime thriller The Case of the Frightened Lady (below). Brown was also rewarded with this photo and caption in the magazine along with co-star Enid Lindsey.

June Brown followed up her initial success with more theatre for the screen, including an adaptation of The Rough and Ready Lot in 1959. She played the character of Chica, but this time wasn't featured in a photograph which accompanied the listing.

She went on to take roles in a variety of leading programmes during the 1960s, including Dixon of Dock Green on a number of occasions, Z Cars and outings of The Wednesday Play.

The flow of appearances continued into the 1970s, including a part in Doctor Who four-parter The Time Warrior opposite Jon Pertwee, while she was seen in a number of dramas that were a far cry from the grit of Albert Square.

Brown played a substantial role in The Duchess of Duke Street (below), a 15-part costume drama set in Edwardian London in which she played the heroine's mother, Mrs Leyton. The actress showed her mettle in another period piece, with the Tudor setting of Mark Twain's The Prince and The Pauper which screened in 1977.

Four years later she was again in costume in era-straddling, cross-generational children's television drama, God's Wonderful Railway - her last major listing before the domination of Dot.

As recalled in last week's Sunday Post, Angels was a major, long-running TV medical drama - and it just so happens that June Brown was in the first episode of its second series.

But Brown is forever to be thought of as Dot, and has hundreds of listings for EastEnders. The soap opera was initially teased in the Radio Times with lines from that episode's dialogue - and Dot landed her first taster in March 1986: 'No law against a bloke visiting his own wife, is there, Dot?'

When simpler plot summaries took their place, Dot has been regularly mentioned and continues to be to this day. In 2008, Brown's performance in a unique single-handed episode of EastEnders won her a Bafta nomination.

June Brown continued to pursue an acting life outside of EastEnders. In 2000 she starred in the lavish adaptation of Mervyn Peake's fantasy drama Gormenghast as the deliciously named character Nannie Slagg (below). 

What else has Brown featured in and what about performances that weren't on the BBC? Can an actor escape their best-known creation? Let us know what you think in the space below.

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