Dot’s Discs: What did we learn from June Brown’s Desert Island Discs?
June Brown is a mother-of-five and an award-winning TV actor, playing the prudish Dot Cotton (now Dot Branning) on EastEnders. Dot, with a cigarette dangling from her dark red lips, patrolling Albert Square in her court shoes looking for scandal, is a stalwart of the show. Here’s what we learned from June’s Desert Island Discs.
Young at heart
In EastEnders Dot is currently losing her sight, which June is struggling with as an actor as she loves Dot’s vitality. “I find when I get on set that my energy comes,” she says, even if she’s feeling like “death warmed up”. Keen to work as long as she can, June is definitely not a fan of retirement. “No, I couldn’t possibly. What would I do?”
Dot’s life has been touched by tragedy, as has June’s. Her older sister, Marise, who was just over a year older than June, died at the age of eight. June says she felt closer to Marise than she did to her mother in some ways, describing her as her “best friend”. June’s first husband took his own life and one of her daughters died shortly after she was born.
As a young woman, June was “very much in love” with a man who wanted to marry her. He was called up by the army and became a spy in Belgium. One day the letters “just stopped”. She spent a whole day waiting at Piccadilly for him, and he never arrived. When he returned to England, she discovered he’d begun a relationship with someone else. Things perked up later though when she had a submariner boyfriend who would “throw her round the floor” dancing and wrote her lovely poetry, which she lost.
As a child she would sing around the piano as her mother played, and for one of her Desert Island Discs she asked the choir of Ipswich High School for Girls to record a favourite hymn as she was unable to find it anywhere else. She used to sing it as a lullaby to her children.
Aged 82, June performed in Calendar Girls in the West End. The other actors wore tights, leaving her as the only naked performer on stage, “it was what we were supposed to do”. She hid her modesty behind a knitting bag and two knitted squares.
June won a scholarship to secondary school. “I was quite a clever child, I don’t know what happened later on,” she says. She loved dissecting frogs and rabbits in biology lessons. “We had a very pragmatic view of life.”
June had six children in seven years in her second marriage, and with the help of au pairs, friends and family, was able to continue working throughout. “I used to take the children to work with me,” she said. The youngest child would be in a pram in the dressing room while June was on stage.
She was interested in osteopathy as a career, but her father, who’d lost much of his money after the war as he’d put it in German banks, would not fund her education as she was a girl and therefore bound to get married.
And life on the island?
“I like silence,” she says. But all-in-all it may not be an ideal location for June, as she’s afraid of the dark, “and if there were snakes, well I’d be in the sea all the time.”