'A national treasure': Tributes pour in for EastEnders legend June Brown, dead at 95

4 April 2022, 13:17 | Updated: 4 April 2022, 17:10

June Brown, best known for her role as Dot Cotton, has died aged 95
June Brown, best known for her role as Dot Cotton, has died aged 95. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Tributes have flooded in for June Brown, who played Dot Cotton in EastEnders, after her death at the age of 95.

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The actress played Dot Cotton in the soap for over 30 years, featuring in 2,884 episodes.

Co-star Adam Woodyatt, who played Ian Beale, wrote on Instagram he was "lost for words" at the loss of an "incredible woman".

"I’m lost for words, something June never was," he said.

"So many memories, so much fun.

"Just purely and simply an incredible woman who had the most incredible life and career, I was fortunate to have shared a small part of it.

"They never made you a Dame (we did try), but to me you will always be Dame Brown."

EastEnders star Milly Zero, who played Dot Cotton's daughter Dotty Cotton, paid tribute to the "artist" and "national treasure".

"Rest in perfect peace 'Grandma Dot'," she tweeted.

"I have never met anyone who cared about their craft so deeply.

"An artist, a national treasure, an icon & an inspiration to us all.

"You will always live on in the hearts of everybody you touched.

"There will never be anyone quite like June."

Gillian Taylforth, who plays Kathy Beale in the show, hailed Brown as "an amazing woman and a truly wonderful actress".

"I'm truly heartbroken by this news. June Brown OBE, MBE, was an amazing woman and a truly wonderful actress," she said.

"I shared many scenes with her over the years and she was always someone I looked up to and learnt from.

"There will never be another June Brown and I'm sending all my love to her family."

Letitia Dean, best known as Sharon Watts, said: "My beloved June, I truly loved you. Not just a phenomenal actress but a very dear friend.

"Oh the fun we have had over the years! I will never stop loving you, THANK YOU for your kindness and your generosity and for loving me the way you did.

"Sending all my dearest love to June's family at this devastating time. God bless you June."

Danniella Westbrook, who played Sam Mitchell, said her heart was broken.

"My hearts broken," she said on Twitter.

"Good bye my darling June brown xxx #ripjunebrown".

June Brown's family said she died "very peacefully at her home in Surrey, with her family by her side".

Announcing the news, an EastEnders spokesperson said they were "deeply saddened" at the loss of the "beloved" actress, and said her "loving warmth, wit and great humour will never be forgotten".

"June created one of the most iconic characters in Dot Cotton, not just in soap but in British television, and having appeared in 2,884 episodes, June’s remarkable performances created some of EastEnders finest moments," they said.

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"We send all our love and deepest sympathies to June’s family and friends.

"A very bright light has gone out at EastEnders today but we shall all be raising a sweet sherry in June’s memory.

"Rest in peace, our dearest June.

"You will never be forgotten."

Chris Clenshaw, the executive producer for the show, said she actress was "just ionic" and said working with her was 'always magic'.

"I speak for us all at EastEnders when I say that today is a very sad day as June Brown was a truly special and unforgettable woman," he said.

"We send our deepest sympathies to June’s family."

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Tim Davie, the Director-General of the BBC, said: "June Brown was a brilliantly talented actor who was loved by millions.

"Her performances as the incomparable Dot Cotton delivered some of the most memorable moments in soap history.

"June was hugely loved by the cast and crew and she will always hold a special place in the public’s affections.

"Our thoughts are with her family and many friends."

It was announced in February 2020 that Brown had decided to leave EastEnders permanently, at the age of 93.

June Brown featured in over 2,500 episodes of the soap
June Brown featured in over 2,500 episodes of the soap. Picture: BBC

June Brown was the backbone of one of Britain's best loved soaps.

As Dot Cotton, also known as Dot Branning, in the long-running EastEnders, she provided Albert Square with one of its best-loved and most memorable characters.

For many viewers, her cockney creation felt like a family member who appeared, with regularity, four times a week on BBC One.

She became a British cultural fixture, winning several awards and a Bafta nomination during her decades-long career, as well as being awarded an MBE in 2008 for her services to drama and charity.

Brown's career was one of two halves.

As a stage actor, she had the credentials.

The late actor Nigel Hawthorne described her as "one of the most beautiful creatures I've seen on stage" after seeing her play the titular role in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler when she was in her 20s.

But for much of the British public she will always be known as the chain-smoking Cotton.

Brown was also politically aware, preferring tough investigative features like Newsnight and Panorama to lighter fare.

Her politics were equally unbending.

In an interview with the Guardian, she was asked if she voted Labour.

"No, I wouldn't vote Labour, dear, if you paid me," she replied.

"I vote Conservative."

Brown grew up in Suffolk nearly 200 miles from the fictional Albert Square in east London.

Born in Needham Market in 1927, she was one of five.

Her baby brother died at 15 days from pneumonia and her elder sister, Marise, died aged eight from a meningitis-like illness.

She would later discover during filming for Who Do You Think You Are? that she was of Irish, Scottish, Italian and Sephardic descent.

On her maternal grandmother's side she was descended from the famous bare knuckle boxer Isaac Bitton, who reportedly once took part in a fight that lasted 74 rounds.

She was educated in Ipswich at St John's Church of England school, then won a scholarship to Ipswich High School.

During the Second World War she served in the women's branch of the Royal Navy, often called the Wrens.

After, she went to the Old Vic Theatre School in London, hoping to launch a career on the stage.

The early 1970s saw her take small roles in Coronation Street, Mrs Parsons, Doctor Who and The Bill.

In the 80s and 90s she secured larger parts in comedies like Ain't Misbehavin (1997) and played Nanny Slagg in the BBC's adaptation of Gormenghast in 2000.

But these were eclipsed by her ubiquitous performance as Cotton in the long-running soap.

June Brown pictured with the EastEnders cast in 1991
June Brown pictured with the EastEnders cast in 1991. Picture: Alamy

The part that would come to define her was offered by one of the soap's original cast, Leslie Grantham, who played the equally well-known "Dirty" Den Watts.

On his recommendation she joined the cast in 1985, taking a break between 1993 and 1997.

In 2008 she became the first EastEnders actress to carry an entire episode single-handed.

In it Cotton dictated her life story to a cassette, so her husband could listen to it in hospital following a stroke.

This was made more poignant by the fact that her co-star and close friend John Bardon was then in hospital after also suffering a stroke.

She was best known for her role in EastEnders
She was best known for her role in EastEnders. Picture: Alamy

It took Brown more than one attempt to find lasting love.

Aged 23 she met actor John Garley at the Old Vic and they soon married.

Garley took his own life seven years later in 1957. He had been suffering from depression but Brown expressed her guilt at having been unfaithful during their time together.

The next year Brown married again and this time the relationship would last 45 years.

Robert Arnold played Pc Swain in the long-running police programme Dixon Of Dock Green and they had their first child, Louise, in 1959.

Soon after she fell pregnant again but the baby, Chloe, was born prematurely and died after 16 days.

She had another four children and Arnold died in 2003 of Lewy body dementia, a progressive form of the brain disease.

Foreshadowing her eventual decline in a 2017 episode of Desert Island Discs, Brown told host Kirsty Young that she thought retirement would kill her.

"I can be feeling like death warmed up when I come in (to work), and then I'm alive. It keeps me alive," she said weeks before turning 90.

"I think that's why a lot of people are very lonely and get ill when they're older, because I think loneliness and having no motivation, nothing to work towards - I think it kills you."

In December 2021 Brown was made an OBE in the New Year Honours, as she was recognised for services to drama and to charity.

She was previously made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2008 for services to drama and charity.