June Whitfield (1925- 2018)

The venerable television and radio actor, June Whitfield, died on the 29th December 2018.

Doctor Who fans knew June as Minnie Hooper of the “Silver Cloak” – the team of pensioners marshalled by Wilfred Mott to track down the Doctor in The End of Time, Part One in 2009. But viewers and listeners over the decades will know June from an abundance of characters and performances during a career in British comedy that flourished for over 70 years. On the way, she not merely supported but strengthened giants such as Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Bob Monkhouse, Benny Hill, and Tommy Cooper.

On radio, June was the voice of Ethel Glum in a long-running segment of Take It from Here, a post-war powerhouse of nation-gripping catchphrases, which ran between 1948 and 1960. In 1984, she joined The News Huddlines (itself a 26-year Radio 2 institution) with the eponymous Roy Hudd and Chris Emmott, staying with it until its end in 2001. Between 1993 and 2004, June played the lead in BBC dramatizations of all 13 of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple detective novels.

June also appeared in a welter of TV sitcoms, sketch shows, dramas, and soaps, including The Dick Emery Show, The Pallisers, Bless this House, Minder, Rex the Runt, Friends, Coronation Street and Eastenders. On the big screen, she had supporting roles in four of the Carry On… series (Nurse, Abroad, Girls, and Columbus).

She further formed an enduring and formidably popular screen marriage with Terry Scott in Terry & June (and its forerunner, Happy Ever After).

Although a ratings hit, with audiences frequently between 10 and 15 million, Terry & June ran long enough to see its brand of safe suburban light farce fall under the shadow of ’80s “Alternative Comedy.” Nevertheless, a few years later, the Comedy Store alumni proved that they knew talent when they saw it. In 1992, and with pleasing symmetry, June appeared with arch-alternative comedian and cabaret act, Julian Clary, in an episode of his self-penned comedy, Terry and Julian. Then Jennifer Saunders asked June to play her mother in a new sitcom she was working on, and what began as a one episode role soon became an indispensable quarter of one of the defining shows of British television in the ’90s, Absolutely Fabulous. In AbFab, June proved that her experience, versatility, and scalpel-like timing were ageless; and two generations were symbolically reconciled.

June was 93 when she died, after a life of success and acclaim sustained almost without reverse in a business notoriously beholden to commercial fortune and viewers’ caprice. In all that time, June never wanted the pressure of the lead role, always consciously choosing to be supporting or, at most, co-star. Little wonder then, that she titled her first autobiography … and June Whitfield. Yet despite this reticence about taking centre stage, she remained a star to the end. If “Minnie the Menace” was the twinkliest button on the “Silver Cloak,” June Whitfield was nothing less than the silver thread that illuminated the history of post-war British comedy.