The actress June Brown has died at the age of 95.
June Brown was perhaps best known to Doctor Who fans as Eleanor of Wessex in the 1973 story The Time Warrior. This, the first story of Pertwee’s final season, introduced both the Sontarans and Sarah Jane Smith. Wary of Doctor Who being used sneakily to teach children history – which he believed had been one of its initial aims when the series was created – writer Robert Holmes agreed to Terrance Dicks’ request to set the story in the past, on condition that he didn’t feature any real people from history. Thus Eleanor of Wessex was born.
June Brown delighted fans with her imperious performance as Eleanor, a minor aristocrat light years away from her most famous role, the Cockney Dot Cotton in EastEnders, which she played for over 30 years.
June Brown was born in Suffolk in 1927, the daughter of Louisa, a milliner, and Harry, a businessman who went bust investing money in German banks before the Second World War. She had four siblings. Academically able, she studied at the Ipswich High School and served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
It was in the WRNS that June discovered the joys of acting and she subsequently trained at the Old Vic Theatre School in London. She spent many years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing major roles including Lady Macbeth and Hedda Gabler. She made dozens of appearances on television, notably as Violet Leyton, the mother of Gemma Jones’s character Louisa in The Duchess of Duke Street (BBC, 1976-7), which also featured Lalla Ward (in a pre-Doctor Who role) as Lottie, Violet’s granddaughter. June Brown was best known to British audiences for her role in EastEnders as Dot Cotton, which she played from 1985 (the year the series was created) until 1993, returning to the programme from 1997 until 2020.
June Brown was married twice. Her first husband, the actor John Garley, suffered from depression and took his own life in 1957. In 1958, she married the actor Robert Arnold. Their marriage lasted 45 years and they had six children. Robert Arnold pre-deceased her in 2003
June, an avid supporter of her local special needs school for physically handicapped children, was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for her services to acting and to charity in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours list. After her death, Stephen Fry tweeted:
“June Brown, amongst all her other wonderful human qualities and achievements, will be remembered as a tireless and fearless LGBT ally – especially during the dark days of HIV/AIDS…”
June Brown, born 16th February 1927; died 3rd April, 2022.
Our thoughts go to her family and friends.