Last May, June Brown replied to a loyal viewer of EastEnders called Alfie, just as she had done for decades throughout her magnificent career as soap’s GOAT.
But this fan letter was different.
The then 94-year-old’s reply was cloaked in the wistful regret and frustration she felt deeply with the once-great BBC soap, with which she had a tragic fallout, quitting after 35 years without the send-off Dot Cotton deserved.
June wrote: ‘Dear Alfie, I couldn’t agree with you more about the current EastEnders episodes and I’m very glad you chose to watch the drama channel.
‘The reason I left was because I no longer recognised the character they were writing for me so I’m afraid you won’t see me again.
‘They are already mentioning my character in the current episodes so what rubbish they will write about me is anyone’s guess.
‘Yours, June Brown ‘Dot’ x.’
DAN WOOTON: Eastenders’ bosses should feel ashamed at how they made June Brown feel when she was coming towards the end of her life and career. Pictured: Dan with June
une Brown did create Dot Cotton in 1985, which is why the soap should have been open to listening to her ideas about how she wanted the character to end her very special run
EastEnders bosses should feel ashamed this is how they allowed the woman who had created their greatest ever character – a British icon – to feel coming towards the end of a long career and life.
Now, I get how it happened but there’s no excuse.
Having covered soaps for many years in the early stages of my career, soap executives and writers believe they are all powerful – often making decisions that upset actors and loyal fans ‘for the good of the show’ – until they’re sacked after a few years and a new regime is ushered in for another reinvention.
They like to hammer home the attitude that no actor is bigger than the soap.
But if there’s one actor who could be trusted impeccably to know what’s right for her character then surely, surely that person was June Brown.
What soap boss could truly claim they understood Dot Cotton better than her?
And while today is absolutely about celebrating the legend that is June, a woman whose energy, outrageous sense of fun and vigour I fed off during our every meeting, the end of her relationship with EastEnders is a bitter pill.
After all, those in charge should have been acutely aware that there wasn’t long to resolve the situation, given June’s age and deteriorating health for some time.
June enjoyed 35 years on the show, joining in 1985 and filming her final scenes in 2020 (far right)
June’s final scene on January, 21 2020 will always be a major missed opportunity. Above: Dot in 1999
That made EastEnders’ tribute released this afternoon feel a little bit empty.
It read in part: ‘There are not enough words to describe how much June was loved and adored by everyone at EastEnders, 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 2884 episodes, June’s remarkable performances created some of EastEnders finest moments.’
Indeed, June Brown did create Dot Cotton in 1985, which is why the soap should have been open to listening to her ideas about how she wanted the character to end her very special run.
Last year, explaining her decision to walk on a podcast with her former co-star Rani Singh, June unleashed her trademark brand of cutting humour.
She said: ‘I don’t want a retainer for EastEnders, I’ve left, I’ve left for good.
‘I’ve sent her off to Ireland where she’ll stay. I’ve left EastEnders. I did make up a limerick. It’s a bit dirty.
‘I went back to do a good story. Alas and alack, when I got back it had gone up in smoke. I got a small part, a very small part.
‘And that ended up as a big wet fart. Alas and alack, I will never go back.’
But she admitted the decision had left her feeling ‘bereaved’, which makes me feel so sad.
The actor John Altman, who played Dot’s son Nick Cotton and remained close to June, has become an ardent critic of EastEnders bosses, who he believes have put woke ideology ahead of what’s right for their characters and viewers in recent years.
In September, during an interview on my GB News show, he told me he was written out of the show after he told bosses he objected to a plan to make his character gay.
John had revealed last year that June had got to a similar point with the increasingly woke management, explaining: ‘She just wasn’t happy anymore so she had to decide to leave, which is a shame.’
‘She’s very much a die hard professional in the business and she wasn’t getting quite what she was… she wasn’t very impressed by some of the writing she was getting.’
Likewise, loyal June was unhappy that the actress who played her granddaughter Dotty Cotton, Molly Conlin, had been cruelly replaced by Milly Zero when bosses decided to bring the character back.
John explained: ‘It was a great shame that Molly Conlin wasn’t brought back as Dotty as well. I don’t think she was very happy about that.
‘And nor was I actually, I didn’t understand why, when they had the original actress who’d grown up, they hadn’t brought her back, but that’s up to the BBC.’
We felt like Dot Cotton was a member of our extended circle and she became so familiar that she was very much part of the fabric of British culture – and that’s all down to the genius of June Brown
And that’s another reason why June Brown was a true original who should be celebrated – she put her money where her mouth was.
So many soap stars continue to take easy pay cheques and ignore bosses running a show into the ground, as is currently the case on EastEnders, but June was never going to be that sort of actor.
It’s not that she wanted to retire, either.
She had been battling on for many years, even though she was increasingly losing both her sight and hearing.
But she remained a stickler to the end, criticising the new breed of Enders stars’ ‘lazy speech’, which was ‘much more The Only Way Is Essex’ than Cockney.
That’s why June’s final scene on January, 21 2020 will always be a major missed opportunity.
As Dot was convinced to go to Ireland by Sonia (Natalie Cassidy), she left her a simple voicemail message saying: ‘I shall miss you and I shall always love you, as I know you love me. So goodbye my dearest girl. Your loving grandma, Dot.’
It’s no surprise to me that in the months since Dot’s exit, EastEnders has plummeted to record low ratings, with just 1.7 million tuning in on some nights.
Alongside the late, equally great Queen of Albert Square Barbara Windsor and Corrie legends like William Roache, Helen Worth and the dearly departed Liz Dawn and Betty Driver, June Brown will form British soap royalty – representing a golden age of the genre when the nation would stop to watch their nightly performances.
We felt like Dot Cotton was a member of our extended circle and she became so familiar that she was very much part of the fabric of British culture – and that’s all down to the genius of June Brown.
While I celebrate her genius, her humanity and her wicked sense of humour today, I can’t shake the feeling of deep regret that EastEnders missed the opportunity to give both her and Dot Cotton, the character she expertly created, the send-off they had earned.
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