Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Fame was a long time coming for EastEnders star June Brown

June Brown was best known for playing Dot Cotton in EastEnders (Ian West/PA)
June Brown was best known for playing Dot Cotton in EastEnders (Ian West/PA)

June Brown, who has died aged 95, 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.

June Brown
June Brown was, for most people, best known for her portrayal of Dot Cotton in BBC soap EastEnders (Ian West/PA)

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.

Brown played Dot Cotton for 35 years between 1985 and 2020, with a hiatus between 1993 and 1997 (BBC/PA)

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.

June Brown
Before joining EastEnders, Brown had a number of small roles in Coronation Street, Mrs Parsons, Doctor Who and The Bill (BBC/PA)

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.

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.

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

June Brown
Brown was involved in a number of hard-hitting storylines, exploring themes of cancer, assisted suicide and manslaughter (Adam Pensotti/BBC/PA)

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.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
In 2008 she was made an MBE, and in December 2021 Brown was made an OBE in the New Year Honours (Carl Court/PA)

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.

Already a subscriber? Sign in