GONE BUT NOT FOR COTTON
With a tip of the hat to TQR for that pun…
The same day EastEnders stalwart June Brown died, I was listening to a Casey Kasem American Top 40 rerun where he played as an extra “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)”, a 40s swing novelty with an incongruent anti-smoking message. Singer Tex Williams was himself a routine smoker and insisted in the song that smoking itself wasn’t bad for your health – the only problem was how nicotine cravings could disrupt social situations. Whatever warning the song offered, June Brown got off fine without heeding to it, making it to 95 in spite of a 20-a-day habit that began in her teens and was incorporated into her iconic Dot Cotton character.
There was far more to June Brown and Dot Cotton than the cigs, though. Brown’s acting talents were noticed at a young age, which she soon channeled into a respected stage career, where she appeared alongside the likes of Guinness and Gielgud in leading roles such as Hedda Gabler and Lady Macbeth. Pulling through tragedy after her husband committed suicide in 1957, she remarried the next year and put her career on pause. She resumed in the 70s, including spots in Corrie and Doctor Who, and in 1985 the producers of a recently-debuted EastEnders were looking for someone to portray villain Nick Cotton’s mother in a stint initially expected to only last for three months. Leslie Grantham recalled Brown’s adeptness for working-class roles and suggested her, who hesitantly agreed to take the part despite a disdain for soaps.
Chain-smoking, bible-thumping, hypochondriac gossip Dot Cotton delivered Brown a well-earned iconic stature and EastEnders one of its most popular characters. Brown’s experience – both as an actress and with personal tragedy – gave depth and sympathy to what could have been a shallow bigot, giving a humourous touch while also providing emotional thrust through her continued forgiveness of her criminal son. Over time, some of Dot’s worst bigotries were softened while still retaining her penchant for gossip. Amongst her most emotional moments include helping longtime friend Ethel Skinner undergo euthanasia after a terminal cancer diagnosis, and letting Nick die of a heroin overdose after learning he was behind the murder of Reg Cox. Brown was so compelling as Dot Cotton she was one of the few in soaps capable of carrying an episode by herself – and the only one to actually do so, in a BAFTA-nominated 2008 performance where she recorded a voice message for stroke-afflicted husband Jim Branning.
June Brown began to struggle with macular degeneration in the mid-2010s, and gradually reduced her time on EastEnders as her health declined. It seemed as if Dot Cotton was all that kept her going, yet she lived another two years after retiring from the role. Though seemingly indestructible, early this year she received the OBE and was a no-show at Leonard Fenton’s funeral – two surefire signs not much fuel was left in the tank. Hovering on the outskirts of the Drop 40 for several years, Brown just eked in this year in the #39 spot. Among those who dot up another hit are Deathlist.net, Exu’s Exiteers, Lived so let’s die, and ONE BAR GAS FIRE AND A TIN OF DOG FOOD and joker points for Hearse of the Dead and Pull my finger.
16 February 1927 – 3 April 2022, aged 95
33 TEAMS (💀💀💀💀💀 + 40 = 8 POINTS, 🃏 (x2) 16 POINTS)