Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Happy Birthday June Whitfield!

June Whitfield is 90 years young today. The woman is a phenomenon, beloved by generations of viewers and generations of peers. She's been an absolute joy for decades and has never disappointed. Her strike rate has been amazing, she has worked with everyone and by often being billed as "And June Whitfield", even if a show bombed, she didn't have to carry the burden. What a wise woman!

Generations of families across the country know June for very different reasons. For the grandparents, she is forever Eth, the wet nelly who was engaged to Ron for year after year in Take It From Here on radio. For those slightly younger, June was a familiar supporting player for all the major comedians of the 1950s and 60s. She worked with Ted Ray, Arthur Askey, Dick Emery, Stanley Baxter, Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Bob Monkhouse, Roy Hudd and Morecambe and Wise. To name a few off the top of my head.

June of course, also appeared in four Carry Ons. Making a cameo appearance as Leslie Phillips' girlfriend in Carry On Nurse in 1959, it would be a further thirteen years before she got the call to return to Pinewood for more frolics with the gang. June's two mid-70s Carry On characters were worth waiting for though. Her uptight, starched Evelyn Blunt in Abroad and bombastic feminist Councillor in Girls are the stuff of legend. A shame she wasn't asked to be in more films in the series as she was a natural. She did return for Columbus in 1992 but we'll gloss over that film I think.

For some reason the film world never took over June's career. She is much more likely to be found on television and radio. There have been stage successes too - Love From Judy in the 50s, working with Noel Coward in the West End and years of touring in farces from the likes of Alan Ayckbourn. There were some films away from the Carry Ons - The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins, Bless This House, Not Now Comrade and Jude. 

To my parents' generation she is queen of the suburban, middle-class sitcom. June enjoyed a working relationship on television with Terry Scott for nearly twenty years. First of all on Scott On and then a thirteen year long run as his telly wife, first as June Fletcher in Happy Ever After and then as June Medford in Terry and June. Unfortunately the successful, long-running formula of domestic sitcom fell foul of the powers that be and the growing trend for alternative comedians in the late 1980s.

Who'd have thought that before too long, June would be working with those very same trendy comedian types? The genius of the later stages of June's career has been that while she is working in different mediums, often with the latest fashionable names, her act (as it were) has remained exactly the same. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! The fact the likes of Julian Clary and Jennifer Saunders desperately wanted to work with her in their shows demonstrates just what broad appeal June has and how straightforward, old fashioned talent never goes out of fashion.

For my generation, June Whitfield is forever Mother in the bonkers sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. The toast of the 1990s and a massive success around the globe, June quite frequently stole the show opposite the likes of Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Jane Horrocks and Julia Sawalha. Even the smallest cameo in an episode could bring the house down. June also often surprised audiences with her participation in slightly more daring material than we were previously used to seeing! 

June's involvement in Absolutely Fabulous without a doubt introduced her to whole new audiences and different casting directors. Lots of new work came in and once again, June proved indispensable. Within the last couple of years we've seen June in the BBC sitcom Boomers; an episode of Midsomer Murders; Jonathan Creek; Cider With Rosie; EastEnders and most recently, June has even played God in an episode of You, Me and The Apocalypse. I don't want this blog to be anything other than a celebration as I know June has much more to give. She is currently filming the much-heralded Absolutely Fabulous film, due for release next year.

June Whitfield is quite simply a marvel. She is very quiet and unassuming. She's not a starry star. She has worked with the greats of British comedy yet you can also imagine meeting her in Marks and Spencer doing her shopping or inviting you round for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. And I think that is her secret. She has been such a constant, reliable presence for decades and my only worry is that the likes of June are in startlingly short supply these days. We must cherish her and all her achievements.

Happy Birthday June Whitfield, we salute you! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan

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