Thursday 5 November 2015

June Whitfield at 90: Eth Glum and a rather fearsome Nurse!

I have been profiling some of June Whitfield's most legendary roles on screen in the run up to her 90th birthday on 11 November. I have chosen eight of her most well-known performances, which you can vote for in my special poll - details on that below. As we prepare to celebrate the milestone birthday of this national treasure, let's continue to look back at her career.

Today I am profiling the last two of June's classic performances to feature in my poll. First up is the role that made June's name way back in the 1950s. Take it From Here was a highly successful BBC Radio comedy sketch series, written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden and originally starring Jimmy Edwards, Joy Nichols and Dick Bentley. The show paved the way for the likes of Beyond Our Ken and Round The Horne. TIFH began in 1948 and ran up until 1960. By 1953, Joy Nichols had left the show and both June Whitfield and Alma Cogan had been recruited to fill her shoes.

It was at this point that the most famous element of TIFH was created. From then on each episode would feature The Glums, a dreadful family of clowns who drudged and dreared there way through life! At the centre of it all was the never-ending engagement between Ron and Eth. Ron was played by Dick Bentley and Eth was of course, June Whitfield. Ron quite obviously didn't want to walk down the aisle with Eth, while she could think of nothing she would rather do! They were a big pair of drips and it was hilariously funny! Every segment began with June whining "Ooooh Ron!" and it became her first ever catchphrase. 

Despite being over sixty years ago, The Glums are still referenced today and to a certain generation, the sound of Eth's dulcet tones are instantly recognisable. It was also a massive turning point for June's career. Without Muir and Norden and the dreadful Eth, we may not have enjoyed so many wonderful years of June Whitfield making us laugh.

And so to the final role to feature in my poll. The role of the nurse in Tony Hancock's classic 1961 television episode "The Blood Donor" is quite small, however due to the legendary, iconic status this comedy has earned over the years, June's involved cannot be underestimated and must be included in this poll.

The basic premise of the episode is as follows:

Tony Hancock arrives at his local hospital to give blood. He immediately gets into an argument with the nurse (Whitfield) about whether British blood is superior to other types. After managing to offend some of the other waiting donors he amuses himself by reading the waiting room's wall posters out loud, finally singing "Coughs and sneezes spread diseases" to the tune of the German national anthem before being shown in to see the doctor, played by Patrick Cargill.
The doctor finally persuades Hancock to donate the full pint by telling him he has a rare blood type, which appeals to Hancock's snobbery. Having boasted of his lack of squeamishness, he faints while giving blood. Recuperating afterwards, Hancock has a chat about blood with a fellow patient (Hugh Lloyd), but since neither of them knows very much about blood the conversation is not very informative. As he prepares to leave Hancock is horrified to discover that the other patient has stolen his wine gums. ("If you can't trust a blood donor, who can you trust?")

After returning home, Hancock cuts himself on a bread knife and is rushed back to the same hospital, where he receives a transfusion of his own blood—the only pint the hospital has of his rare blood type. The whole scenario is an absolute joy and just never gets old! 

This episode is made all the remarkable given that just before it was filmed Hancock was involved in a serious car accident. He therefore had difficulty learning the lines, resulting in an autocue machine being used. This being the early 1960s, such technology was in its infancy. It also accounts for a rather strange eye line for Hancock throughout the episode. It must have made acting alongside him very difficult for June, not that you'd know it of course!

If either of these iconic roles is your favourite, you can vote for them here .

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan

1 comment:

  1. I adored the Ron and Eth skits with June Whitfield playing Eth. She made me laugh so much. She was a real trouper! God Bless her.