Dame June Whitfield was, to me, the better half of Terry Medford on the TV but that role was just a drop in the ocean compared to the full amount of work that she had accomplished over the 70 years, yes 70 years, that spanned her illustrious career. She would be better known by the latest generation of TV viewers as Edina Monsoon’s mother in Absolutely Fabulous.
Born in Streatham, London in 1925 as June Rosemary Whitfield, she grew up in Streatham until her parents relocated to Huddersfield where she studied secretarial skills before moving back to London to continue her studies. Her career in show business began in radio in 1946 and then transitioning to television in 1951 and then onto the theatre.
Her big break came in 1953, again in radio, on the Frank Muir and Denis Norden radio comedy, Take it From Here. During the next 15 years, she appeared in many supporting roles on both comedy and drama television shows.
She started her mini-career in the Carry On film series in 1959 in the first of four films with Carry On Nurse. The other three films were 1972’s Carry On Abroad, Carry On Girls (1973) and the last Carry On film, Carry On Columbus (1992)
June worked often with Terry Scott, starting when she appeared on Scott On… until 1974 and, confusingly, two sitcoms as husband and wife starting with Bless This House and then to Happy Ever After, and almost instantly straight after, Terry and June. Both sitcoms were of a suburban couple and both couples were called Terry and June apart from the surname change from Fletcher (Happy Ever After) to Medford (Terry and June).
Her career not only spanned Radio, Theatre, Films and Television, she also did Pantomimes, tv adverts (Birds Eye) and music, she recorded a comedy novelty version of Je t’aime with Frankie Howard.
During the 80’s, she managed to find time to return to her first love of radio with The News Huddlines where she often impersonated Margaret Thatcher amongst others.
Her role as Mother/Gran in Absolutely Fabulous ran concurrently with a role on radio as Miss Marple in 12 adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. And she still managed to fit in an appearance in the US sitcom Friends when it filmed in the UK for a storyline when one of the characters was marrying an English character.
In her later career she has appeared in Doctor Who, Eastenders and Coronation Street as well as a handful of well known BBC and ITV popular productions. And she also managed to fit in an autobiography
Given the Freedom of London in 1982, an OBE in 1985 and made a CBE in 1998 to be then given the highest of honours, a Damehood, in 2017.
Despite her immense success, she never wanted a lead role, often citing the loss of dear friends who had the pressure and stress of lead roles and attributing their early deaths as reasons to avoid that pressure.
In 2017 she revealed that she was living in a care home, Dame June Whitfield died peacefully in her sleep on 28th December 2018 aged 93. Many co-stars and celebrities paid homage to her by paying tribute to her with gratitude to her inspiration and work ethic. Impressionist Rory Bremner was quoted as saying she was “the go-to comedy actress for three generations”.