Psychoanalyzing Dot Cotton

DotCotton

Illustration: Martin Jessup

By Yasmin Headley

Editor’s note: The author is an accredited Integrative Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) psychotherapist in private practice in London, UK. Yasmin is also studying for a PhD in Mind-Body Medicine and Integrated Mental Health. She has followed EastEnders on and off over the years. You can reach her at yasminheadley@gmail.com and read more about her background and practice at www.yourhappiness.com and www.thecompletelife.com

We are all a subject of our history. Anyone who tells you other- wise is trying to sell you something or is invested in your continuing to live as you are.

For some this is a good thing, for many this is not the way to go on. Many would love the magic elixir that would get rid of every negative break with the past, but it is not possible to do so in a bottle, a happy thought or magic.

In looking at a psyche of a person we would look at their history, their present life and their thoughts and behaviour. We would look at the support system and resources they have in their lives and we would look at what they do when they are stressed.

In some therapies, such as the psychodynamic and the psychoanalytic, a great deal of time is spent on patients’ pasts and in the unfurling of their history. In cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is the approach I take, I spend some time there, but I also look at their feelings, thoughts and behaviours now. These are key to helping an individual change. Modern-day research shows how we are not just a subject of history and genetics but we are also affected by epigenetics. Epigenetics involves our environment, those who we have around us, the food we eat and our activities.

Dot Branning a/k/a
Dot Cotton
Age: around 87 years old
History: Widow

Many bereavements. Extremely difficult relationship with her son. Potential for suicide and/or psychotic break: unlikely. She lives in Walford, England. Works as a manageress at the Walford Launderette and is a church warden.

Famous quotes:

“You know I ain’t one to gossip.”
“What about God’s law?”
“Forgive me if I’m wrong.”

What would we do without Dorothy Branning? Dot is one of those iconic British characters who has been on our screens for nearly three decades. She comes across as an ultra-religious, chain-smoking hypochondriac with a son who has done some of the worst things possible to his ever long-suffering mother. We seem to sit around wondering what he could do to her next and get away with.

Dot grew up during the Second World War. A time of scarcity,
rationing, and of making do with what little you had. It was a time when children in London had been moved away from their families to live in the provinces to escape the German bombing raids. Many children who experienced this suffered. It was a time of huge loss. This is the character Dot grew into.

This has been Dot’s journey in life, and you do hear much of
suffering, loss, abandonment, precaution and of pain. You also hear of hope, happiness and pleasure in the little things in life; the cups of tea and chats in the pub and launderette.

I often see clients who seem to feel that their children’s failures are really their own. Or seem to be stuck in the ‘blame the parents’ loop.

Dot so wants so to believe the best in others and that all who can be redeemed can be saved. The ‘cross’ she bears is her son. He is her constant reminder of her feelings of failure, pain and grief. Her final understanding will come and does come when she learns to let go and leave things to God.

When she realises that Nick does have a part to play in his own downfall, and it is not her lot to keep forgiving. Dot has often been a martyr as a wife and then even more as a widow. Prejudices and beliefs are interesting vehicles, and we all have them. It would be rare for a person not to have any. These can be ageism, sexism, homophobia, and even animals and children. Hers appears to be homophobia. Such prejudices grow from learned environmental and religious beliefs, and fear of the unknown.

Many have said Dot’s religiousness is her weakness. I disagree; her religion is probably the only thing that saves her. If it were not for that where would she have hope or even her little sparkles of insights? It goes beyond her constant quotations from the Bible. Dot or Dorothy is always hoping that when she clicks her red shoes the Wizard will eventually appear and answer all her prayers.

Rx
If Dot were in front of me, if there were a real live Dot seated as a client, what would I be looking to treat? Her anxiety levels seem very high. She might also be suffering from depression. I would not know more until I had properly assessed her. She does seem to be a highly anxious individual, seems to be on tenterhooks and always highly charged.

It could be generalised anxiety disorder. She seems to worry about everything, and her anxious thoughts flit around and float freely. It seems odd, doesn’t it? She worries about her health and her ‘nerves’, yet smokes like a trooper. Dot worries about the past, the present and the future. She worries about her worries and the worries of those around her, too.

In sessions we would be discussing her thoughts, behaviours, emotions and physical reactions. I would be looking into adding more self-calming approaches such as mindfulness, autogenic training, guided imagery and even music. Maybe looking into exercise: swimming, walking to appreciate God’s creatures and bounty. All to help lower her anxiety levels.

However, where would we be if everyone on Walford had CBT? There would be no EastEnders and none of the wonderful ‘acting out’ that goes on. It would make very boring viewing! Meanwhile, we have Dot Branning waiting for the Wizard of Walford and unaware that she is the one who really holds the key to her own future.

N.B. Please note that these are imaginary musings and do not rep- resent an actual clinical case study.

John Bardon Will Be Missed

johnb

“It’s only a driving test; you’re not going to the Astral Plane.”
—Jim Branning to his Dorothy

By Larry Jaffee

Still grieving over the death on 12 September 2014 of my friend John Bardon, whom we EastEnders fans know as Jim Branning, I was able to smile as I watched a recent WLIW episode with Jim attempting some brevity as Dot fretted amid new-age drone music and incense to calm her nerves.

The scene and above quip perfectly captured John’s sense of humour and comic timing, which he delivered for 882 episodes from 1996 until 2011. He never fully recovered from his 2007 stroke, and was bedridden for much of these past seven years.

John was 75 when he died, and he is survived by his wonderful wife Enda, with whom I also became acquainted over the past decade. They married in 2002, and in the fall of 2005 they took a trip to New York, which they enjoyed very much. They were feted at a fan event and privately by American soap star Eileen Fulton at the Friar’s Club, which was a Mecca to John.

It was Wendy Richard (Pauline Fowler), who told me of John and Enda’s New York holiday. He hadn’t been to New York since 1958 when he won a transatlantic cruise. It was Enda’s first time in New York. They had been married for about three years at the time of their New York trip.

Enda told me on the phone a few years ago that what bothered John the most about the aftereffects of his stroke was his inability to paint any longer. He had been an enthusiastic artist.

I first met him at the studio in January 2002 in the canteen. I was about to eat a sandwich alone when Michael Greco (Beppe di Marco) and Marc Bannerman (Gianni di Marco) invited me to sit with them (we had met at the studio the previous year) and introduced me to John.

He was welcoming, and wanted to know all about New York, especially whether I had seen the film East Is East, in which he played a bigot, not unlike Jim when he first arrived in protest of his daughter Carol’s relationship with Alan Jackson.

I told him how I watched the episode on BBC-1 the night before and he was chatting up Dot. “She wasn’t having it,” John agreed. Well, within the year Mrs. Cotton the bible-quoting widow fell for the charms of Jim, the usually skint Queen Vic barfly and gambler.

This unlikely courtship in the senior set turned out to be an inspired casting move by the EastEnders production team, proving opposites can sometimes attract. Initially portrayed as a racist, Jim ironically becomes best mates with Patrick Trueman, a native of Trinidad. I once told John that one of my favourite EastEnders scenes is when Jim and Patrick dance to the classic reggae song “The Israelites.”

“Everyone at EastEnders is absolutely heartbroken to learn that John has sadly passed away,” the official EastEnders website announced of his death. “His bravery, dignity and courage in battling against the devastating effects of his stroke were admired by all who had the privilege of working with him.

“Loved by us all, John was an exceptionally talented actor whose humour, mischievousness and brilliant performances made Jim Branning one of Walford’s most lovable, memorable characters and we will miss John forever.

“Our love and deepest sympa- thies are extended to Enda, his truly wonderful wife, at this very sad time. May he now rest in peace. John will be sorely missed by all those who knew and worked with him.”

Cast members were also grief-stricken, most of all June Brown, his on-air wife Dot. “I am so sorry that John has passed away but hope that he is now at peace after seven difficult years. I shall miss him very much as I loved him dearly. My thoughts are with his devoted wife, Enda.”
Brown would visit Bardon often while he was at his Essex home, following his stroke.

dot-jim

Bardon told me during our 2005 interview that although he loved “June to bits,” she’d typically take character preparation “to extremes … she’s got to know what’s in her handbag. She’s got to know where she’s come from, why she’s there, where she’s going, what she’s had for breakfast.”

In the same way that he didn’t appear to be a romantic match for Dot Cotton, Bardon also exhibited musical theatre ability. His performance as a gangster in Kiss Me, Kate won him the Laurence Olivier Award in 1988, in which he took great pride.

John also relished his comedy stage tribute to the British Max Miller, which ran for eight weeks in the West End, as well as touring Britain. At the pre-Christmas 2005 EE fan meeting in New York, John demonstrated both his singing and comical talents.

Upon learning of Bardon’s death, Shane Richie (Alfie) tweeted: “Jim Branning funny, grumpy, endearing, mischievous, massive talent. Walford will always miss you RIP John Bardon.”

“I’m absolutely gutted,” Perry Fenwick (Billy Mitchell) told the BBC. “John was a lovely, lovely man to work with. I’ll miss him.”

Natalie Cassidy, who plays Sonia, also was saddened. “I never had a real granddad so John was like an actual granddad to me. He was a lovely man and I learnt a lot from him,” she told the BBC.

Bardon, who took his grandmother’s maiden name when he became an actor, was born on 25 August 1939 in the town of Brent- ford in Middlesex. He thought his given name, John Michael Jones, was too ordinary for an actor.

The epitome of a jobbing actor, his acting career didn’t take off until he was in his thirties when he joined a repertory company in Exeter. He eventually landed minor TV roles in Dad’s Army, Are You Being Served?, Miss Marple, and Coronation Street, among numerous others. Although acting steadily, not much stuck.

In fact, he was working as a Heathrow Airport shuttle driver when he received the 1999 call from EastEnders to come back permanently, three years after he made his first appearance on the show.

“They said it would change my life forever, which it has done,” he told the Walford Gazette in 2005. “I get spotted everywhere I go,” he said, citing a then recent trip to Turkey. “It does my head in,” John told me when we last spoke about the popularity of EastEnders and Jim in particular in the U.S.

The EastEnders humour that we grew to appreciate emerged when I accidentally said, “Goodbye Jim, I mean John,” wrapping up our Walford Gazette interview in Novem- ber 2005.

He quickly responded, with a laugh, “Only one time allowed, Larry! That’s all. You better warn the others as well.”

New Issue: #88 hitting mail boxes as soon as this weekend

French & Saunders in Walford

french&saunders

Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French on EastEnders

See what happens when Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, the comedy team that gave us French & Saunders together, and separately The Vicar of Dibley and Absolutely Fabulous, stumble onto the EastEnders set during filming.

Aired originally in the UK as part of the 2005 French And Saunders Christmas Special, Alfie, Kat and Little Mo are tested to the limit by the appearance of some very talkative extras.

EastEnders’ Contribution to Children in Need

childreninneed

Our British friends on Friday night watched the annual BBC charity show for Children In Need, and as usual, the EastEnders cast were featured in a few segments.

Spoiler alert: If you’re only familiar with the current episodes running on US public TV there might be many unfamiliar faces, but that shouldn’t deter you from enjoying the performances.

Shane Richie (Alfie Moon) led off the troupe through a few numbers from the classic musical Grease, in which Shane has starred in on the stage as Danny.

Then in “The Ghosts of Ian Beale,” we get to see some long-not-seen EastEnders faces, including Michelle Collins (Cindy Beale) and Gillian Taylforth (Kathy Beale), and both look like they haven’t aged a day since their last EastEnders appearances more than a decade ago!

Which segment did you like better? (Email me at walfordgazette@gmail.com)

I especially loved hearing Ethel’s and Lou’s voices in the aural montage. And how about Martine McCutcheon’s (Tiffany) real-life hit single “Perfect” playing on the radio in the launderette?

The BBC also published an EastEnders Children In Need 2015 calendar, getting the actors to pose for photographs various vignettes of undress, a la Calendar Girls, including 87-year-old June Brown (Dot Cotton).

nudedot

In 2009 I had the privilege to see June on a West End stage production of Calendar Girls with Anita Dobson (Angie Watts), Jill Halfpenny (Kate Mitchell) and Jack Ryder (Jamie Mitchell).

The calendars are on sale for £10 (but only to UK residents, boo!).