By Melissa Berry
I’ve never been one to do things by halves. It’s always been all or nothing. And it was the same when it came to my obsession with EastEnders. Having family and friends in England meant it was easier for me to feed my ‘habit’. Then I discovered fellow North Carolina fans in the late 1990s … and that was it; I was in over my head!
I packed up all of my precious collectibles and headed to my first WNC EE Fanatics meeting in a very euphoric state of mind. Autographs, board games, puzzles, teapots and mugs. OH MY! (I had all of my old copies of the Walford Gazette with me as well!). What had started out quite innocently as a personal EE collection soon blossomed in to an almost full-time passion when I became president of that same fan club just a couple of years later. (I did tell you that I never do anything by halves, yes?!) I was determined that our club would have the biggest and best collection of EE memorabilia this side of the pond. At one point in time, my home office became what was jokingly referred to as the NC EE Museum. Autographed posters of various actors were framed and displayed proudly. All those autographs were painstakingly categorized by ‘families’. Bookcases soon overflowed with die-cast metal cars with the Queen Vic emblazoned on their sides, scripts signed by Dot Cotton herself, and autobiographies signed by Mike Reid, Martine McCutcheon and Wendy Richard were nudged in between all of the old EastEnders yearly annuals that they used to publish. My cousin Saifa must have spent a small fortune at one time sending me all of the UK soap magazines – bless her! Every Albert Square actor who had ever attempted a music career was on my hit list. If it was remotely connected to Walford, I had to have it.
Trips back to England served as a way to get some of those one-of-a-kind items that no one in the States could get at the time. Now, thanks to eBay, those items can be found with the click of a mouse.
All of these ‘things’ and my being president of the WNC Fanatics offered me the opportunity to add something that is the most priceless in my collection – the memories of visiting the set twice, meeting Anita Dobson (who played Angie in the early years of EastEnders), being on an episode of EastEnders Revealed, and meeting other amazing fans both here and in England. The autographs now number well over 200, the tea towel still hangs in my office (which has long since been down-sized and no longer qualifies as a ‘museum’!). And special items such as the teapots are still proudly displayed along with my Luxford and Copley bar mats from the set. Other items were passed on to the fan club when I stepped down as president. But the most prized possessions are still here. If you are ever in North Carolina – look me up! I’ll give you a personal tour!
British rock star Morrissey’s assertion in his recent Autobiography about being offered a role on EastEnders as Dot Cotton’s long-lost son has been called into question by several people associated with the series.
“I would arrive unexpectedly in Albert Square and cause births, deaths and factory fires every time I opened my mouth,” writes Moz on page 353.
John Altman, who would have played his on-screen brother ‘Nasty Nick’ Cotton (and has done so on and off since 1985), questions the revelation in an exclusive Walford Gazette interview from Fareham, England, where he’s performing in a panto production of Jack and the Beanstalk through 5 January.
“I think Morrissey might have been making that up,” says Altman, who would have not necessarily minded if EastEnders had given ‘Nasty Nick’ a brother. “I know that the late Gary Holton was up for it. We looked a bit similar back then.” Holton, English actor and musician among his credits the comedy Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and as frontman of the Heavy Metal Kids, died in October 1985, about eight months after EastEnders debuted.
In his book Morrissey doesn’t say exactly when this “offer” took place, presumably while he was living in California some time in the late 1990s to early 2000s.
An EastEnders executive certainly in the position to know if it were the case tells the Gazette: “I’ve heard this claim before but as far as I’m aware, it’s untrue.”
We then turned to Mal Young, former controller of BBC Drama 1997-2004 who oversawEastEnders and was responsible for bringing to the cast the likes Martin Kemp (Steve Owen).
“No idea if it’s true. I suspect it was something [Morrissey] said that he knew would create a myth, as he seems quite fond at doing that. We did once have him in Brookside (which Young produced 1992-1996) as he was a big fan in the 80s and I recall briefly meeting him when he came to visit as a fan.”
There’s no doubt Morrissey at one time was a huge British soap fan, and in the best-selling Autobiography Moz also says he offered to write scripts for Coronation Street before The Smiths made it big.
In late 1991, Morrissey and two mates had been photographed outside the Queen Vic in 1991 when his band was performing on Top of the Pops, which was then produced from the same BBC studio Borehamwood as EastEnders. Photographs of Morrissey and friends taken in various Albert Square settings appeared in the Kill Uncle tour programme later in the year.
In a 1994 interview in Q Magazine, Morrissey admitted, “Against my better judgement I’m affixed to EastEnders. I argue back at it. I despair of the writers. I’m one of those horrendously disposable people who has Sky [satellite TV service] but only because I moved into a house that had it. That’s my excuse.”
In a 1995 interview given to the Observer magazine, Morrissey said, “I think people wish that life really was like that…. I think that’s how we’d all secretly like to live. WithinEastEnders, within Coronation Street, there are no age barriers. Senior citizens, young children, they all blend, and they all like one another and they all have a great deal to say, which isn’t how life is.”
At least Morrissey doesn’t have illusions of grandeur regarding his acting ability: “Funnier still, an offer slides in for a role in Emmerdale, and the most fascinating aspect of both ideas is that somebody somewhere had thought it a good idea.”
In a website devoted to the singer, a fan writes: “Possibly the most bizarre Moz-related thing I have ever seen: In EastEnders on Friday Jake Moon is having an argument with Sean Slater, Stacey’s brother (soon to appear on U.S. public TV screens). Sean accuses Jake of being old and says ‘You probably like The Smiths’, to which Jake replies, ‘Oh you know who Morrissey is, so your education wasn’t completely wasted’. Jake says he likes Morrissey and Sean says ‘he’s a sad old man with daffodils hanging out his pockets’.”
By Charles S.P. Jenkins
I was amazed to learn that good ol’ Dot, actress June Brown, is 87 years old! Imagine, 87 and still with a great ability to remember lines. I have a hard time to remember names and telephone numbers and I’m much younger than her. This was not the only surprise I had about one of (and to me, the best) actresses (or should I now say actors?) in EastEnders. Did you know that her ancestors came from Algeria and were Sephardic Jews; that she was a Wren (a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service) during World War II; was classically trained at the Old Vic Theatre School; had six children (five of them living); has had a long career both on television and in the movies, appearing in The Mambo Kings, Straw Dogs and Sunday, Bloody Sunday? The Mambo Kings??? I am going to have to see this film again!
June Brown belongs to that wonderful category of actors that the BBC seems to find with regularity: the character actor. Over the years, this type of actor has practically taken over [PK1] BBC series. They have long careers behind them, with only an occasional chance to shine. And shine they do. They do their jobs so well that we fail to recognise them in later productions. Once, when Britain had a film industry, they would spend their time working on the stage at night and appearing in an Ealing comedy or a thriller being made at Pinewood Studios during the day. On occasion Hollywood would notice them and whisk them away, and they would be given their chance in more glamorous films.
Although we might be irritated with Dot at times, we cannot help liking her. I remember women like her ‘dotted’ about the East End when I was a kid and working in various shops. Most had a ‘fag’ dangling from their mouths between taking deep drags. Dot actually makes me miss smoking! They all used to wear an overall, generally pink, and wore almost worn-out, comfortable flat shoes. They all wore stockings too.
I remember one such lady who used to sell me a cake from my favourite baker’s shop when I had money. She always called me ‘lovie’. Another Dot-like lady was very special to me. As a kid, I used to have to take the weekly washing to the launderette before we got a washing machine. I hated doing this, but the chore was made tolerable by the lady that used to help me, who could have been Dot’s sister. I have a soft spot for her, as she not only helped me with the washing and insisted on helping me fold the clothes when dry (when I would have stuffed them back in the bag and let my mother deal with it all when I got home), but also because she generally bought me a bag of chips from the fish shop next door while I waited for this heinous job to be done. I always offered her some of the chips and occasionally she took one, perhaps two.
What I remember most about these wonderful ‘Dot look-alikes’ is that they were all very thin and had a drawn look. I suspect that, like Dot, most of them had a difficult life. They all had their hair ‘set’ regularly and ‘permed’ whenever the ‘natural waves and curls’ began to grow out. I used to love to sit and listen to my lady in the launderette having conversations with other customers. Just like Dot, she seemed to know everything that was going on in the area and without being ‘judgemental’, she always managed to slip in an opinion about anything and everything between puffs on her endless cigarettes.
I am sure that most of us think of June Brown as an original cast member of the show. This is not so. She came to the show soon after its debut and was recommended by none other than Leslie Grantham, during his real ‘Dirty Den’ days. Her character has changed dramatically over the years. At first she was a ‘busybody’ and mildly nasty with it. Now she’s still a ‘busybody’, but now we love her. I feel certain her acting ability has helped change our opinion of the character.
June Brown has been a remarkable asset to EastEnders. Her character has suffered much over the years. We first were introduced to her working in the launderette doing alternate shifts with Pauline Fowler. They had a good working relationship and were willing to help each other out by taking the other’s shift when necessary. We met her when her husband Charlie was still alive. Charlie and their son, Nick, were, as we say, ‘total wastes of space’. Charlie rarely worked and Nick did little that was honest. Nick has brought an enormous amount of grief into his ‘Ma’s’ life. He has been a thief and even a murderer for which he ‘got off’ due to the cleverness of ‘his brief’. He has tried to get hold of his mother’s meagre savings more than once and spent a lot of time trying to pull the wool over her eyes. And when he did get married and ‘tried to settle’, he ended up tormenting her more. She has suffered from the loss of her only grandson and seen her son go to prison and still she carried on. Mind you, what else was she to do? People like Dot don’t succumb to depression. She had her religion and a decent minister to talk to. Seemingly that was enough for her.
Eventually after a number of years of family problems, she took a great chance and remarried. Jim, her second husband, is hardly the catch of the day, but he does seem to “cherish Dorothy”, as he calls her, and they seem to be having a reasonable life together.
What I like about Dot is that she is very loyal to her friends and family – kind of like Elizabeth Taylor, who was known to be loyal to friends and ex-husbands alike – and her friends are often the least likely members of the Square. She became very close to Nigel Bates when he lodged with her. She was able to tolerate his loud shirts and ties! Anyway, they had a number of amusing and memorable scenes together. However, her most ‘chalk and cheese’ relationship came when she was not feeling her best and went into the café one evening and in came Dennis Rickman. It was one of those magical meetings, perhaps written in the stars! For some unknown reason, the two immediately got on. She was immediately sympathetic to Dennis, something he had rarely experienced before. The two always showed thoughtfulness and caring towards each other. This was especially apparent when Dot was ill and Dennis went with her to hospital. This allowed another side of Dennis to shine through all his bluster. Again, the pair worked well together when Dennis was experiencing severe angst resulting from the deterioration of his relationship with his family. I remember him turning up at Dot’s door and she was there for him, not turning her back on him, as so many others had. If only we all had a Dot to turn to!
June Brown took some time off from EastEnders in 2009 to appear on the London stage, as part of the replacement cast of Calendar Girls, along with fellow EastEnders alumni, Anita Dobson (Angie Watts), Jill Halfpenny (Phil Mitchell’s wife, the ex-copper), and Jack Ryder (Jamie Mitchell), together with Jerry Hall, the erstwhile wife of Mike Jagger. Apparently Sharon Watts also appeared in this show a little later.
No matter how much I would love to see June Brown play Dot forever, I suspect that she has thoughts of retirement. Seemingly she has been absent from the cast during the year, to write her autobiography. I am not a great lover of such books, chiefly because most of them are written with a ghostwriter. However, in the case of Ms Brown, I am interested in learning more of her early life, her time as a Wren, her early acting career and her time making films. And imagine all of this before we even get to her time on television. What a career! She even appeared on The Graham Norton Show with Lady Gaga – now that must have been an amusing spectacle to behold. I haven’t seen it, but I can just imagine who was the more entertaining and didn’t need lots of make-up to achieve it. Perhaps the Queen’s Honours List ought to include her as a Dame soon. I for one would then agree that ‘there is nothing like a dame!’ Move over Judi, June is coming!
If you enjoyed this piece, you can find more at Charles’s websites: EAST END MEMORIES @ www.eastend-memories.org.uk and STORIES OF LONDON @ stories-of-london.org
LONDON – An event like this is why YouTube was invented. Plop in the following web address, http://tinyurl.com/lktwotp
The occasion was the appearance of June Brown (Dot Cotton) on The Graham Norton Show, ostensibly to promote her new book Before the Year Dot.
Instead the viewer was treated to some of the funniest television I have ever encountered. June and Lady Gaga became BFFs (best friends forever), despite the nearly 60-year difference in their ages.
Gaga, 27, told the normally very chatty Norton, who couldn’t get a word in at all for nearly 10 minutes, that “she speaks my language.”
The pop singer claimed to be a big fan of June’s on EastEnders but I don’t think anyone believed her. Gaga admitted that she doesn’t watch much TV; the 86-year-old- June chimed in that neither did she.
Gaga said: “I am a really big fan of yours. You are so fabulously dressed. I am honoured to be sitting next to you.” helping herself to June’s glass of wine, she added: “I want to drink from your cup to see what those genes are.”
June offered some motherly advice to Gaga about her new single “Do What You Want [to my Body].” “I wouldn’t say that to just anybody,” the lady we know as Dot told the pop singer, who assured the sage that the song only applies to her “hot boyfriend.”
June’s dress appeared a little too big, and Gaga helped pin it.. She tweeted to her millions of Twitter followers a clip from the show: “me and June Brown! Career highlight (for me not her) Finally got to show my talents as a seamstress… brilliant she is!”