June Whitfield’s comic style has more than stood the test of time and now people can see the comedy legend up close and personal at Kennington’s Cinema Museum.
Best known for playing the dotty mother to Jennifer Saunders’ flamboyant Edina Monsoon on Absolutely Fabulous, June held her own amongst the stellar cast. She attributes Saunders’ writing for the perfect comic set ups, quoting her favourite line as when diet-obsessed Eddie wails to her “inside of me there’s a thin person just screaming to get out”, to which June quips “just the one, dear?”
Having enjoyed a glittering career working alongside comedy greats including Jimmy Edwards, Tony Hancock, Arthur Askey, Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd, Dick Emery, Ronnie Barker, Bob Monkhouse, Rod Hudd and Julian Clary, June’s beginnings were in Streatham and Brixton.
“I was at Streatham Hill high school during the war; all the schools kept sending children away but I stayed until my father sent us to Sussex, then we were evacuated to Devon, then went north for a while to Huddersfield; we got a bit fed up really,” the 87-year-old recalls. When the family returned to the area, June studied secretarial skills at Pitman’s college in Brixton Hill before gaining a diploma from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1944.
“I never really thought about a career outside of acting, but sometimes I think ‘good heavens I’m still at it’,” she muses. “I’m very lucky to be doing something I love.”
Beginning in theatre, June’s big break came in the form of radio sitcom Take It From Here, where she played Ron Glum’s eternal fiancée Eth. In the 1970s, she was the archetypal housewife in Terry and June, and in the ‘90s she was immortalised as the sweet, scatter-brained kleptomaniac mother/gran on Absolutely Fabulous.
“It was tremendous fun; we had a lot of laughs in the rehearsal room,” she reflects. “I loved every minute of it. Jennifer (Saunders) wrote some wonderful lines. Everyone was so good: Jennifer, Joanna, Julia, Jane; we were all Js and it just worked very well.”
After a two decade break, June and the rest of the Ab Fab cast reprised their roles last year for three new Absolutely Fabulous episodes, including an Olympic special.
“It was like going back to school for a reunion; we all picked up where we left off,” June says. “I thought the Olympics episode was particularly funny.”
The Wimbledon-based actor will join comedy historian and scriptwriter Glenn Mitchell to talk about her career highlights and show clips from her works over the years.
June will be at the Cinema Museum, 2 Dugard Way (off Renfrew Road) SE11 4TH, on Saturday 29 June at 7:30pm. Admission: £8.50 advance / £6.50 concession. Phone: 020 7840 2200. http://www.cinemamuseum.org.uk