Whitfield at the 2013
Slapstick Festival in Bristol
June Rosemary Whitfield
11 November 1925
Streatham, London, England
|Died||29 December 2018 93) (aged|
|Known for||Carry On films|
Terry and June
(m. 1955; died 2001)
Her big break was a lead in the BBC Light Programme radio comedy Take It from Here from 1953. Television roles soon followed, including appearances with Tony Hancock throughout his television career. In 1966, Whitfield played the leading role in the television sitcom Beggar My Neighbour which ran for three series. She also appeared in four Carry On films: Carry On Nurse (1959), Carry On Abroad (1972), Carry On Girls (1973) and Carry On Columbus (1992).
In 1968, Whitfield and Terry Scott began a long television partnership, which peaked with roles as husband and wife in Happy Ever After (1974–79) and Terry and June (1979–87). From 1992, Whitfield played Edina Monsoon's mother in Jennifer Saunders' Absolutely Fabulous. She played a regular character in Last of the Summer Wine and a recurring character in The Green Green Grass.
June Rosemary Whitfield was born in Streatham, London, in 1925, to John Herbert Whitfield and his wife Bertha Georgina née Flett. Her father was the managing director of a company called Dictograph Telephones that had been founded by his father in Yorkshire, and both of her parents were keen amateur actors. She made her first stage appearance, aged three after her mother enrolled her at Robinson's Dance Studio. Whitfield attended Streatham Hill High School, before being evacuated during the Second World War to Bognor Regis, where she attended St Michael's School, and to Penzance in Cornwall. She then moved with her parents to Huddersfield, where she learned shorthand and typing. She then continued to study secretarial skills at Pitman's College, Brixton Hill. In 1944, Whitfield graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with a diploma.
Whitfield began her career in the 1940s with Wilfred Pickles, and worked on stage in the West End and the regions. In 1951, she had her first credited television role in The Passing Show and joined the London cast of the musical South Pacific.
Her big break came in 1953 when she replaced Joy Nichols (who had married an American and wished to emigrate to the U.S.) in the successful Frank Muir and Denis Norden radio comedy Take It from Here, co-starring Jimmy Edwards and Dick Bentley. In the portion of the show known as "The Glums" she played Eth, fiancée of the dim Ron Glum (played by Bentley). During the next 15 years Whitfield had many supporting roles on television, including in Dixon of Dock Green, Arthur's Treasured Volumes, The Arthur Askey Show, Faces of Jim, The Benny Hill Show, Steptoe and Son and Frankie Howerd. She played the nurse in the opening scene of "The Blood Donor" (Hancock, 1961).
Television and other work
Whitfield gained her first starring role, in the sitcom Beggar My Neighbour (1966), playing Rose Garvey. The year after Beggar My Neighbour finished in 1968, she appeared on Scott On... for six years until 1974. This started a working relationship with Terry Scott that lasted until 1987. During Scott On... she had also appeared in The Best Things In Life, The Goodies, The Dick Emery Show, Bless This House and The Pallisers. She appeared in the spin-off film of Bless This House (1972), with Scott as her husband, and Carry On Abroad (also 1972), followed by an appearance in Carry On Girls (1973).
Whitfield starred in a Comedy Playhouse sitcom pilot called Happy Ever After (1974) alongside Scott. Later that year a first series of this was screened, and it continued for five series until 1979. Later the same year, they appeared together in the first series of Terry and June. Happy Ever After and Terry and June were very similar, with only a change of surname, from Fletcher to Medford, and a new house and family. Both sitcoms had Scott and Whitfield as a suburban middle-class married couple. Terry and June ran for 65 episodes until 1987. Five years later in 1992, Julian Clary created Terry and Julian, a Channel 4 sitcom which spoofed the title of Terry and June, and Whitfield made an appearance in one episode. During the eight-year run of Terry and June, she also appeared in It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Minder.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Whitfield appeared in a series of television advertisements, created for Birds Eye by advertising art director Vernon Howe, featuring the concluding voice-over line: "it can make a dishonest woman of you!"
She was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in April 1976 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at her home in Wimbledon, and in March 1995, when Michael Aspel surprised her at the BBC Television Centre.
During the 1980s, Whitfield returned to radio comedy. From 1984, she could be heard with Roy Hudd on the satire programme The News Huddlines, which finished in 2001. On it she often used impersonations and was known for her impression of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. During the 1980s and 1990s, she made several stage appearances, including in a revival of An Ideal Husband and the pantomime Babes in the Wood. In 1985 she sang a duet with Ian Charleson of the Irving Berlin song "You're Just in Love" in A Royal Night of One Hundred Stars. In 1982 she was made a Freeman of the City of London and was made an OBE in 1985.
1990 to 2018
Having appeared in an episode of French and Saunders in 1988, Whitfield played Mother/Gran in Jennifer Saunders' sitcom Absolutely Fabulous from 1992. In 2000, she featured with the rest of the Absolutely Fabulous cast in the pilot Mirrorball. From 1993 to 2001, she played Miss Marple in 12 radio adaptations of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple books. From 1990, she appeared in films including Carry On Columbus (1992), Jude (1996) and Faeries (1999), as the voice of Mrs. Combs. In 1998, Whitfield played the housekeeper in the London-set episode of Friends "The One with Ross's Wedding, Part Two" and voiced a character in an episode of the animated comedy series Rex the Runt.
In 1994, Whitfield was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the British Comedy Awards, and in 1998 she was promoted to CBE. Her autobiography And June Whitfield appeared in 2000 and was written with the help of Christopher Douglas. From 2000, she appeared in The Royal, Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie's Marple, New Tricks and Last of the Summer Wine, which she joined in 2005. She had an episode of The South Bank Show devoted to her on 29 July 2007 and, in the same year, appeared in the English National Opera's production of On the Town in London's West End. In November 2007, she appeared in the Only Fools and Horses spin-off The Green Green Grass as the mother of Marlene. In 2008 she appeared in an episode of ITV medical drama, Harley Street. In 2009, she made a guest appearance in Kingdom and published an updated autobiography, At a Glance ... An Absolutely Fabulous Life, a collection of scrapbook pictures from her life and career.
Whitfield appeared in the Doctor Who two-part episode, "The End of Time", that aired over the Christmas/New Year period of 2009–10. On 29 December 2009, she was the subject of an entire evening's tribute programming on BBC Two.
In 2010, Whitfield was signed for a short appearance on ITV soap opera Coronation Street. Her character, May, appeared at the funeral of Blanche Hunt and explained to Blanche's daughter, Deirdre, how her mother had died. In 2011, she played Margaret Rutherford in the BBC Radio 4 play A Monstrous Vitality, Andy Merriman's radio adaptation of his biography of Rutherford, A Dreadnought with Good Manners. She reprised her role of Mother/Gran in two episodes of Absolutely Fabulous at Christmas/New Year 2011–12 and for an Olympic special on 23 July 2012. In 2013, Whitfield became the inaugural recipient of the Aardman Slapstick Comedy Legend Award, a recognition of her lifetime's contribution to the world of comedy. In 2014, she made a second appearance in Midsomer Murders, and appeared in Jonathan Creek and Boomers. In 2015, she played Granny Wallon in a BBC One adaptation of Laurie Lee's classic novel Cider with Rosie.
In May 2015, Whitfield made a guest appearance in the BBC soap EastEnders as a nun called Sister Ruth and returned to the show in January 2016 to complete a storyline. In October 2015 it was confirmed that she would reprise her role of Mother/Gran in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie which was released in July 2016. She also made a guest appearance as God in the Sky 1 series You, Me and the Apocalypse, which was broadcast in November 2015.
Whitfield was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1985 Birthday Honours, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1998 Birthday Honours, and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to drama and entertainment.
Personal life and death
In 1955, she married Timothy John Aitchison, who was working as a surveyor. The couple had a daughter, Suzy (born 4 June 1960), who became an actress. Timothy Aitchison died in 2001.
Despite her success, Whitfield never wanted a lead role, stating that she lacked the drive and confidence. She attributed the premature deaths of several comedians to "the responsibility, the stress and strain" of carrying their shows. She described her own life, in her autobiography, as "full of love, affection and laughter, of gigs, gags and a couple of gongs".
In December 2017, Whitfield said that she was living in a care home. She died in London on 29 December 2018, aged 93. Her funeral was held at All Hallows Church in Tillington, near Petworth in West Sussex, on 18 January 2019, attended by many of her co-stars and personal friends.
Fellow Absolutely Fabulous actress Jennifer Saunders paid tribute to the "extraordinary grace" of Whitfield and said she would "hugely" miss her "dear friend". Julia Sawalha described her as a "great source of inspiration". Actress Jane Horrocks said her former co-star was a "wonderful lady", who was "versatile, funny and generous".
|Name of Story||No. in Series||Day and Month of Release||Year|
|Murder at the Vicarage||1||26–30 December||1993|
|A Pocket Full of Rye||2||11 February (long episode: approx. 90 mins)||1995|
|At Bertram's Hotel||3||25–29 December||1995|
|The 4:50 From Paddington||4||29 March (long episode: approx. 90 mins)||1997|
|A Caribbean Mystery||5||30 October – 27 November (an episode a week)||1997|
|The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side||6||29 August (aired as an Agatha Christie Special)||1998|
|Nemesis||7||9 November – 7 December (an episode a week)||1998|
|The Body in the Library||8||22 May (long episode: approx. 90 mins)||1999|
|A Murder is Announced||9||9 August – 6 September (an episode a week)||1999|
|The Moving Finger||10||5 May (long episode: approx. 90 mins)||2001|
|They Do It With Mirrors||11||23 July – 20 August (an episode a week)||2001|
|Sleeping Murder||12||8 December (long episode: approx. 90 mins)||2001|
|1953||Love from Judy||Sally McBride||TV movie|
|1956||The Straker Special||tomboy mechanic||TV movie|
|1957||Friday the 13th||TV movie|
|1959||Carry On Nurse||Meg|
|Friends and Neighbours||Doris Holmes|
|1966||The Spy with a Cold Nose||Elsie Farquhar|
|1968||Frankie Howerd Meets the Bee Gees||TV movie|
|1971||Do Me a Favour!||Mrs Dolly Hadleigh||TV movie|
|The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins||Mildred||Comedy montage|
|1972||Bless This House||Vera Baines||Spin-off from TV sitcom Bless This House|
|Carry On Abroad||Evelyn Blunt|
|1973||Carry On Girls||Augusta Prodworthy / Paula Perkins (voice)|
|1974||Romance with a Double Bass||Prince Bibulov's Wife||Comedy short|
|1976||Not Now, Comrade||Janet Rimmington|
|1979||The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe||Mrs Beaver|
|1984||It's Going to Be Alright||Margie Hansen||TV movie|
|1985||Rupert and the Frog Song||Rupert's Mother (voice)||Animation|
|1987||It's a Hudd Hudd World||TV movie|
|1991||The Craig Ferguson Story||Mrs Ferguson||TV movie|
|1992||Carry On Columbus||Queen Isabella|
|1999||Faeries||Mrs Coombs (voice)||Animation|
|2000||The Last of the Blonde Bombshells||Annie||TV movie|
|2012||Run for Your Wife||Lady in gym class|
|2015||Cider with Rosie||Granny Wallon||TV movie|
|2016||Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie||Mother|
|1951||The Passing Show||chorus member||1 episode: "1900–1910: The Years of Plenty", aired 16 April 1951|
|1954–1955||Fast and Loose||various characters||5 episodes|
|1955–1958||Before Your Very Eyes||various characters||6 episodes|
|1956||The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d||various characters||1 episode|
|1956–1957||The Tony Hancock Show||various characters||11 episodes|
|1957||Hancock's Half Hour: "The Alpine Holiday"||Miss Dubois|
|Yes, It's the Cathode-Ray Tube Show!||various characters (voice)|
|1958||Dixon of Dock Green||Marie||1 episode: "The Key of the Nick"|
|My Pal Bob||1 episode (#2.6)|
|On With The Show|
|1958–1959||Whack-O!||Edwina / Mrs Van Stuyvesant||2 episodes: #3.1 and #4.5|
|1959||It's Saturday Night||1 episode (#1.3)|
|1960||Arthur's Treasured Volumes||Enid Brown||1 episode: "A Blow in Anger"|
|1961||Hancock: "The Blood Donor"||Nurse|
|Hancock: "The Succession: Son and Heir"||Veronica Stillwell|
|The Arthur Askey Show||Emily Pilbeam||6 episodes|
|1961–1963||The Seven Faces of Jim||various characters, inc. Nettie Winbourne, Prue Abernathy, and Hannah Pengallon||7 episodes|
|1961–1968||The Benny Hill Show||various characters||4 episodes (#4.3, "Knicker's World", #8.2, #8.4)|
|1962||Christmas Night with the Stars||Eth||with Jimmy Edwards, episode aired 25 December 1962|
|Six More Faces of Jim||Eth||6 episodes|
|The Rag Trade||Miss Rawlins|
|Comedy Playhouse (series 1) "The Telephone Call"||Sandra Baxter|
|1963||More Faces of Jim||various characters|
|1964||A Child's Guide to Screenwriting||various characters (voice)|
|Baxter On...||various characters|
|How to be an Alien||(voice)|
|The Big Noise||Dorothy Tozer|
|Steptoe and Son||Madge|
|1965||Call It What You Like||various characters|
|Six of the Best||Daffodil|
|1966||Frankie Howerd||Beryl Cuttlebunt|
|Mild and Bitter||various characters|
|1967||Christmas Night with the Stars||Rose Garvey||episode aired 25 December 1967|
|1967–1968||Beggar My Neighbour||Rose Garvey|
|1968||Father, Dear Father||Mrs Parsons|
|Never a Cross Word|
|1968–1974||Scott On...||various characters|
|1969||According to Dora||various characters|
|Armchair Theatre: "What's a Mother For?"||Angela|
|The Fossett Saga||Millie Goswick|
|The Jimmy Logan Show|
|The Undertakers||Housewife||Comedy short|
|1969–1970||The Best Things in Life||Mabel Pollard|
|1969–1974||The Dick Emery Show||various characters|
|1971||The Goodies||Penelope Fay|
|1973||Bless This House||Odette|
|1974||The Morecambe and Wise Show||Muriel|
|The Pallisers||Mrs Bonteen|
|1974–1979||Happy Ever After||June Fletcher|
|1977||The Dick Emery Show: "The Texas Connection"||Jacqueline Clayton|
|1979||Cannon and Ball||The Manageress|
|1979–1987||Terry and June||June Medford|
|It Ain't Half Hot Mum||Captain Georgina Tollemache|
|The Dick Emery Christmas Show: "For Whom the Jingle Bells Toll"||Colette|
|1981||Mike Yarwood In Persons|
|1990||Cluedo||Mrs Blance White|
|1992||The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends||Mrs Rabbit (voice)|
|Terry and Julian||Mrs Wilson|
|1997||All Rise for Julian Clary||Auntie Jane|
|Brambly Hedge||Mrs Apple|
|Common As Muck||Irene|
|Wyrd Sisters||Nanny Ogg (voice)|
|The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (Part 2)||Mrs Whitfield|
|Rex the Runt||Judge Pikelet|
|1999||Days Like These||Grandma|
|2001–2010||Last of the Summer Wine||Nelly / Delphi|
|2005||Midsomer Murders||Peggy Alder|
|2005–2007||Bob the Builder||Dot|
|2006||Agatha Christie's Marple||Mrs Lancaster|
|2007||New Tricks||Pru Sanders|
|2007–2009||The Green Green Grass||Dora|
|2009–2010||Doctor Who: The End of Time||Minnie Hooper|
|2010||Coronation Street||May Penn|
|2011||M.I. High||Beryl Bagshot|
|2014||Jonathan Creek||Heidi Greeley / Laurel Greeley|
|Midsomer Murders||Molly Darnley|
|Topsy and Tim||Mrs Higley-Pigley|
|2015||You, Me and the Apocalypse||God|
- The date of death has been consistently reported by the press as Friday 28 December 2018. However, the order of service for the funeral (pictured in the BBC source) clearly shows the dates "11th November 1925 – 29th December 2018", so it is understood that Whitfield died in the early hours of Saturday 29 December 2018.
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- "It's a Hudd Hudd World (1987)". BFI. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
- "The Craig Ferguson Story (1991)". BFI. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
- "Carry On Columbus (1992)". BFI. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
- "Jude (1996)". BFI. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
- "Faeries (1999)". BFI. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
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