There were a string of programmes on last night to celebrate June Whitfield, and deservedly so. I’ve always loved June; she embodies for me all that’s best about Britain. She’s funny, self-deprecating, modest and above all, a consummate professional.
I grew up watching Terry and June, and though it ended up being the object of some not very pleasant nor well meant derision, I still think it’s up there with the greats of British comedy. And June – though arguably always second fiddle to the notoriously difficult Terry Scott – was, in my opinion, the underpinning that carried it through that stormy weather.
And of course, when she went on to play Eddie’s mum in Absolutely Fabulous, she revealed that ‘gentle’ comedy isn’t her only forte. Thank god Jennifer Saunders chose June for that role, because nobody could’ve done it better…
I recall one scene that had me in bits when Mother, Saffie and a house guest listened on the baby monitor to Edina having it away with the husband of the house guest. Mother listened intently to the groans and asked Saffie, “Is this Radio 4 dear?”
Of course June’s lines were provided for her, but parlaying them into genuinely laugh out loud moments is what makes a truly good comedy actor, and June proved all her naysayers wrong when she did a consistently wonderful job as Mother/Gran.
Though I have to wonder why the title held the words ‘Many Faces of…” because a less multi-faced lady you’d find hard to meet. And in a world where prima-donnas are the norm, June Whitfield, as we heard from many of those who spoke about her last night, has never been counted in their number.
She’s pretty much what it says on her metaphorical tin; calm, genteel, sensible and self-effacing. One line from her summed all that up when she was asked about how she managed to end up acting alongside some of British comedy’s upper echelon characters and she humbly replied, “Maybe the reason I’ve worked with so many of them is that I’m no trouble.”
Bless her. She’s an archetypal granny/mother for me, and one of a sadly dying breed of old-school veterans of the original wave of the comedically talented. June and her early ilk peers were the people who laid the foundation stones that built British comedy into the institution it now is, so I’m glad the BBC decided to celebrate her unique contribution to it now, while June’s blessedly still here to enjoy the adulation.