WHITFIELD, JUNE

British Comedy Actor

June Whitfield is a durable comedy actor whose entire career has been spent providing excellent support to virtually every major British comedian on radio and television. In the 1950s she became a radio favourite playing the perennially engaged "Eth" in the famous Jimmy Edwards comedy series Take It From Here, but her lasting stardom was due a to a remarkable run of television appearances supporting Britain's best loved comedians and her long-running sitcom series Terry and June. The list of male comedians with whom Whitfield worked reads like a Who's Who of British comedy talent and includes Benny Hill, Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Morecambe and Wise, and Dick Emery. However she was most closely associated with Jimmy Edwards, with whom she co-starred in a number of comedy playlets under the generic title Faces Of Jim (Seven Faces of Jim, 1961, Six More Faces of Jim, 1962, and More Faces of Jim, 1963, (all BBC). She also appeared in many series with Terry Scott, including Scott On ..., (1964-74, BBC), and Terry and June, (1979-87, BBC), which was a continuation of an earlier series Happy Ever After (1974-78, BBC).

Whitfield made her debut on television in 1951 in The Passing Show (BBC) and appeared as support to Bob Monkhouse and Derek Goodwin in Fast And Loose (BBC, 1954). After guesting in various sitcoms for 12 years, she landed a starring role in Beggar My Neighbour (1966-68) a show about ill-matched neighbours.

Terry and June was Whitfield's most famous vehicle, and her portrayal of a typical long-suffering wife (June Fletcher) with a perennially adolescent husband (Terry Fletcher, played by Terry Scott) while not stretching her talent as an actor, nevertheless demonstrated her amazing consistency and willingness to bring the best out of any material. Throughout and the 1980s and into the 1990s she also re-established herself as a radio star working with comedian Roy Hudd in The News Huddlines in which she demonstrated a hitherto unknown talent for impersonation, particularly for her "Margaret Thatcher."

The British "new wave" of comedy which began to make serious inroads into British television in the 1980s provided Whitfield with further opportunities. Comediennes Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders used the actress in their sketch show, French And Saunders (1987-, BBC), and Jennifer Saunders later chose her for the role of "Mother" in Absolutely Fabulous (1992-95, BBC).

Absolutely Fabulous was a groundbreaking British sitcom of the 1990s, with a dazzling mix of politically incorrect, outrageousness, and savage wit. The clever casting of Whitfield as "Mother" allowed Saunders to utilise the actor's housewife persona in a subversive way, employing dialogue and plot to investigate areas of the character never glimpsed in Terry and June.

Absolutely Fabulous and similar shows written by and starring women are no longer rarities on British television but the majority of Whitfield's career has been spent supporting male comedians who dominated the medium, with most of the shows in which she worked bearing the name of the male stars (The Benny Hill Show and The Dick Emery Show, among others). She is not the only funny woman of British television to have had such a comedy-support career, but she is arguably the busiest. One can only lament that it was never considered viable in British television to produce The June Whitfield Show.

-Dick Fiddy


June Whitfield
Photo courtesy of June Whitfield

JUNE ROSEMARY WHITFIELD. Born in London, England, 11 November 1925. Attended Streatham High School; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, diploma 1944. Married: Timothy John Aitchison in 1955; child: Suzy. Has appeared in revue, musicals, pantomime, films, radio and television, from 1950s; formed long-running situation comedy partnership with Terry Scott, 1969-88. Officer of the Order of the British Empire, 1985. Freeman, City of London, 1982. Recipient: British Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994. Address: April Young, 11 Woodlands Road, Barnes, London SW13 0JZ, England.

TELEVISION SERIES

1954 Fast and Loose
1962-63 Faces of Jim
1964-74 Scott On...
1966-68 Beggar My Neighbour
1967 Hancock's Hour
1969 The Best Things in Life
1969 The Fossett Saga
1974-78 Happy Ever After
1979-87 Terry and June
1990 Cluedo
1992-95 Absolutely Fabulous
1994-95 What's My Line?

FILMS (selection)

Carry On Nurse, 1959; The Spy with a Cold Nose, 1966; Carry On Abroad, 1972; Bless This House, 1972; Carry On Girls, 1973; Carry On Columbus, 1992.

RADIO

Take It From Here, 1953-60; The News Huddlines, 1984-; JW Radio Special, 1992; Murder at the Vicarage, 1993; A Pocketful of Rye, 1994; At Bertram's Hotel, 1995.

STAGE (selection)

A Bedful of Foreigners; Not Now, Darling; An Ideal Husband, 1987; Ring Round the Moon, 1988; Over My Dead Body, 1989; Babes in the Wood, 1990, 1991, 1992; Cinderella, 1994.

 

See also Absolutely Fabulous; British Programming