Dame June Whitfield – celebrated for her comic roles in BBC sitcom Terry and June and cult favourite Absolutely Fabulous – has died aged 93.
The London-born actress was a regular fixture on TV and radio for six decades, starring in Carry On films, Hancock’s Half Hour, and even Friends.
At 89, she appeared in EastEnders as Sister Ruth, a nun with a secret about Kat Moon. At 92, she was made a dame.
Her agent said she died peacefully on Friday night.
Tributes to her long and successful career in comedy are being made on Twitter.
Julia Sawalha, who played her strait-laced granddaughter in Absolutely Fabulous, said Whitfield had been a “great source of inspiration” to her as a young actress but was “far too humble to accept my adoration”.
Thank you #damejunewhitfield,for teaching me my craft with such grace and dignity.I always wanted you to know how in awe of you I was, however, you were always far too humble to accept my https://t.co/2wc2G3bQ0G were a great source of inspiration to me. Bye-bye Gran.🙏🏻💕
— Julia Sawalha (@JuliaSawalha1)
Fellow Ab Fab actress Joanna Lumley told ITV news she was “heartbroken to lose such a darling friend”, who would “always have a most special place in my heart”.
She said she would never forget “her sensational talent, humour and her generosity”.
Jane Horrocks, who played the ditzy character Bubble in the comedy, said her former co-star was a “wonderful lady”, who was “versatile, funny and generous”.
Impressionist Rory Bremner called Whitfield the “go-to comedy actress for three generations”.
RIP June Whitfield- go-to comedy actress for 3 generations, from 60s radio to 70s, 80s, even 90s TV. Always graceful & elegant with a real comic glint in her eye & (absolutely) fabulous timing.
— Rory Bremner (@rorybremner)
TV producer Jon Plowman, who worked on Absolutely Fabulous, said there was “no-one with a better ability to just ‘place’ a line, always an act of utter precision”.
Very sad at the news of the death of the wonderful June Whitfield . There was no-one with more warmth or a better ability to just “place” a line ,always an act of utter precision. Hit after hit! Take it from Here Terry and June Absolutely Fabulous over seven decade. A great loss
— JON PLOWMAN (@bimpsonbun1)
Comedian Miranda Hart recalls a touching encounter with Whitfield who responded to an appeal for sponsorship for Edinburgh Festival early on in her career.
So very sad. I once sent a letter to many actors as a budding (I mean desperate) comedy actor to ask for sponsorship for the Edinburgh Festival. Dame June replied. Fifteen years later when I met her she had all my letters and the notes of the show she sponsored. I cried then too. https://t.co/oaGXd7ick4
— Miranda Hart (@mermhart)
And broadcaster Danny Baker said Whitfield was “formidable, dependable, inimitable. A rock. A gem.”
Shane Allen, controller of BBC Comedy, described Whitfield as “the North Star of British comedy”.
“Her spectacular career is unparalleled in its longevity, with seven decades of being a key element in numerous high profile and successful shows. She was the go-to female comedy performer of her generation and was always in demand from the cream of British comedy.”
Among those clamouring to work with her were Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Ronnie Barker, Benny Hill, Bob Monkhouse and Tommy Cooper.
Two days before her death, BBC Surrey broadcast what turned out to be her final interview, in which fellow showbusiness veteran David Hamilton visited Dame June at her home to talk about her life and career.
We will replay what has sadly turned out to be #JuneWhitfield’s final interview, given to David Hamilton, as a tribute to a truly wonderful actress, Sunday 12-1pm. This was the special trailer June and David recorded to promote the programme. pic.twitter.com/K5NwOhPeaz
— BBC Surrey (@BBCSurrey)
Obituary: A star in her own right
Dame June Whitfield was a constant presence in British post-war comedy.
Often playing the female stooge to some of Britain’s most famous entertainers, she called herself “a comic’s tart”.
But after six decades on radio and television, she established herself as a star in her own right.
The actress always said she was “very bad at getting round to things”.
But from her early radio appearances in the 1950s, through to her scatty antics on Absolutely Fabulous, she featured in more than 1,300 radio and television shows.