June Whitfield, actress

June Whitfield
June Whitfield
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It was another veteran of light entertainment, the Leeds-born writer and performer Barry Cryer, who christened June Whitfield the “Duracell of comedy”.

She had, he remarked, worked in everything.

Dame June, who has died at 93, could indeed boast a longer list of credits and co-stars than there are light bulbs in Blackpool’s illuminations.

She was already a rising star when the writers Frank Muir and Denis Norden chose her to replace the Australian Joy Nichols in their radio hit, Take It From Here.

She went on to create the unforgettable character of Eth, the put-upon fiancée in the anti-sitcom, The Glums, whose lines are still quoted 65 years later.

“Oh, Ron... you’ll never know how much I yearn,” she lamented.

“I do, but it’s not enough for us both to live on,” deadpanned her first great co-star and another Australian, the comedian Dick Bentley.

The lines were delivered with the perfect timing that was to be Whitfield’s hallmark and which made her so popular with producers.

She credited Wilfred Pickles, the Yorkshire comic actor whose radio quiz, Have A Go, was a national institution, with helping to instil it in to her.

Perched on his knee on her first night in a touring show called The Cure For Love in 1945, he hissed at her: “Wait for the laugh, wait for the laugh”, as she gabbled her lines.

Later she tended to brush off plaudits for her performances, saying the principal requirements for an actor were only to remember the lines and not bump into the furniture.

Her enduring partnership with the comedian Terry Scott, in the somewhat similar BBC sitcoms Happy Ever After and its successor, Terry and June, was perhaps her best-known pairing, and she defended the shows against any suggestions that they were too middle-class.

“The BBC say we need more working-class comedies, which is rubbish,” she said. “We need funny comedies – it doesn’t matter where they come from.”

Her other long-running, though fitful, comedy partnership is less well remembered. She had been Tony Hancock’s leading lady in his first small-screen outing for the ITV company Associated-Rediffusion, and was again in his swansong for ABC, a sad affair called Hancock’s. In between, she had been the nurse to his blood donor in his most famous BBC performance.

Hancock was a notorious alcoholic when he recorded his last shows. “It’s not good when the first question you have to ask of your star each week is whether he’s all right,” she noted.

Later, besides her appearances in a raft of Carry On films, she found a new audience as Edina’s slightly dotty mother in the BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous in the 1990s, reprising the character in a spin-off movie three years ago.

June Whitfield was born to a telephone company executive and an amateur actress in Streatham, south London. She went to dance and elocution classes and eventually enrolled at Rada.

Her first principal role on TV was in the 1960s sitcom, Beggar My Neighbour, opposite Reg Varney. She went on to share the stage with, among many others, Dick Emery, Sid James, Terry Thomas, Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd, with whom she recorded a spoof version of the sexualised French song, Je T’aime.

She was made a Dame in 2017 for services to drama and entertainment, which she said at the time was “remarkable”.

“I’ve always said one of the reasons I’ve worked for so long is that I’m no trouble,” she observed.

Her husband, Tim Aitchison, died in 2001. She is survived by their daughter, Suzy Aitchison who is also an actress.