June Brown has brought lots of laughter to TV audiences over the years, as chain-smoking, hypochondriac busybody Dot Cotton in EastEnders.
But even she will admit that there aren’t many laughs in the hit soap these days.
She says it’s not only up to the writers, but to the actors, to introduce more humour into the roles if they want to.
“I could have played Dot as a very dreary woman with a list of illnesses, but I played her with an edge, so it was funny.”
She continues: “When you have to write four episodes [a week], you run out of stories and you have to keep regurgitating in a slightly different way.”
Soaps, in general, have become more serious, because they’re all competing with each other, she reflects.
“Emmerdale was a tale of country folk once upon a time. It was Emmerdale Farm. That changed because it became far more popular when it went into the mainstream, but there were lots of people who really enjoyed the fact that it had been about a farming community.”
The 86-year-old actress, who has five children (a sixth, daughter Chloe, born prematurely, died at 16 days) and six grandchildren, took time off to finish Before The Year Dot, an autobiography tracing her early years, but will be re-appearing in the hit soap in December - although she can’t reveal any festive plotlines.
Brown recently said that she thinks EastEnders is unsuitable for children, but now reflects that the nature of soaps has changed since she first joined the cast in 1985. “It’s bound to, everything has. None of us [actors] wanted to be in a soap, because we thought it would ruin our career. It was very hard to do anything else when you came out. Because of health issues, “
Brown no longer goes on night shoots outdoors in winter, because she says she runs the risk of pleurisy and bronchitis.
These days, work is limited to three or four days a week. “Although I may say I’m tired, as soon as I get on that set I’m filled with energy.”
She says that Dot has endured because everybody knows somebody like her. “People say to me, ‘You’re so like the woman in the shop down the road’, and, ‘You’re so like my auntie’.”
She admits in her memoir: “After 10 years of being a widow I would still like to share thoughts, laughter, meals, visits to the theatre, problems, house repairs! Not a husband nor a lover do I want. Just a compatible companion.”
* Before The Year Dot by June Brown is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £20. Available now