June Brown gave EastEnders the power and pathos of an Alan Bennett play

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“Give us some tea, Lofty. And a glass of water so I can take paracetamol. On July 4, 1985, these were the first words spoken by Dot Cotton. There was little indication that this prosaic line would herald the start of an epic era of EastEnders.

Now, unfortunately, those days are over. At the age of 95, actress June Brown MBE died peacefully at her Surrey home on Sunday evening. After 35 years and 2,884 extraordinary episodes on the Cockney soap opera, she leaves a huge hole in the pop cultural landscape. The phrase “national treasure” is overused, but this is one of those occasions where it fits.

June Muriel Brown is originally from Suffolk and served in the Wrens. Long before the arrival of the Queen Vic, she was classically trained at The Old Vic alongside Alec Guinness, Albert Finney and John Gielgud. Actor Nigel Hawthorne (aka Sir Humphrey of Yes, Minister) once described Brown as “the most beautiful creature to ever walk the stage” after watching her play the title role in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.

She has seen her fair share of tragedy in her private life: her wealthy father went bankrupt, two of her four siblings died in childhood, then she was twice married and twice widowed. A real soap opera of a biography.

Brown’s acting credits read like a potted history of ’70s film, TV and theater, including a stint at the RSC, a role on Doctor Who and even a stint on that other great British soap opera, Coronation Street. Unsurprisingly, however, his CV is dominated by his three plus decades at London E20. She was the second-longest-serving actress on the show, narrowly surpassed by Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt). Together, the couple were guardians of Albert Square. The old guard. Keepers of the Cockney Flame.

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