Although she trained as a straight actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (graduating in 1944), June Whitfield (born in London on 11 November 1925) has always preferred comedy, enhancing (and sometimes saving) any programme in which she appears. She has been the perfect partner for some of the greatest names in British comedy, including Tony Hancock, Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper, Benny Hill, Arthur Askey and Frankie Howerd.
Following some small uncredited film roles, Whitfield made her television debut as a chorus member in the musical series The Passing Show (BBC, 1951). However, it was on radio that she made her name, as Eth, alongside Jimmy Edwards and Dick Bentley, in 'The Glums', a popular sitcom sketch broadcast in a regular slot from 1953 within the series Take it From Here (1948-60).
Her star rose throughout the 1950s and early '60s, with appearances in numerous sketch and variety series, including Fast and Loose (BBC, 1955), with Bob Monkhouse; The Idiot Weekly Price 2d (ITV, 1956), with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes in the first attempt to transfer the surreal comedy of radio's The Goons to television; and three series of Faces of Jim (BBC, 1961-63) with Jimmy Edwards. She had the lead role in the musical comedy The Straker Special (ITV, tx. 22/11/1956), as a 'tomboy mechanic', and co-starred with Alan White in the comic sketch series On With the Show (ITV, 1958) .
Whitfield's long association with Tony Hancock began with regular appearances in his first television series The Tony Hancock Show (ITV, 1956-57), and continued with roles in his BBC series - most memorably as the nurse in the Hancock episode 'The Blood Donor' (BBC, tx. 23/6/1961) - ending with his less-than-successful final ITV series Hancock's (ITV, 1967) .
Her crowning as 'Queen of Sitcom' was assured with regular roles in Beggar My Neighbour (BBC, 1967-68), The Best Things in Life (BBC, 1969-70), playing Harry H. Corbett's fiancée, and, above all, with her association with Terry Scott.
She first played Scott's screen wife in 1968 in the Scott On... series (BBC, 1964-74), which mixed domestic sitcom with sketches. The sitcom aspect was expanded into the long-running series Happy Ever After (BBC, 1974-78), which was followed by Terry and June (BBC, 1979-87); there was little to differentiate the two series other than the surnames of the characters. Their cosy domesticity was later vilified as representing everything bad about British sitcom - rather unfairly, as much worse has appeared before and since, and the performances of the two leads lifted the shows above the run-of-the-mill. Scott and Whitfield shared Variety Club Television Personality of the Year awards in 1977 for Happy Ever After.
Whitfield has rarely performed in straight drama (the closest she came to Shakespeare was as a roller-skating Lady Macbeth in a sketch on Here We Go (ITV, 1955) with Bruce Forsyth), but she has appeared in costume drama The Pallisers (BBC, 1974) and in the occasional comic play, including 'What's a Mother For' (tx. 20/1/1969) in Armchair Theatre (ITV, 1956-74), and 'A Friend Indeed' (ITV, tx. 17/4/1973) in Playhouse.
Her role as Jennifer Saunders' mother in the hugely successful sitcom Absolutely Fabulous (BBC, 1992-2004) proved, as Whitfield herself declared, a "shot in the arm" to her career - her main television appearances since Terry and June had been presenting a healthy lifestyle series, It Doesn't Have to Hurt (BBC, 1990), and appearing in the first series of Cluedo (ITV, 1990-93), a quiz show based on the board game.
Whitfield's later work has been a mixture of comedy and drama, including appearances in the comedy series All Rise for Julian Clary (BBC, 1996-97); Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones a Foundling (ITV, 1997); the four-part drama Family Money (Channel 4, 1997); an English-shot episode of the US sitcom Friends (1998); Alan Plater's The Last of the Blonde Bombshells (BBC, tx. 26/8/2000), the story of an all-women dance band, and a recurring role, from 2001, in television's longest-running sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine (BBC, 1973- ).
Whitfield received an OBE in 1985 and a CBE in 1998, as well as the British Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.