Entertainment & Arts

June Whitfield's 'extraordinary grace' hailed by Jennifer Saunders

June Whitfield on the set of Absolutely Fabulous
Image caption June Whitfield on the set of Absolutely Fabulous

Absolutely Fabulous writer Jennifer Saunders has paid tribute to the "extraordinary grace" of Dame June Whitfield who has died, aged 93.

The creator of the sitcom, in which Dame June starred, said she would "hugely" miss her "dear friend".

Fellow Ab Fab actress Joanna Lumley praised Whitfield's "sensational talent" while Julia Sawalha described her as a "great source of inspiration".

Dame June worked in TV and radio for six decades, including Terry and June.

She also appeared in Carry On films and featured in the US sitcom 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.

Image copyright David M. Benett/Getty Images
Image caption Whitfield with her co-stars at the premiere of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie in 2016

Saunders said: "It's so tremendously sad to lose June. I will always be grateful that she agreed to be in Ab Fab."

"Everything June did was perfectly measured. She was so loved and I will miss her hugely."

Tributes to her long and successful career in comedy are also being made on Twitter.

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".

Most of Whitfield's scenes during her three episodes on EastEnders were filmed opposite Jessie Wallace, who tweeted: "A truly great actress and comedy legend. Working with June was a masterclass."

Impressionist Rory Bremner called Whitfield the "go-to comedy actress for three generations".

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".

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live he described working with Whitfield: "You would hand her a script, she would work out where the laughs were and then would very quietly wipe the floor with everybody else."

Comedian Miranda Hart recalls a touching encounter with Whitfield, who responded to an appeal for sponsorship for Edinburgh Festival early on in her career.

John Challis, who worked with Whitfield in the sitcom The Green Green Grass, said her timing and characterisation made life "a bit better and a bit more charming".

And broadcaster Danny Baker said Whitfield was "formidable, dependable, inimitable. A rock. A gem."

Image copyright Tim Graham/Getty Images
Image caption Whitfield, in the company of Sir Terry Wogan and Richard Briers, greets the Queen at BBC Broadcasting House in 2006
Image copyright WPA Pool
Image caption Whitfield was made a dame last year, collecting the honour from Prince Charles

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.

On Thursday, 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.

Obituary: A star in her own right

Image caption Whitfield starred alongside Terry Scott in the hit 1970s sitcom

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.

What are your memories of Dame June Whitfield? Did you meet or work with her? Share your stories by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk

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