HOW WE MET: JUNE WHITFIELD AND ROY HUDD

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The Independent Culture
June Whitfield, 72, is probably best known for her part in 'Terry and June', and more latterly as the mother in 'Absolutely Fabulous'. Married to Timothy Aitchison, a retired chartered surveyor, she lives in Wimbledon. They have one daughter. June plays alongside Roy Hudd in 'The News Huddlines' on Radio 2. Roy Hudd, 61, is married to Deborah Flitcroft, actress and former dancer. 'The Huddlines', which he started in the early Seventies, is now the longest-running radio audience comedy show. Popularly known as a comedian, he has also acted in more serious mode in films such as Dennis Potter's 'Lipstick on your collar' and 'Karaoke'. Roy lives in South London, and has one son by a former marriage

JUNE WHITFIELD: I can't remember first meeting Roy, but I know it was in a pantomime in Richmond. It must have been about 14 years ago now, because I've been doing The Huddlines for 13. He was talking to me one day about how he was having problems finding a replacement for Alison Steadman in The Huddlines, and he said he'd tried every girl in radio and just couldn't find anyone. "You haven't tried me", I said, at which point he started back-peddling like mad, and made some excuse about having to be able to impersonate Margaret Thatcher. I merely said, "Oh, I see", and left it at that.

The next day we were doing the matinee, and I was playing the fairy. There's a fight between King Rat and Dick Whittington and the fairy organises it, and she says, "Go to your corners and when you hear the bell you come out fighting." So when we got to that point that day I said exactly that, except I did it as Margaret Thatcher. I got the job.

I think the reason why I like Roy so much is that I'd much rather make people laugh than make them cry, and I think he's the same. We do have tremendous fun on The Huddlines - there have been times when we've all been quite convulsed in laughter and unable to carry on. But we have to be jolly careful because Steve, our producer, is very inclined to leave it in.

Roy's a very enthusiastic person; enthusiastic about his work and enthusiastic about life. I miss him desperately if we don't see each other over the summer; I'm always delighted to see him in September when the new series of The Huddlines starts. I think it's because of his enthusiasm for what's going on, and for life in general. We always catch up on what the other's doing, and at the first session we'll usually all go round to the pub afterwards - it's just a fun time.

Our relationship is very much based on work but we do go away occasionally together as a foursome: Roy and his wife, Debbie, and Tim and I. We all went down to Somerset together recently for a "Huddlines day out", with Chris Emmett, who is the other part of The Huddlines. Roy's great love is music hall; he has a fund of old music-hall stories and can talk for hours about those days and the people in it; he's very entertaining. We were going to a lunch at the Somerset and Western Music Hall Society, and we did a Huddlines sketch for them, which they absolutely adored. Afterwards we wandered round the endless mudflats of Western Super Mare - it was great fun.

Roy's certainly in the thick of things when he's working. I think you could say he is the life and soul of the party, but if he goes away he likes to be fairly quiet and take books. I had a "50 years in showbiz" party some time ago, and Roy came and made such a funny speech, which, of course, I can't remember. I keep asking him to give me a draft of it, but he's probably lost it now. But that's the sort of thing Roy will do: he's wonderfully spontaneous.

We never have any deep, meaningful conversations: there's just no time. We meet at nine for The Huddlines and we're gone by 12. I just look on him as a very good mate, and I certainly look up to him. You know where you are with him. If he says he'll do something, he'll do it. I can categorically say that he would never let you down and he'll probably say "Oh yes I would!" There are a few people in my life that I would trust with anything. They're rare, but Roy is certainly one.

ROY HUDD: I'm not surprised that June doesn't remember meeting me because I arrived at the panto very late on in the rehearsals and just dashed straight into a corner with the other comics. But we did get to know each other fairly well during that run. One night we were sitting in the dressing room having a drink, and I was telling her the problems I was having finding someone for The Huddlines. "We're in terrible trouble, June, we can't get the right girl". She said she'd done a bit of radio so, as a throwaway line, I told her if she could do an impression of Margaret Thatcher she was in with a chance. I mean, what a bloody cheek; she's only one of the great radio performers of all time.

Well, blow me down if she didn't do exactly that in the matinee the next afternoon. She went right into the middle of the stage and in true Thatcherite tone ordered King Rat and Dick Whit-tington, "To go to your corners and come out fighting". I fell about on stage laughing. I only just managed to mouth, "You've got the job!" She's been with us ever since.

That pretty much sums June up: she did the audition without even being asked. And that's one of the great things about her - she gets straight in there and gets on with it. She adds something completely different to The Huddlines than anyone else: it's pure "quality". She's an absolute rock. If I'm having a good time and enjoying myself, I'll go all over the place, run round the stage and do funny walks, and Christ knows what; I've completely forgotten I'm in radio. I'm doing it purely for the audience in the studio, and the more they laugh the more I do it. I haven't got a clue where I am, but June will haul me back in: "More to the point", she'll say, and we're right back on the script. She gives me just enough rope to haul me back in, and when she's getting really fed up with me, just enough to hang myself. There's an old phrase which makes June laugh every time I say it: "Let's pull up our knickers and box on". She'd never tell me to stop pissing about, but occasionally she'll say: "I tell you what, let's pull up our knickers and box on."

June's a very private person surprisingly enough, and very shy. She's extremely deep and will not wear her heart on her sleeve. She takes an awful lot of getting to know. I've got very few friends, plenty of acquaintances and people I like to spend time with, but this friendship is very different. My wife always says that if anything happened she knows exactly who she'd phone first. June always puts everything into perspective; she's a very calming influence. When I'm flying all over the place and getting silly about something or other, and start saying "Oh God, what am I going to do?", June comes straight in there with, "Now just a minute, dear. This is what you must do ..." Very cool, very grounding.

We stayed with them in their cottage near Chichester recently and saw a musical one night, which shall remain nameless. There must have been an awful lot of musicals in the West End at the time, 'cos God knows where they got the chorus boys from. Well, I started laughing, and then Tim started laughing. And then we started exchanging one-liners, and it got so bad that June started beating us both. The whole row started to shake, and June was getting terribly embarrassed. Suddenly a face appeared from the row behind, right between mine and June's, and I thought, "Oh Christ, we've done it now', and this voice said, "I wouldn't trust them to run my ranch, would you?" That totally cracked us up. It was Harry Lewis, Vera Lynn's husband. And then Vera started hitting Harry! We should have got chucked out really, but I think the two ladies calmed us down in the end.

I love just turning up at June's 'cos she hates it. She's very formal and I'm very informal. I do try and annoy her, mainly because I think it's easy to do, but I never succeed. I knew I'd cracked it with June, when Debbie and I popped over to see them one day, and June said spontaneously, "Let's eat in the kitchen". For June to say that is quite something.

She's getting more eccentric as she gets older; I'm sure she'll be a Margaret Rutherford in 10 years' time. I don't know what she thinks of me: she probably thinks I'm a silly old sod. If I do something she doesn't approve of she'll say: "Well, I think you're barmy, my dear." I think she quite likes me.

The great bone of contention, of course, is that she's a rabid Tory. I'm an old time Anthony Wedgewood Ben-type lefty, and that's when we start. We never have arguments 'cos June won't have an argument. I'll come out with something and she'll say, "Well? I don't think that's right, dear." And she'll give me the exact logical explanation why, which makes me even madder. Usually with old right-wingers you can bait them, but I've tried and it's water off a duck's back to June. She'll just say, "Well, I don't feel that way dear, but there we are, dear.' What's even more infuriating is she quotes the Daily Mail all the time, so now I get it to see where they're fibbing so I can put up a few arguments. But it doesn't make any difference to June - as I say, water off a duck's back, dear.

June and Tim are about the only people that Debbie and I go away with for the weekend. We do have some screaming laughs, but it's a great relief being with them because you don't have to try. I don't have to be making gags, or come out with snappy one-liners, or start singing. It's wonderful just sitting with them and having a cup of coffee in the morning, reading the papers and not having to say anything.

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