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June Brown: The 'EastEnders' actress on dissecting rabbits, lost colleagues, and why children shouldn't be given choices

  • @adamjacques88

I was having the worst year of my life before the offer from 'EastEnders' came through I was 58, my kids were grown up, and I had no money and few offers. At the time [Brown took the role of Dot Cotton in 1985], it was felt that you shouldn't be in a soap for long because it would ruin your career, but I remember thinking, "What career?" So I took it.

I wanted to be a doctor when I was at school I was very good at dissection. We dissected rabbits and put them in a biscuit tins. But my father said, "I'm not paying for you, as you're only a girl and you'll only get married." It was a terrible shock to me; I could have helped him in his old age.

I felt an intense loneliness after My sister died I was seven at the time, she was eight, and I realised after her death that she accepted me for who I was. I think that's why, much later, I went from one man to another until I found [that quality] in my first husband.

I fell madly in love when I was 14 He was 10 years older, a student, though no one mentioned the age gap. He told his mother he'd marry me when I turned 16. When I saw him in a restaurant with another woman, I was very distressed.

My thirties were ruined by being pregnant I loved my babies but I had been quite successful before I had them, playing Lady Macbeth and Hedda Gabler, one of my favourite roles. After that I became a rather below-stairs actor; you wouldn't think of me now in the same way as Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. It was because I didn't have the money to shop or time to buy clothes, so I didn't look smart any more; if you want a role, you have to dress the part.

All the people I really knew on 'EastEnders' have died Gretchen Franklin [who played Ethel Skinner] died eight years ago; Anna Wing [known for her role as opinionated matriarch, Lou Beale] died not long ago, and Wendy Richards. Those days were lovely, but I'm not quite the last of the old guard; there's Adam Woodyatt [who plays Ian Beale] who's been there since day one. Now you only get to know the people you have scenes with. It's a bit strange if I've been out of it for two months – I come back in and I don't know some of the people who are there!

When I looked at my face from my first 'EastEnders' press photograph, I thought I looked ancient But I'd like to look like that now… Though I can't understand people using Botox; they could have dreadful results and look worse! Now when I look in the mirror I see a very thin person. I need to eat more, as I've lost nearly a stone while writing my new book.

My views are politically incorrect Such as why we allow children to say what they think. It's not how to bring up children. And now people give their children choices, like what they want to eat. Kids can't deal with choices.

Young people are so horrible to old people now I think it's due to over-familiarity. These days everyone calls each other by their Christian names and a lack of respect comes in. As a child, I wouldn't have dreamt of calling my friend's mother anything but Mrs Russell.

People say smoking is my worst habit But I've been smoking for 70 years , so I'm not interested in what people say. I don't inhale anyway. My character Dot and I smoke the same; left hand always curved.

June Brown, 86, is a classically trained actress best known for her long-running role as chain-smoking gossip Dot Cotton in 'EastEnders'. Her autobiography, 'Before The Year Dot', is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £20