June Whitfield was a fixture of British comedy for decades, appearing in thousands of radio and television programs after World War II, though the most famous role was likely her part as the sarcastic and biting grandmother on the cult favorite, Absolutely Fabulous.
Whitfield has died at the age of 93, leading to an outpouring of condolences and praise for her work that influenced a generation of actors and comedians. As the BBC reported, Whitfield gained a reputation for playing the “female stooge” to some of Britain’s most famous entertainers. But she moved beyond being a comedic sidekick to become a star in her own right, the report noted, and by the time of her death had more than 1,300 total appearances on radio and television.
Details of Whitfield’s death were not immediately available, though reports noted that she had been living in a care home since December, 2017.
Born in 1925, Whifield broke into the entertainment business when she was just 19, landing an acting gig that would lead to more roles on stage, radio, and eventually in television.
As Vulture noted, Dame June Whitfield ended up landing a series of iconic roles in British comedies — and one American one as well.
“Whitfield wove her way into many of the English-speaking world’s comedy institutions. She played Miss Marple on BBC 4 for nine years. She was a part of the Carry On stable of players. She led the BBC sitcom Terry and June for eight years. And she briefly cameoed in the iconic London episodes of Friends.”
But her most notable role was likely playing the sarcastic and scheming mother of Absolutely Fabulous main character Edina Monsoon, played by star and show writer Jennifer Saunders. Her stint on the show came long after her peak as an icon of British stage and screen, introducing her to a new generation of fans starting with the show’s 1992 debut.
As the BBC noted in Whitfield’s obituary, her portrayal of Edina’s mother (known simply as Mother in the series), was so sharp, the show’s writers made a major change to feature her. Whitfield’s character was originally only slated to appear in one episode, but they decided to make her a permanent fixture of the show and Mother became a fan-favorite character.
“As Joanna Lumley says, Ab Fab made us born-again actresses,” Whitfield would say of the role.
Actress Dame June Whitfield, known for her roles in sitcoms Terry and June and Absolutely Fabulous, has died aged 93 https://t.co/pU2db41Sro— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) December 29, 2018
Ab Fab's best one-liner. RIP June Whitfield pic.twitter.com/d4UTXZbduJ— Dr Paul Coxon (@paulcoxon) December 29, 2018
The success of Absolutely Fabulous led to a number of other roles for June Whitfield, including the appearance in the Friends episodes set in London.