In 1968, June Whitfield and Terry Scott began their long television partnership, which peaked with roles as husband and wife in Happy Ever After (1974–78) and Terry and June (1979–87). Since 1992, Whitfield has appeared in Jennifer Saunders's sitcom Absolutely Fabulous playing Edina Monsoon's mother. In recent years she has played a regular character in Last of the Summer Wine as well as a recurring character in The Green Green Grass. She also played Agatha Christie's Miss Marple on BBC Radio 4 between 1993 and 2001.
Whitfield was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1985 Birthday Honours, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1998 Birthday Honours, and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to drama and entertainment.
June Rosemary Whitfield was born in Streatham, London, in 1925. Her father was the managing director of a company called Dictograph Telephones that had been started by his father in Yorkshire and both of her parents were keen amateur actors. She made her first stage appearance aged three after her mother, Bertha, enrolled her at Robinson's Dance Studio. Whitfield attended Streatham Hill High School, before being evacuated in World War II to Bognor Regis, where she attended St Michael's School, and to Penzance in Cornwall. She then moved with her parents to Huddersfield, where she learnt shorthand and typing. She then continued to study secretarial skills at Pitman's College, Brixton Hill. In 1944, Whitfield graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with a diploma. In 1955, she married Timothy John Aitchison, who was working as a surveyor. They had a daughter, Suzy (born 4 June 1960), who became an actress.
Whitfield began her career in radio in the 1940s with Wilfred Pickles and worked on stage in the West End and the regions. In 1951, she had her first credited television role in The Passing Show, and she joined the London cast of South Pacific.
Her big break came in 1953 when she replaced the emigrating Joy Nichols on the successful Muir and Norden radio comedy Take It From Here, co-starring Jimmy Edwards and Dick Bentley. In the portion of the show known as "The Glums" she played Eth, fiancee of the dim Ron Glum (played by Bentley). During the next 15 years Whitfield had many supporting roles on television, including in Dixon of Dock Green, Arthur's Treasured Volumes, The Arthur Askey Show, Faces of Jim, The Benny Hill Show, Steptoe and Son and Frankie Howerd. She played the nurse in the opening scene of "The Blood Donor" (Hancock, 1961).
In 1959, she appeared in Carry On Nurse, the first of her four appearances in the Carry On film series.
Whitfield gained her first starring role, in the sitcom Beggar My Neighbour (1966), playing Rose Garvey. The year after Beggar My Neighbour finished in 1968, Whitfield appeared on Scott On... for six years until 1974. This started a working relationship with Terry Scott that lasted until 1987. During Scott On. .. she had also appeared in The Best Things In Life, The Goodies, The Dick Emery Show, Bless This House and The Pallisers. She appeared in the spin-off film of Bless This House (1972), with Terry Scott as her husband, and Carry On Abroad (also 1972), followed by an appearance in Carry On Girls (1973).
Whitfield starred in a Comedy Playhouse sitcom pilot called Happy Ever After (1974) again alongside Scott. Later that year a first series of this was screened, and it continued for five series until 1978. The following year, they appeared together in the first series of Terry and June. Happy Ever After and Terry and June were very similar, with only a change of surname, from Fletcher to Medford, and a new house and family. Both sitcoms had Scott and Whitfield as a suburban middle-class married couple. Terry and June ran for 65 episodes until 1987. Five years later in 1992, Julian Clary created Terry and Julian, a Channel 4 sitcom which spoofed the title of Terry and June, and Whitfield made an appearance in one episode. During the eight-year run of Terry and June, Whitfield also appeared in It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Minder.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Whitfield also appeared in a series of television advertisements, created for Birds Eye by advertising art director Vernon Howe, featuring the concluding voice-over line: ".. it can make a dishonest woman of you!"
In 1971 Whitfield and Frankie Howerd recorded a comedy version of the song "Je t'aime", originally made famous by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, in which she featured as "Mavis".
She was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in April 1976 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at her home in Wimbledon, and in March 1995, when Michael Aspel surprised her at the BBC Television Centre.
During the 1980s, Whitfield returned to radio comedy. From 1984, she could be heard with Roy Hudd on the satire programme The News Huddlines, which finished in 2001. On it she often used impersonations and was known for her impression of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. During the 1980s and 1990s, Whitfield made several stage appearances, including in a revival of An Ideal Husband and the pantomime Babes in the Wood. In 1985 she sang a duet with Ian Charleson of the Irving Berlin song "You're Just in Love" in A Royal Night of One Hundred Stars. In 1982 she was made a Freeman of the City of London and was made an OBE in 1985.
Having appeared in an episode of French and Saunders in 1988, from 1992 Whitfield played Mother/Gran in Jennifer Saunders' sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. In 2000, she featured with the rest of the Absolutely Fabulous cast in the pilot Mirrorball. From 1993 to 2001, she played Miss Marple in 12 radio adaptations of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple books. Since 1990, she has appeared in films such as Carry On Columbus (1992), Jude (1996) and Faeries (1999), as the voice of Mrs. Combs. In 1998 Whitfield played the housekeeper in the London-set episode of Friends "The One with Ross's Wedding, Part Two" and voiced a character in an episode of the animated comedy series Rex the Runt.
In 1994, June Whitfield was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the British Comedy Awards, and, in 1998, she was promoted to CBE. Her autobiography And June Whitfield appeared in 2000, and was written with the help of Christopher Douglas. Whitfield's husband Tim Aitchison died in 2001. Since 2000, Whitfield has appeared in The Royal, Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie's Marple, New Tricks and Last of the Summer Wine, which she joined in 2005. Whitfield had an episode of The South Bank Show devoted to her on 29 July 2007 and, in the same year, appeared in the English National Opera's production of On the Town in London's West End. In November 2007 she appeared in the Only Fools and Horses spin-off The Green Green Grass as the mother of Marlene. In 2008 she appeared in an episode of ITV medical drama, Harley Street. In 2009, she made a guest appearance in Kingdom and published an updated autobiography, At a Glance ... An Absolutely Fabulous Life, a collection of scrapbook pictures from her life and career.
Whitfield appeared in the Doctor Who two-part episode, "The End of Time", that aired over the Christmas/New Year period of 2009–10. On 29 December 2009, she was the subject of an entire evening's tribute programming on BBC Two.
In 2010, Whitfield was signed for a short appearance on ITV soap opera Coronation Street. Her character, May, appeared at the funeral of Blanche Hunt and explained to Blanche's daughter, Deirdre, how her mother had died. In 2011 she played Margaret Rutherford in the BBC Radio 4 play A Monstrous Vitality, Andy Merriman's radio adaptation of his biography of Rutherford, A Dreadnought with Good Manners. She reprised her role of Mother/Gran in two episodes of Absolutely Fabulous at Christmas/New Year 2011-12 and for an Olympic special on 23 July 2012. In 2013, Whitfield became the inaugural recipient of the Aardman Slapstick Comedy Legend Award, a recognition of her lifetime's contribution to the world of comedy. In 2014, she made a second appearance in Midsomer Murders, and appeared in Jonathan Creek and Boomers. In 2015, she played Granny Wallon in a BBC One adaptation of Laurie Lee's classic novel Cider with Rosie.
In May 2015, Whitfield made a guest appearance in the BBC soap EastEnders as a nun called Sister Ruth and returned to the show in January 2016 to complete a storyline. In October 2015 it was confirmed that she would reprise her role of Mother/Gran in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie which was released in July 2016. Whitfield also made a guest appearance as God in the Sky 1 series You, Me and the Apocalypse, which was broadcast in November 2015. Whitfield was appointed DBE in the 2017 Birthday Honours.
The following is a list of 12 BBC Radio 4 adaptations of Miss Marple Novels by Agatha Christie in which Whitfield plays Marple.