FESTIVAL OF CHICHESTER: June Whitfield joins festival treat

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June Whitfield, 90 years young and fresh from filming Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, is delighted to team up once again with her good friend Roger Redfarn for the Festival of Chichester.

Roger is deviser and director for Mad Dogs and Englishmen which the new Chichester Community Theatre group will be offering in St John’s Chapel, St John’s Street, Chichester on Sunday, June 26 at 7pm.

June will be special guest alongside and Rula Lenska with community readers David Bennett, Muriel Carnegie, Matthew Hughes-Short and Rosey Purchase and the Off Centre Choir in a celebration in words and music of our eccentricities, humour and passions.

“Roger and I go back a long time,” June says. “I think the first time was A Bedfull of Foreigners. I think it must have been the 70s or 80s. But we went to South Africa with it. We did it in the West End.”

Also appearing in it was June’s long-time comedy partner, the late Terry Scott. The two started their long television association in 1968, a partnership which included roles as husband and wife in Happy Ever After (1974-78) and Terry and June (1979-87).

“People thought we were married,” June laughs. “People would say to Terry ‘What is your relationship with June?’ and he would say ‘We get along like a house on fire. There is nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. I do nothing for her, and she does nothing for me!”

It was a show the critics loved to hate and the public loved to love, June recalls. “The critics really hated it. They thought it was too middle of the road, too middle class, too middle everything.”

It certainly inspires nostalgia now, for what June calls the “kind of gentle comedy that doesn’t go very far now. But actually if someone did try to try that kind of gentle comedy again, it would be very popular. But the problem is that the powers that be don’t seem to like making that kind of comedy any more. A lot of the comedy for young people these days is all violence and sex.”

Which isn’t to say that June hasn’t herself moved with the times in terms of comedy, as her long-standing success in Absolutely Fabulous amply shows. The new movie version premieres on July 1.

In the film, Edina and Patsy (Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley) are still oozing glitz and glamour, living the high life they are accustomed to; shopping, drinking and clubbing their way around London’s trendiest hot-spots. But when they are blamed for a major incident at a fashionable launch party, they become entangled in a media storm and find themselves relentlessly pursued by the paparazzi.

“We did the filming for it last November, but how can you possibly tell how it will transfer to the cinema?” June says. “Doing the TV show, you are there all the time. Doing the film, you are only there when you are doing your bits. But everyone seems to have been very pleased with it. I sincerely hope it is a great success. It deserves to be. The bits that I have seen are certainly very, very funny!”

June splits her time between Petworth and London, but confesses she doesn’t spend as much time in Petworth as she’d like, particularly now she doesn’t drive any more: “But I have always loved West Sussex. My husband was brought up in Midhurst. I have always known West Sussex. As a child, we used to go to Middleton. It was always very much part of our world. I have always thought West Sussex was absolutely gorgeous, and the people are lovely.”

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