Jack Barnes/Kieron McCarronBBC
EastEnders has taken fans behind the scenes of one of their most moving episodes, as old cast members return to pay tribute to Dot Branning at her funeral.
Soap legend June Brown, who played Dot for over three decades on the show and appeared in 2,884 episodes, passed away in April aged 95.
The video, shared to the BBC soap’s social media, sees the cast and crew shooting Dot’s coffin in a procession around the square as EastEnders stars such as Natalie Cassidy, Jacqueline Jossa and Shona McGarty open up about their former co-star.
Cassidy, who plays Sonia Fowler, leads the eulogy as Dot’s on-screen granddaughter.
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Speaking about her old friend and co-star, Cassidy told the audience: “Here we are today and we are shooting Dot’s funeral today. It’s a very, very important episode, which I think you’re all going to love.”
Despite it being a tough episode to film, Cassidy added that the cast had tried to find reasons to laugh too, as Brown had a cheeky sense of humour.
“It’s a sad day for everybody,” she continued. “We have had some laughs in between as June would have wanted us to have. But for me, as a huge family here we are saying goodbye to Dot the character, but in a way we’re saying goodbye to June also.”
I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! winner Jossa reprises her role as Lauren Branning to pay her respects to her on-screen step-grandmother.
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Jossa said about returning to the show after her departure in 2018: “It’s like bittersweet, it’s lovely to be back and see all the friendly faces but it’s a hard, hard scene to film.”
Meanwhile, McGarty added that filming this one-off episode has been a chance for the cast to say their final goodbyes to June, as they didn’t get to in real life.
She said: “It’s been quite emotional because obviously as a cast we never really got to say goodbye.”
McGarty also revealed the small way she was personally remembering her friend, by wearing her favourite perfume.
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“I used to ask June all the time what perfume she wore, so I bought it and I’m wearing it today in her memory,” she told viewers.
Lord Michael Cashman added: “June Brown was the most extraordinary character and the most exceptional actress that I’ve ever known.”
Fans of the soap were also given a sneak peek at footage from the episode, such as all the old and current residents of Albert Square paying respects as the hearse passes through, as well as the funeral service at the church.
Cassidy explained: “So after filming the first scene where Dot is in the coffin and we have the lovely procession in the square, we’re now on location in Hendon.”
She continued: “We’re here for three days to film the church side of things and the grave side of things. I just can’t wait to see it as a whole episode. I think it will be so, so special. I really hope you enjoy the episode. It’s for such a special woman on and off screen.”
The tease of on-screen footage also saw Jean Slater and her daughter Stacey offering Sonia advice to put in her speech, which she struggles to write even on the day of the funeral.
“You could put that in your speech,” Jean tells Sonia ahead of the service, as Stacey replies: “I think Sonia knows what she’s going to say, mum.”
However, as Sonia looks nervously between them, it seems clear that she needs all the help she can get with finding the words to say goodbye to this cherished member of her family and the show.
EastEnders airs on Mondays – Thursdays at 7.30pm on BBC One. The show also streams on BBC iPlayer.
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