Doctor Who’s June Hudson: ‘I was nearly killed by the Mummy on the Orient-Express’

How the costume designer missed out on an acting role in the series

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I caught up with an old friend, June Hudson, this weekend at her apartment in central London, and she told me how she just missed out on the chance to return to Doctor Who this year.

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As many sci-fi fans will know, June was a highly regarded costume designer at the BBC, working on dozens of high-class dramas between 1966 and 1992, including Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who. I photographed her (above) with her friend Tom Baker at last year’s 50th anniversary Doctor Who Celebration. (We first met in 1987 when I interviewed her for Doctor Who Magazine.) 

In the late 70s and early 80s, she redesigned Baker’s fourth Doctor costume, clothed his companion co-stars Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward (the two Romanas) and Janet Fielding (Tegan). On Blake’s 7 she created outlandish costumes worn by Jacqueline Pearce as supervillain Servalan and Paul Darrow’s Avon.

Although June left the BBC in 1992, she has never retired – she has far too much zest for life. She still designs, and lectures on costume design in America. “I’m a professor at the University of Redlands in California.” She chuckles at the notion. “I’m Professor June Hudson.”

But what many won’t know is that, long ago, she trained at London drama school Lamda and in recent times has taken up acting again.

“Did you see the Mummy episode?” she asks me, out of the blue, over a cup of coffee and French pastry. “I auditioned for the role of the old girl who is murdered at the beginning.” I expect my eyes bugged out. 

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While no one denies it was lovely to see Janet Henfrey (an old friend of Doctor Who, her CV stretches back to early Dennis Potter plays) playing crabby dowager Mrs Pitt, it would have been amazing to clock June Hudson sitting on the Orient-Express.

For many months, June was very careful to keep secret her potential involvement in the series – not telling even her closest friends. But now that the episode has aired, she feels she can speak about her audition. 

June believes she was the first person the director auditioned. Did they know your association with Doctor Who? “No they didn’t. I was Laura June Hudson.” So you were incognito? “I suppose so, in a way,” she laughs. As Laura June Hudson, she has a regular role in Ricky Gervais’s Channel 4 sitcom, Derek.   

She’ll never know whether she’d have been offered the part, because sadly the dates clashed. “My agent phoned the BBC and said I had to come off the episode because it was being shot on 7 May. I was leaving for America on 30 April to go the University of Redlands, for which I’d signed a contract. Otherwise, who knows, I might have been in it. I’d learnt several pages of script.”

June enjoyed watching the Mummy episode last weekend. “But when I saw it, I thought, ‘Is that all that’s left of that lovely part?’” She explains that the original script had “a lovely set-up scene” with Mrs Pitt and her daughter Maisie. “Now there’s just the scene with the Mummy coming to kill her.” June re-enacts the scene and treats me to a fabulous death rattle.

Janet Henfrey was superb, but I’ve had June Hudson’s version in the privacy of her sitting room. “I would so love to act in Doctor Who,” beams June – but she does now have a new story for her lectures and the sci-fi convention circuit.

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Read more about June and see her designs at JuneHudson.com.

Expect to hear to hear more from June at RadioTimes.com in the coming months as she helps us mark 30 years of EastEnders. June was the soap’s founding costume designer and has many fabulous anecdotes to share. 

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Below: June Hudson with Doctor Who stars Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in 1979. (© Radio Times Archive)

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