BBC soap EastEnders has confirmed which characters will be returning briefly to say their final goodbyes to Dot Branning (played by June Brown).
Dot actress, June, sadly died in April 2022 aged 95, leaving many fans of her and the soap wondering how EastEnders would pay tribute to her.
It's now been confirmed that six classic characters will return for her funeral, and it will be a chance to honour the memory of beloved Dot.
Colin Russell (Lord Michael Cashman CBE), Barry Clark (Gary Hailes), George 'Lofty' Holloway (Tom Watt), Mary 'The Punk' Smith (Linda Davidson), Disa O'Brien (Jan Graveson) and Lauren Branning (Jacqueline Jossa) will all make their way back for Dot's funeral.
The cast are currently filming scenes to bring viewers bang up to date with their lives and fondly remember Dot.
Speaking about the news, Executive Producer Chris Clenshaw said: "It’s an honour to invite so many of Walford’s beloved characters back to pay tribute to Dot. Over the years, Dot profoundly impacted the lives of many young people struggling with life’s biggest challenges. Her warmth, heart and compassion changed lives – so we wanted to reunite some of the people she helped the most.
"I'm thrilled these talented and generous actors wanted to share this special experience with us so we can give Dot a fitting send-off."
Read on for more information about who's returning and a little refresher 0n what their characters are best known for.
Who is returning to EastEnders for Dot Branning's funeral?
George 'Lofty' Holloway (Tom Watt)
Lofty was best known for his relationship with Michelle Fowler when they were just young. She fell pregnant and the pair married in 1986. However, their relationship ended when he discovered she'd had an abortion and soon after that, he left Walford.
Tom reprised his role in 2019 and it was revealed he owned 15 pubs and was a successful businessman! While he was back for a small guest stint, he joined other classic faces from EastEnders to celebrate the life of Dr Harold Legg at his funeral.
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Speaking about coming back, Tom said: "June was amazing as Dot. She completely inhabited the character: grew with her, suffered with her and faced life's troubles with her. As soon as Dot appeared on screen, you knew June had all that history lighting up every look and every line in every single scene she was a part of."
Discussing Lofty's reunion with Sharon, Colin and Mary, Watt added: "Yes, I believe some of them have been keeping in touch since Dr Legg’s funeral.
"For Lofty, Albert Square is a big part of his life, even though he left it. I think that reconnection is very important to him, and that’s why he makes an effort to be there, even though things do go a bit wrong…"
Mary 'The Punk' Smith (Linda Davidson)
Troubled teen Mary found herself in all sorts of pickles while in Albert Square, but always found a friend in beloved Dot.
She arrived on EastEnders in 1985, pregnant by one of her fellow band members, and initially found life very hard trying to bring up her daughter Annie.
Luckily, Dot was always on hand to support poor Mary and though she found herself getting preached to quite often, Mary loved Dot immensely.
Linda returned alongside Tom in 2019 for Dr Legg's funeral (and actually returned to acting just for this role) and shared touching scenes with Dot.
She said of her return this time: "I felt honoured to be asked to come back. It’s going to be an emotionally difficult few days, however, the script is wonderful and it’s a joyful tribute to an East End legend!
"We were close friends for 37 years so I have quite the memory bank to choose from! But professionally, the highlight of my career was when Dot asked Mary to kneel and pray with her – there wasn’t a dry eye amongst all the crew! June really tutored me on the art of being still and taking my time in the scene, and was such a generous caring actor. I loved her very much."
Recalling her relationship with June, Davidson added: "June always was very nurturing of young talent, particularly of me. We did a scene you might remember where Dot and Mary get down on their knees in Mary’s little bedsit, and they pray together.
"June had tutored me in that scene and said, ‘Just be still, darling, it’s the hardest thing for an actress to do, but if you can master being still, you’ll steal the scene’. Of course, we worked on it together, and we both did really, really well.
"When June and I came off set having filmed that scene, the crew were standing around crying, and they gave us a round of applause. So, I think that’s my favourite memory."
Colin Russell (Lord Michael Cashman CBE)
Colin is perhaps best known for being part of a revolutionary storyline for EastEnders, as he featured in soap world's first ever gay kiss, prompting controversy in the British press but opening the door for soaps to explore once taboo storylines.
Dot had a very important place in his life as he was disowned by his parents for being gay, and it was Dot who looked after him, initially challenging her religious beliefs.
Colin last returned to EastEnders in September 2016 when he married a man called Eddie with Dot and Sonia (Natalie Cassidy) in attendance. This time around, he will be reuniting with old pals, Sharon (Letitia Dean) and Kathy (Gillian Taylforth) for a catch-up and to reminisce about their memories of Dot.
Speaking about returning to EastEnders, Lord Cashman said: "When I was asked back I didn’t even hesitate because I couldn’t have imagined not being there for June, and I know Colin couldn’t have imagined not being there for Dot – they had that amazing, deep friendship that lasted during their years, and it was exactly the same with June and me.
"June was unique, and there are so many incredible stories I could tell, but amongst my favourite moments of Dot was her monologue to Jim – she was a character, and actress, that will last beyond the test of time."
On his memories of working with June himself, Lord Cashman later revealed: "I have so many, but one of my favourites was after she found out Colin and Barry were gay. The scene she did with Gary Hailes must go down as an iconic scene.
"Subsequently, Colin tried to talk to Dot, and every time he approached her in the Square, she put her hand over her mouth and ran away because she thought she was going to catch AIDS. I loved the way she suddenly started to listen to Colin and then told others the facts about AIDS and HIV.
"June and I used to go off together and visit people in the hospices who were then dying of AIDS-related illnesses, and she did a lot of work for AIDS and HIV charities, so that sticks in my head."
Barry Clark (Gary Hailes)
Colin will catch up with his former lover, Barry, when he returns to the Square. Though they came from quite different backgrounds, the pair got on well until their differences just became too big.
Following their split, Barry left briefly in 1988 to become a DJ on a cruise ship. However, he returned just a year later for a storyline involving Colin's exit.
Gary said of his return: "Being invited back to the show after almost 30 years away was exciting, scary, strange, but overall it was really nice! EastEnders has always been a big part of my life so to have the opportunity to come back – there were nerves – but that quickly turned into excitement, and warmth at the chance to honour Dot.
"June was an incredibly genuine person both on and off screen, she really cared and was attentive to people. That’s one thing I’ll never forget."
Looking back on the impact of Colin and Barry's relationship in the 1980s, Hailes later said: "I cannot tell you how many messages I’ve had since the news [of their return] was announced - I have been inundated! I wasn’t expecting it.
"I’ve enjoyed hearing all the speculation about Colin and Barry’s return and what it might involve. All I can say is that the episodes are so well-written, and there’s a real understanding of what went on for them before.
"I know they had a strong impact in the 80s. I periodically get letters from people telling me they are marrying their boyfriend, and they can do that because of what we did back then. Apparently, they used the scene where Dot realises that Barry and Colin share a bed in schools to educate people about gay relationships."
Disa O'Brien (Jan Graveson)
Disa first appeared on EastEnders in 1990 as a hardened and misguided homeless woman who would do anything to get money to survive.
As with other characters returning this year, Disa turned to Dot, who would help her when no one else would, offering to look after baby Jasmine.
Dot and Disa were wrapped up in a kidnapping storyline when Disa's abusive step-father stole Jasmine, and it was down to the police and Dot to trap him and save the youngster. Shortly after, Disa left Albert Square to raise her daughter in the North, where she was originally from.
Disa's return will stir up "difficult memories" for one Walford resident, according to the BBC.
Jan said of her return: "I am absolutely thrilled to be invited back to EastEnders to play Disa again and to honour the wonderful and unique character of Dot Cotton. I remember only too well of Dot and Disa’s long dramatic scenes together and how they gripped the nation.
"Her notes, her suggestions, taught me so much. I have not, as yet, felt anything close to that energy, conviction and rapport, and probably never will. Dot - and June - was an inspiration to me, a brilliant actress to work with and a beautiful heart who became a lifelong friend."
Recalling her past with the character Disa and working with June, Graveson later added: "I went into it in ‘89 for the two special episodes with Diane Butcher.
"After that, production called me again and said, ‘Would you like to come back nine months later, fully pregnant and delivering your baby on the doorstep of The Vic?’ I thought, ‘Why not?!’
"I had told June that they were bringing me back, and she said, ‘Oh fabulous, darling,’ and I said, ‘I’ve got to give birth on the doorstep of The Vic. How am I going to do it?’ And she went, ‘Oh, just make some noises, darling.’"
Lauren Branning (Jacqueline Jossa)
Lauren will be very familiar to fans of EastEnders in recent years. As part of the troubled Branning family, she was often tied up in whatever drama they got themselves into - usually as a result of her dad, Max.
She departed Albert Square in 2018 following the devastating death of her sister, Abi, but is returning to honour her step-grandmother.
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Speaking of her return to the soap, Jac said: "Coming back to EastEnders for Dot's funeral was a no-brainer, and it was a real honour to be invited back. I had a lot of fun but, of course, it was bittersweet. It was amazing to be back, but hard to be filming this storyline. I can tell the viewers now that Dot gets the beautiful send-off that she deserves.
"June was the light and joy of EastEnders. I had so much fun working with her, the incredible stories and how infectious and witty she was. June is a legend and I miss her very much."
Jossa later teased Lauren's return, adding: "She’s still the same old Lauren, but maybe grown up a little bit! I think she’ll be able to provide some updates about other members of the Branning family! Hopefully, Lauren coming home is something positive and light. Obviously, Lauren is upset to lose Grandma Dot, but it’s a bittersweet feeling to be back."
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