Born: 25 August, 1939, in London. Died: 12 September, 2014, in Hertfordshire, aged 75
Actor John Bardon was known to millions as EastEnders’ Jim Branning – the genial husband of Dot Cotton, played by June Brown. Bardon’s distinctive lived-in face and cockney voice was seen in a host of television dramas – from Rumpole of the Bailey to Only Fools and Horses and an early edition of Dad’s Army.
But it was EastEnders that brought him national stardom. He joined the soap in 1996 and left it in 2011 because of his poor health – he had suffered a stroke in 2007. Jim Branning was a regular in the soap and did casual work in the Queen Vic and was often to be found propping up the bar. He was a keen gambler and, on screen, fell in love with one of the soap’s longest serving characters, Dot Cotton.
In one of the drama’s most joyous scenes, his character proposed to Dot on the London Eye. He admitted, “I love ya”, and she replied, “I don’t think you are half bad either”. With Westminster beneath them, he went down on one knee and proposed. Cue the famous East- Enders theme music.
John Bardon (born John Michael Jones) worked in several jobs after leaving school – including being a window dresser at Selfridges – before, in his thirties, joining Exeter Repertory. He soon established himself as a stage and television actor of note, specialising in villains and ne’er-do-wells: Rumpole described his character in that series as a member of the “clan Timson, a family of South London villains”.
Other early television included The Sweeney, Miss Marple, Are You Being Served? and Birds of a Feather. In 2006, Bardon joined the country singer Jocelyn Brown in the BBC’s pro-celebrity singing contest Just The Two Of Us. They were placed fourth.
One of Bardon’s successes on stage was his one-man show based on the life of Max Miller: Here’s A Funny Thing. It visited the Edinburgh Fringe in the Seventies. Resplendent in jazzy suit and white stetson, Bardon captured the bawdy humour of the cockney comedian. The show transferred to London’s West End and was seen on Channel 4.
Bardon had appeared in a cameo role in Dad’s Army in 1975 and when the show transferred to the stage, he assumed the character of loveable spiv Private Walker. The production toured Scotland in the Eighties.
In 1988, Bardon received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. He played a gangster in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Kiss Me, Kate. The show also starred Nicola McAuliffe and Paul Jones.
But it was EastEnders that endeared him to millions. His chirpy character was a loveable cockney of much good humour and common sense.
Jim and Dot married in 2002 with much celebrations in Albert Square, but after Bardon’s stroke it was written into the script that the on-screen character was ill and in a nursing home. His last appearance in the soap was in 2011. As the ambulance drove off round the Square, Dot said with tears in her eyes: “I’ll still be here, Jim.”
In 2012, there followed a poignant film made by Brown of a clearly sick Bardon in a nursing home. The documentary, Respect Your Elders, looked at the treatment of the elderly and the visit by Brown to Bardon was an exceptionally emotional scene in the programme. They held hands and were clearly much moved by the occasion.
Away from the studio, Bardon was far from the villain he so often portrayed. He was a keen artist and found much pleasure in embroidery. In 2002, he married Enda Gates. She and her son survive him.