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EastEnder star June's grief for ancestor who had tough life for real

EastEnders star June Brown discovered tragic parallels with the life of an ancestor while researching her roots in the new series of Who Do You Think You Are?

The Suffolk-born soap actress (84) is Jewish through her mother, who, appropriately, was from the East End's Mile End Road.

Brown's great-great-great-great-grandmother Rachel lived in the Netherlands, where her family faced religious prejudice. She was left alone to raise four children when her husband Abraham and son Isaac went to London to look for work.

Brown, whose second daughter Chloe died 16 days after she was born prematurely, said: "I feel an affinity with her (Rachel), partly because I lost one child, my mother lost two children and Rachel lost all of hers in the end."

The actress, whose first husband, actor John Garley, committed suicide in 1957, and whose second husband, actor Robert Arnold, died in 2003, said: "She was widowed and I'm twice widowed."

Brown, Dot Branning in EastEnders, said: "What it must have been like for her at the very end when she had no children and no husband...I'm quite sure she gave up."

Of living in the Netherlands, Brown said: "They must have been always on edge. It must have been dreadful for her not to know what happened to her son but she couldn't get across the Channel and, of course, there weren't any telephones in those days.

"She would have lived in constant fear."