Friday 23 February 2018

Bondings: Fruity start turns to love for June Rodgers

Comic June Rodgers first met husband Peter Lance after hitting him with a banana. This easy-going couple talk of their happiness together.

June Rodgers with her husband Peter Lane in their garden.
Photo: Tony Gavin
June Rodgers with her husband Peter Lane in their garden. Photo: Tony Gavin
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

The first encounter comedian June Rodgers had with her husband Peter Lane was when she hit him with a banana. Not intentionally, of course, but she was doing a sketch in which she played a street trader, and lobbed a banana out into the audience, which landed on Peter. He had come to the show with her cousin Nikki and aunt Joy, and June suspects that there might have been a bit of matchmaking going on, as she was subsequently invited to join Nikki and Peter's gang on a couple of nights out. They hit it off and started dating, and Peter proposed while they were on holidays in Spain. They were married when June was 38 and Peter was 37.

"Peter is very quiet and shy, and I'd be shyer offstage than I am on it," she says. "He is very kind and easy-going and caring and a real gentleman, and he makes a mean old broccoli bake. We're two homebirds and we love our two dogs, Beauty and Poppy, and our garden, and while we have our disagreements, we very seldom argue. We have a quiet life and that's what I like, because when you're in the showbiz end of things, it's nice to come home to normality. Mind you, I probably drive him mad because things can be manic at times and I'm always on the phone."

June and Peter don't have children, which they say is a regret, although they are very close to her nieces, Karen, Gillian and Megan, and Karen's children, Chloe and Will.

"By the time I met Peter, I thought I was too old to have a family," says June. "My career was taking off and we didn't really think about it until I was in my 40s. I regret it, especially as Peter would have made a wonderful father, but it wasn't meant to be, and we don't dwell on it," she said.

June, 54, grew up in Tallaght Village, with her older sister Linda. Their younger brother, Richard, who had Down Syndrome, sadly passed away when he was only a few days old.

"Losing Richard was a huge blow to my parents, Kathleen and Alex," says June. "My mother could never listen to that song, Scorn Not His Simplicity, after that."

While known for her talent for comedy, June also has a fantastic singing voice. She attended Saint Patrick's Cathedral Choir School, and Bono was in her class for a while. If things had worked out differently, Mr Hewson might just have been the man doing this interview with her, we joke.

After school, June worked in the London Tara Hotel for four years. She returned at 21, and was devastated when her mother Kathleen died unexpectedly six months later, aged only 56, and when she lost her dad Alex, then aged 63, to a heart attack five years later.

At the time of her parents' deaths, June was working in Japanese technology company Fujitsu Ireland, where she became involved in the John Player Tops of The Town competition.

She hooked up with writers Martin Higgins and the late Tom Roche, and they began developing great comedy characters like the dreaded Jacinta O'Brien, the spoilt Nellie Oleson-type child. Martin is still June's writer today, 20 years later.

Once Gay Byrne saw her performing at a competition at Clontarf Castle, he invited her on to The Late Late Show, and the phone started hopping. The June Rodgers Show was born.

June has now become one of the most popular and funny character actors in Ireland, and has just reprised her role of Fat Annie from Agnes Browne in Brendan O'Carroll's new film, D'Movie.

Apart from panto, her acting work includes The Clinic, On The Nose with Robbie Coltrane, and One Step Back, starring Patrick Bergin and Brendan O'Carroll. She has also made several DVDs, including the most recent one, The Name is Bond... Oliver Bond.

And while she is known for her spectacular annual Christmas shows, June will, for the first time ever, take her show out on the road in a few weeks, including performances at Bord Gais Energy Theatre and the Cork Opera House. With an accompanying cast of eight singers and dancers, the shows are always great fun, packed full of singing, dancing, and hugely entertaining characters and brilliant costumes.

Everyone from Cher to Lady Gaga and Shirley Bassey has received the June treatment, and while it's always funny and innuendo abounds, her comedy is never smutty, and is great family entertainment.

She gets unwavering support from Peter, who grew up in Monkstown, as the eldest of Peter and Marjorie Lane's two children. June says she was blessed with her lovely in-laws, and thinks the world of Peter senior, a retired surgeon, and the late Marjorie, who passed away last year and formerly worked as a hospital matron.

Their son Peter didn't fancy the medical route, and works as a driver with Oxigen waste management, although he is currently recovering from an accident in 2008 where he fell and damaged his leg, which resulted in nerve damage. He has had several operations, and his recovery hasn't been easy. Having played rugby in his younger days, Peter remains a big fan, and follows Munster as June's niece Gillian is married to retired winger, Ian Dowling. He is also passionate about classic cars, and is the proud owner of a Triumph Dolomite.

"June is very funny, kind and generous and has done an awful lot for me," he says. "We've supported each other through thick and thin, and are both quite easy-going and content with what we have."

Pat Egan presents June Rodgers in The Merry Month of June Tour in the Theatre Royal, Waterford, on June 6; Glor, Ennis, June 7; Cork Opera House, June 8; Galway Town Hall, June 12; Mullingar Arts Centre, June 13; Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin, June 14; Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick, June 15

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