Former EastEnders characters including George ‘Lofty’ Holloway, Lauren Branning and Mary ‘The Punk’ Smith are among those set to return to Albert Square for the funeral of Dot Cotton later this year.
The returning cast members are currently filming scenes which will bring viewers up to date with their lives as they share their cherished memories of EastEnders icon Dot Branning – best known as Dot Cotton, the character’s previous married name.
Old friends of the BBC One soap opera returning for the emotional episode include Colin Russell, played by Lord Michael Cashman, Barry Clark portrayed by Gary Hailes, George ‘Lofty’ Holloway played by Tom Watt, Mary ‘The Punk’ Smith played by Linda Davidson and Disa O’Brien portrayed by Jan Graveson.
The familiar faces from throughout the soap’s 37-year history will join Dot’s step-granddaughter Lauren Branning, played by Jacqueline Jossa, to say goodbye.
For the returning actors, the special episode is also a chance to honour their late co-star June Brown, who died in April at the age of 95.
Brown first set foot in Walford’s Albert Square in 1985 in the soap’s 40th episode in a role that would come to define her, taking a break between 1993 and 1997, before eventually departing for good in 2020.
Speaking about the importance of bringing back Dot’s loved ones for her final farewell, EastEnders 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.”
Lord Michael last returned as Colin in 2016 for a storyline that challenged Dot’s beliefs about same-sex marriage.
Ahead of returning once again, Lord Michael 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.”
Colin will appear alongside ex-love Barry for the first time since 1989, giving viewers the opportunity to see where Colin and Barry now fit into each other’s lives, years after their break-up.
Hailes, who plays Barry, said: “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.”
After departing the soap in 2018 to start a new life in New Zealand with son Louie, Dot’s step-granddaughter Lauren Branning is also set to return to the square for the funeral.
Ahead of her character’s return, Jossa 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.”
She added: “June is a legend and I miss her very much.”
Upon her return, Mary ‘The Punk’ Smith will remember the guidance she received from Dot, while Disa O’Brien will also remember the support Dot gave her and the help she received from her to trap her abuser and stepfather Ken.
Viewers will also see the return of Lofty, who last made an appearance on the show in 2019 when he was revealed to be a successful businessman with a chain of pubs.
Dot’s funeral will air this winter on BBC One.