On a sadder note: Comedy actress Dame June Whitfield passes away…as does spaceflight and fun aficionado David Greves, and former NASA astronomy expert Nancy Grace Roman

by | Dec 30, 2018 | On a Sadder Note, Seradata News

Regular readers of this column will note that in addition to celebrating the lives of luminaries of space, Seradata also marks the passing of those who have entertained us in the past.  One of these is now Dame June Whitfield who has died at the age of 93.  After starting her career during the 1940s on stage in the West End, June Whitfield made her name in radio in 1953 playing the dim fiancé Eth of the even dimmer Ron Glum character in the Frank Muir/Dennis Norden-written comedy Take It From Here. She soon moved on to movies, appearing in comedy films – some good including the very amusing Carry-On Nurse (1959) and Carry-On Abroad (1972) – and some not so good including Carry on Columbus (1992).

June Whitfield’s main work however was playing supporting roles on many television and radio comedy shows usually playing a foil to many famous comedians ranging from Benny Hill to Tony Hancock. Even her autobiography was called “…And June Whitfield” to indicate that she never usually had top billing. In fact, it was not until her BBC sitcom television partnership with Terry Scott playing a middle class couple in Happy Ever After and Terry and June (which ran with one following on from the other from the mid-1970s until the late 1980s) that she really became a star name.  Even those then “alternative” comedians who criticised their characters’ tame middle-class attitudes, and even tamer middle-of-the-road storylines (this was not “edgy” humour) now fondly look back at these “comfy” family-safe shows.

Sid James and June Whitfield with Joan Sims about to board the Wundatours bus for Carry on Abroad (1972). Courtesy: Peter Rogers Productions

Dame June Whitfield carried on performing well past retirement age, making famously funny appearances in the Jennifer Saunders’ television comedy series Absolutely Fabulous made during the 1990s as she played the dotty, but ultimately wiser, older mother.

Dame June worked on television and radio into her nineties – although she found that towards the end of her life that she could no longer take on roles that required a lot of movement.  In a recent final interview with David Hamilton on local radio, June Whitfield bemoaned changes in broadcast comedy, repeating a complaint she made after News Huddlines, a 26-year-old BBC comedy radio show she did with Roy Hudd, was cut in 2001. In the interview, Dame June criticised how modern comedians often used extremely crude and offensive language, and yet, at the same time, how modern political correctness often stifled much milder and gentler strands of traditional comedy. “You cannot make a joke about anybody,” she complained.

Nevertheless, at least June’s good comedic turns have been recorded for posterity to enjoy. June Whitfield received multiple honours during her career culminating in her Damehood last year, and has, since her death, received many tributes from her showbusiness colleagues. As such, we also give our salute to June Whitfield and our condolences to her family and friends.

In honour of June Whitfield, this writer presents his favourite bit of dialogue from Carry On Abroad (1972). The scene has Sid James as a holiday maker and June Whitfield, playing a prim and uptight fellow holiday maker, sitting down to dinner with their respective spouses.

Sid to June: “Would you like a glass of wine?”

June: “No thank you, I tried it once and didn’t like it!”

Sid, offering June a cigarette: “Smoke?”

June: “No thank you, I tried it once and didn’t like it.”

Sid: “Strange!?”

June: “Not really, my daughter’s the same!”

Sid (to his own laughter): “Your ONLY child I presume?” 🙂

One who would have appreciated that joke would have been David Greves, and Seradata is also sad to mark his premature passing after he died just before Christmas at the age of 73. Having been a spacecraft risk and procurement expert at the European Space Agency from 1979 until 2010, David later kept his hand in the space business by becoming, until recently, a technical and business development consultant supporting Nick Hughes and his legal team initially at BLG (Barlow Lyde and Gilbert), and then at HFW (Holman Fenwick Willan).

David was always kind and friendly to this writer, often expressing his support and enjoyment of the Seradata Space Intelligence column and newsletter – especially, its more humorous elements. We at Seradata give David our salute as a man of knowledge, fun and laughter, and we give our condolences to his family and friends.

Nick Hughes writes here in more detail about David’s career:

“David (Rex) Greves started his career in 1964 at Rolls Royce Aero Engines in Bristol as a Student Commercial Apprentice handling a number of assignments including in particular in the Procurement Department dealing with major subcontracts. In 1968 he joined BAC Space Systems Group as a Contracts Officer during which time he was responsible for contractual aspects of Intelsat 4 and another fifteen spacecraft as BAC were the major European subcontractor to Hughes Aircraft Company (later part of Boeing). He was also involved in the GEOS scientific satellite programme for ESRO (later to become part of ESA) negotiating the prime contract and negotiating all the major subcontracts. He became progressively Contracts Manager for the Space Systems Group (SSG) and then in 1977 for the Electronic and SSG.

However, the major part of David’s career, from January 1979 until retirement in February 2010, was spent at ESA based at ESTEC at Noordwijk in the Netherlands . He joined as Head of the Telecommunications Contracts Section managing the ECS and MAREC contracts, the Olympus programme and starting the Artemis programme. He was involved in many studies and working groups. In 1991 he was appointed Head of the Cost Analysis Division thereby responsible for Industrial Cost Auditing and Cost Engineering. In 2004 David was appointed Head of the Rules, Regulations and Corporate Risk and Insurance Division and was thereby responsible for the management of ESA’s internal regulatory system, for its privileges and immunities and corporate risk and insurance arrangements. In 2007, following a general re organisation, David focussed on corporate risk and special assignments that saw him work on many risk registers and chair working groups on ESA strategy and cost management.”

Following retirement from ESA, in late 2010 David joined the then Barlow Lyde & Gilbert as a Consultant on space matters to Nick Hughes and continued in that role with the practice transferring in October 2011 to HFW . David consulted widely on space insurance , contract risk management and regulatory matters.”

Late News:  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has paid tribute to Dr Nancy Grace Roman, the “Mother of Hubble,” who passed away on Christmas Day. Dr. Roman was the first woman to hold an executive position at NASA and who was involved in the promotion of and early design stages of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).


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