Dot was born in Walford, and was evacuated to Wales as a child during the Second World War. Her guardians, Gwen and Will, wished to adopt her, but Dot returned to Walford after Will's death and spent the remainder of her childhood helping her neglectful mother care for her younger half-siblings: Gerry, Tim and Rose.
Aged 18, Dot married Charlie Cotton. The following year, he forced her to have an abortion; threatening to leave her if she did not, but left anyway. While Dot was giving birth to their son, Nick, Charlie was having an affair with her sister, Rose, in Liverpool. She raised Nick alone, with Charlie making unannounced returns and departures sporadically, and although Dot doted on Nick, she was not an affectionate mother.
Dot moved to Albert Square and worked with Pauline Fowler at the Walford launderette. She has a difficult life with a criminal husband, Charlie, and their son Nick. Charlie comes and goes, always treating Dot badly and stealing from her, until he dies in a lorry accident. Nick is also a criminal; he is involved in drugs, robberies and murder, and tries to cheat Dot out of her money. He attempts to poison her to inherit her bingo winnings, but is unsuccessful. Despite Nick's deeds, Dot believes he can be redeemed. Dot also associates herself as Walford's Good Samaritan, often taking in residents when they are homeless. Amongst these include Colin Russell and Donna Ludlow, who becomes addicted to drugs. Dot believes that she can help Donna change for the better, but comes home one day to find Donna dead in her lounge. It is concluded that she died after choking on her own vomit, and Dot is devastated.
However, Dot causes trouble for certain residents too, although not intentionally. She is responsible for the break-up of Saeed Jeffery's marriage to Naima Jeffery. Due to the lack of lust in his marriage to Naima, Saeed begins visiting sex workers. After continual pressure, Naima relents and finally consummates her marriage to Saeed, improving things between the couple (their marriage was arranged to begin with, much to their disliking), but their marital bliss is short-lived. Naima receives an anonymous letter from Dot, who has discovered Saeed's sordid exploits. Dot feels it is her Christian duty to inform Saeed's wife, and when Naima confronts Saeed, he does not deny it so she leaves him.
In 1989, Nick tells Dot during an off-screen prison visit that he is married to a woman called Hazel, and that the couple have young daughter; Nick had avoided telling her due to their strained relationship. Hazel visits Dot with the baby, Dorothy Nicola, in May of the same year, revealing that Nick got 240 hours of community service) instead of a prison sentence.
In 1993, Nick's girlfriend Zoe Newton arrives in Walford and introduces Dot to their nine-year-old son, Ashley Cotton (Rossi Higgins). Dot becomes close to Ashley and eventually Zoe asks her to move to Gravesend with them. Dot then leaves Albert Square.
Dot returns nearly four years later when Nigel Bates tracks her down. She reveals that Nick has been arrested for drugs possession and Zoe and Ashley have moved away. After being held hostage by a convict friend of Nick, she returns to the square and is shocked when Nick returns unexpectedly. He tries to steal her money again by claiming he has AIDS and needs money to pay for illegally imported medication. Dot believes him but later discovers it is a lie and he is on the run from the police. She contacts the police, and he is arrested a week after his return.
Dot moves in with fellow senior citizen Lilly Mattock and is arrested for the illegal use of cannabis, which she confuses for herbal tea. When Lilly leaves after she is mugged, Dot moves in with Pauline. Her oldest friend Ethel also comes to stay with the Fowlers for a time, having become terminally ill. Ethel begs Dot to help her end her life. Torn between her Christian beliefs against euthanasia and her best friend's wishes, she helps Ethel to die, but later feels she should be jailed for murder. When the police do not believe her story, Dot demands retribution in another form and she ends up in court for shoplifting. She initially avoids a prison sentence but is imprisoned for 14 days for contempt of court following an outburst in the courtroom.
When Nick and Ashley (now Frankie Fitzgerald) reappear in Walford, Dot is pleased to have her family around and moves out of the Fowler household to live with them. However, Nick's feud with Pauline's son, Mark Fowler (Todd Carty), causes Ashley's death after Nick cuts the brakes on Mark's motorbike and Ashley steals it and crashes. Dot disowns Nick after Ashley's funeral, having overheard the truth about Ashley's death during an earlier argument between Nick and Mark. She starts a relationship with neighbour Jim Branning (John Bardon), but when he proposes, she is overwhelmed and leaves Walford. Jim perseveres and when they go on the London Eye one Christmas Eve, he proposes again and she accepts. They decide that they will have a platonic marital relationship. Dot is diagnosed with kidney cancer and decides not to tell anyone except her friend Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman). She initially refuses treatment and plans to die quietly, but is eventually persuaded to undergo chemotherapy and makes a full recovery. When Dot finds an abandoned baby, Tomas, in a church, she takes him home, leaving her contact details at the church and subsequently Tomas' mother Anya (Olga Fedori) arrives in Walford, revealing she is an illegal immigrant. Jim anonymously reports Anya and when she is deported, Dot hides Tomas from the authorities, vowing to take care of him. Dot and Jim struggle to look after the baby and, after talking to the local vicar and her old friend Dr. Harold Legg (Leonard Fenton), Dot decides to hand him over to Social Services. Jim suffers a stroke, leaving him seriously ill. Jim is placed in a nursing home, but Dot struggles with this decision and tries at a later date to care for Jim at home. However, she finds being a full-time carer exhausting and lonely. Eventually, after Dot experiences ill-health brought on by stress, Jim moves back to a nursing home.
When Nick returns after a seven year absence, he tells Dot he has changed and is now a plumber, introducing her to his six-year-old daughter Dotty Cotton (Molly Conlin). However, Dot discovers that Nick is only there for her money. She refuses to pay him, so he tells her if she does not, she cannot see Dotty. Dot gives Nick the money and looks after Dotty. It is revealed Dotty and Nick are planning to kill Dot for her life insurance. They convince her that she has symptoms of dementia, but their plan backfires when Dotty exposes the plot. In a rage, Nick holds various members of the community hostage in the café, resulting in an explosion. Nick survives and after being disowned again by Dot, he informs her that Dotty had masterminded the murder plot before fleeing. Dotty is retrieved by her mother, Sandy (Caroline Pegg), following various devious deeds, such as accusing Dot of beating her, which leads to Dot being questioned by the police for child abuse. Nevertheless, Dot is sorry to see Dotty go.
Dot develops a friendship with vicar Edward Bishop (Frank Barrie), who develops romantic intentions towards her. Dot turns Edward down, remaining loyal to her husband. She takes in various lodgers, including Arthur "Fatboy" Chubb (Ricky Norwood), her sister Rose and Cora Cross (Ann Mitchell), who causes Dot problems with the council for failing to pay the rent, leaving her in arrears. Dot is taken to court but manages to persuade the judge to allow her to keep her home and avoids a prison sentence. Fatboy later allows his girlfriend Poppy Meadow (Rachel Bright) to move in with him and Dot, and Dot forms a close bond with Poppy. When Fatboy and Poppy break up and Poppy moves out, Fatboy gently assures Dot that she and Poppy are still friends.
Dot receives a police visit, informing her that Nick has died. One of the police officers returns later to tell her that he is actually her grandson Charlie Cotton (Declan Bennett), a child of Nick's Dot had not known existed. A devastated Dot holds a funeral for Nick and grows close to Charlie in the aftermath as he moves in with Dot, causing Fatboy to move out. However, it is later revealed that Charlie is being dishonest and although he is Nick's son, he is not a policeman but a caretaker and that he has helped Nick stage his own death to avoid being arrested following a robbery. Nick reappears in Walford to Dot's shock and persuades his mother to hide him at her house. Although horrified that Charlie and Nick lied to her, she forgives Charlie and agrees to aid Nick's escape from the UK, this time for good. However, Nick later realises that he does not want to leave and gets embroiled in a feud with Charlie's fiancée, Ronnie Mitchell (Samantha Womack), who tries and fails to ensure his departure. This leads to Nick tampering with the brakes of Charlie's car and the resulting crash leaves a pregnant Ronnie comatose in hospital. When Charlie discovers this, he demands that Nick leave, and as Charlie moves out to live at Ronnie's flat, Fatboy moves back in with Dot. However, Dot, unwilling to give up on her son, hides Nick in a derelict neighbouring house.
Unable to leave the premises, Nick starts using heroin again but cannot feed his drug addiction and asks Dot to obtain drugs for him. Dot purchases the heroin but Fatboy catches her and urges her to cut ties with Nick. Dot urges Nick to confess to the police, but when he tells her he does not feel remorse for Ronnie's injuries, she gives him the drugs and storms out. Dot later finds Nick unconscious, having had a bad reaction to the drugs. When it is clear Nick is dying, Nick confesses various past misdemeanours, including the murder of Reg Cox (Johnnie Clayton). Nick seeks his mother's forgiveness and she cradles him as he dies, ultimately deciding not to call an ambulance to attempt to save his life. Dot, seeking punishment for this, decides to confess to the police and is arrested and imprisoned. Dot initially decides to plead guilty, believing she should atone for her sins in prison, but when Jim dies, she attends his funeral and realises how much her family needs her. She changes her plea and is cleared of murder at the court hearing; however, she is found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to prison for 14 months.
Four months later, Dot is released and shares her regret with Ian that she did not report Nick's crimes earlier in life. Fatboy tells Dot he is spending Christmas with his father, but later Vincent Hubbard (Richard Blackwood) discovers Fatboy's belongings amongst some blood in the boot of a crushed car and tells Dot that Fatboy is not coming back because of a job abroad. Dot takes salsa classes and works with Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker) to prepare for a salsa show, who mistakenly thinks she wants a relationship, but she actually sets him and Claudette Hubbard(Ellen Thomas) up on a date. Dot receives a wedding invitation from her old friend, Colin, but she does not want to attend because she does not believe in homosexual marriage. Colin visits her on his wedding day to persuade her to come, which she does. Dot discovers the launderette will become a dry cleaner and is interviewed for her own job; she struggles with the technical terminology but defends herself as a people person. However, she is told that she will not be kept on after the launderette is refurbished. She tries to contact her boss by telephone but when she finally gets through, he hangs up. Ricky Mitchell (Henri Charles) learns about the harvest festival and leaves a box of food on Dot's doorstep, which offends her as she does not believe she is poor or lonely, however, she realises just how lonely she is when Abi is unable to have dinner with her. Dot and Kim Fox-Hubbard (Tameka Empson) are involved in a car collision, but both blame the other as Kim has no licence but Kim accuses Dot of being too old to drive. Dot then locks her car key away. After Patrick and Dot go to the cinema together, he convinces her to see an optician because she was squinting throughout. Dot is seen hiding away in her house on Halloween and Patrick comes to talk to her. Dot says her hatred of Halloween is due to awful things happening on Halloween, such as Stacey Fowler (Lacey Turner) getting electrocuted and Max Branning (Jake Wood) getting run over. She then tries to read the Bible to Patrick but cannot see the words. Patrick tells her she isn't scared of Halloween but of the world. Dot reveals that she thinks she is going blind but then kicks Patrick out of the house. When he leaves, it is revealed that Dot cannot see anything clearly. Patrick books Dot a doctor's appointment; the doctor suspects age-related macular degeneration, which is later confirmed. Dot starts treatment but she is annoyed that her eyesight does not improve much. She turns down Ronnie's offer of paying for surgery to permanently fix her sight.
Abi invites Dot to Christmas in Exeter but Dot insists she has plans of her own. The launderette closes on Christmas Eve, but everyone is too busy to visit her. She finds a Christmas mixtape recorded by her deceased friend Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison), and takes in a stray cat, which she eventually names Dave. She spends Christmas Day alone, but when Patrick realises she has not gone to Exeter, he invites her to The Queen Victoria public house where everyone is celebrating Christmas, and her neighbours present her with the gift of a washing machine. When Ronnie, the wife of Dot's former stepson, Jack Branning (Scott Maslen), and her sister Roxy Mitchell (Rita Simons), mother of one of Jack's children, both die, Dot tells the children that they are in heaven, helping them to understand after Jack struggles to find an appropriate way to tell them. When Jack is unable to take Dot to the garden centre, she decides to drive herself with her great-grandson, Matthew Mitchell Cotton, but drives through a no entry sign into oncoming traffic and ends up in the verge. Dot is surprised when Charlie returns but he is only back for his son and she is upset when he leaves again with Matthew. Dot's step-granddaughter Abi Branning (Lorna Fitzgerald) lives with her for a while but moves out with Dot's blessing.
Dot trips over Dave and falls awkwardly onto a chair. Nobody knows she is injured until her step-granddaughter, Sonia Fowler (Natalie Cassidy), finds her. Dot is then taken to hospital and Sonia blames her neighbours for not looking out her and scolds Sharon and Ian. Dot is worried when the doctor tells her that she will need an operation on her hip but she refuses physiotherapy. Dot goes to stay with Dotty for three months, returning when she hears that Abi is brainstem dead after an accident. Dot is surprised to see the launderette had reopened and Karen Taylor (Lorraine Stanley) is working there. After attending Abi's funeral, Dot goes to stay with Charlie, Liz and Matthew in Ireland. Dot returns several months later. She is worried about her health and despite being told by her doctor that she is fine, she visits Dr Legg. He confirms that she is in good health and reveals he is dying of pancreatic cancer. Dot is shocked that he is refusing treatment but eventually accepts his decision and decides to make the most of the time they have left together. Dot cares for Dr Legg in her home until his death. She inherits his entire estate and goes away to visit her family.
Dot returns with Dotty and she buys her council house with her inherited money. She later discovers that an attempt to take £5,000 out of her bank account has failed. It is revealed that Sonia tried to take the money. Sonia is later blackmailed after Martin Fowler (James Bye) is involved in a hit-and-run and she successfully steals £8,000 from Dot when Dot signs a blank cheque for Sonia to pay for some baby clothes she bought for the baby that Charlie and his wife are now expecting. Dot tells Sonia that this money was stolen and when Sonia tells Martin what she did, Martin tells Dot that he took the money. Sonia convinces Dot to visit Charlie again in Ireland and Dot leaves Sonia a message asking her to find out why Martin took the money and to let her know.
- Although Dot had been referred to since the very early episodes of the programme as the mother of villain Nick Cotton, she did not actually appear on-screen until Episode 40.
- Dot was conceptualised by show creators, Tony Holland and Julia Smith, along with the other original characters.
- June Brown was offered the part of Dot Cotton for a period of three months initially and in her own words, she was brought in "merely to be Nick Cotton's mother because Nick was coming back again". Brown has told Decca Aitkenhead of The Guardian in 2009 that she was wary of joining a soap opera as she had seen EastEnders once on television, "and there was an argument going on, and I thought, 'Oh, I don't want to watch all that,' so I switched it off. I didn't watch it again until I was asked to be in it." The role was extended and the character has become one of the longest-running to have featured in EastEnders.
- To become the character of Dot Cotton, Brown is required to wear a wig to replicate Dot's 1950s "Italian Boy" hairstyle that has remained in a largely unchanged style since she first appeared in 1985. Originally, the hair sported by Dot actually belonged to the actress, but Brown later started wearing a wig. Brown has stated that as soon as Dot's hairpiece is on, she becomes the character. The unchanged style of Dot was deemed so important by the programme makers, that when Brown requested to have dental work carried out to improve her prominent front teeth, the producers refused to allow it, arguing that Dot could not afford expensive tooth capping. Brown was not permitted to alter her teeth until early 1991 when they became loose. Brown has indicated that she does not want Dot's style altered. She claimed in 2002 that Dot had the same coats in her wardrobe that she was given in 1985. The fur-collared coat Dot wears for special occasions was donated by the character Angie Watts (Anita Dobson) in 1988 when she left the serial. Brown commented, "I like the older clothes [...] I don't want new clothes, I'm happy the way she is. She thinks she looks really smart. She's got a terrible opinion of herself that woman!"
- Describing Dot, Brown has said, "I love playing her – she's a strong character. Dear old Dot, she's got strong moral views and odd religious beliefs, but her heart's in the right place. She has that awful worried expression on her face the whole time". Brown has noted the changes within Dot since the show's inception, saying that initially Dot was sharp and selfish, but since her character remarried in 2002, she has gained security and has "no reason to have the hypochondria she had in the past [...] She's become more caring over the years. She enjoys the company of young people. She loves her church. She can get in an anxious state – I like it when Dot's hysterical! She's also amusing, mostly because she doesn't realise she is".
- As well as being tragic, Dot is scripted as a comic character. Brown has discussed the humour she incorporates into her performances: "I think Dot would be awfully boring if she weren't a bit comic [...] I always thought I had to put an edge on it, an edge of comedy, which just means doing it more seriously than you would do. If you want to play comedy then you have to be very intense about it [...] very, very serious." Some of Dot's catchphrases are used for humour, such as "Ooh I say!", uttered when she is "stuck for words". In 2004, Brown discussed the origin of the saying: "It was written once in the script and I quite enjoyed it, so I used to say it occasionally when it wasn't in the scripts. It was useful because it could be said in all different ways. Dot's very straight-laced, so it helped to express her horror at what went on." Brown revealed in 2008 that she has tried to cut down the use of this, along with the mispronunciation of her employer, Mr Papadopolous, as she has become a little embarrassed by them now they are so known. Mr. Papadopolous is the owner of the launderette where Dot works. In a long-running joke, Dot has difficulty pronouncing his surname, and for much of the show's history he has been referred to as Mr. Oppodopolus, Oppydoppy, or varying other mispronunciations. Brown has said she enjoys playing the comical aspects of Dot, stating, "She's not dreadfully funny but she's amusing and I like that because it lightens it up a bit."
- Smoking cigarettes has become synonymous with Dot, and Brown has suggested that the habit is "intrinsic" to the character. Following the 2007 England smoking ban, it was reported in the Daily Mail that the BBC were refusing to prohibit the character from smoking on-screen despite the act being banned in workplaces, as they have "to portray real life – and people smoke". Dot's smoking was criticised by private healthcare company Bupa in 2008, when they rated her television's most unhealthy character. They suggest that, in order to spread a public message, Dot should appear breathless, not with "implausibly good health". They added, "Though Dot Cotton has a smoker's voice – deeper than you might expect, she does not seem to be short of breath or wheezy" and that viewers would be influenced by this. However, Dot's smoking has been described by broadcasting watchdogs Ofcom as "justified in the context of the programme as a representation of an East End character" and they therefore stipulate that enforcement of broadcast smoking-sanctions would be unlikely on EastEnders.
- Upon her arrival, Dot was quickly established as the gossip, whose purpose, as author Anthony Slide sees it, was "that of a Greek chorus, commenting on the foibles of her fellow residents of Albert Square, from her vantage point as manager of the local launderette".
- An enduring friendship featured in EastEnders was the one shared between the characters Dot Cotton and Ethel Skinner, first shown on-screen in 1985 and ending with Ethel's death in 2000, though the characters shared a backstory set prior to 1985 and were scripted as neighbours who grew old together in East London, along with Lou Beale.
|Lou Beale | Pauline Fowler | Arthur Fowler | Michelle Fowler | Mark Fowler | Pete Beale | Kathy Beale | Ian Beale | Den Watts | Angie Watts | Sharon Watts | Ethel Skinner | Dr Legg | Dot Cotton | Nick Cotton | Sue Osman | Ali Osman | Saeed Jeffery | Naima Jeffery | Lofty Holloway | Tony Carpenter | Mary Smith | Kelvin Carpenter | Andy O'Brien | Debbie Wilkins | Pat Butcher | Simon Wicks|