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‘Giant of BBC television’ Cotton dies

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Sir Bill Cotton, former head of light entertainment at the BBC and controller of BBC1, has died aged 80.

Cotton became famous for commissioning some of the BBC’s most successful comedy shows in the seventies, including Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, and Dad’s Army.

He was also instrumental in launching Michael Parkinson as a talk show host.

The son of big band leader Billy Cotton, he joined the BBC in 1956 as an in-house producer of light entertainment programmes, working on shows including The Billy Cotton Band Show and the cult pop series Six-Five Special.

He was the BBC head of light entertainment from 1970-1977, before becoming controller of BBC1, a post he held for four years. Cotton was the BBC’s managing director of television from 1981 until his retirement. He was appointed OBE in 1976 and CBE in 1989 and knighted in 2001 for his services to broadcasting.

After retiring from the BBC, he became chairman of Noel Gay Television and of the ITV company Meridian. For ten years, he acted as agent for the broadcaster Sue Lawley.

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, said Cotton was “one of the giants of BBC television” who had brought “countless programmes to the screen which themselves became legends. He was both a great impresario and a passionate believer in public service broadcasting.”

He died in Bournemouth on August 11, 2008. A full obituary will appear in a future issue of The Stage newspaper.

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