Bill Cotton dies

BBC chief oversaw comedy's 'golden age'

Sir Bill Cotton, the BBC executive who oversaw the likes of the Two Ronnies, Monty Python's Flying Circus and Morecambe and Wise in their heyday, has died at the age of 80.

The corporation’s former head of light entertainment and controller of BBC One died in a Bournemouth hospital, the corporation has reported.

David Croft, writer of Dad's Army, said Sir Bill was the ‘master jeweller’ in the ‘golden age’ of television.

He added: ‘He was an entrepreneur, he was a showman, and there's not many of his type about any more, I'm afraid. We shall miss him terribly.’

Bruce Forsyth, whose Generation Game was overssen by Sir Bill, said: ‘He was responsible for what I think was the golden age of BBC television which we'll never have again.’

‘It's a very sad day to lose him. He knew about the business. He knew about television.’

BBC director-general Mark Thompson said: 'Bill Cotton was one of the giants of BBC television for nearly three decades and brought countless programmes to the screen which themselves became legends.

'He was both a great impresario and also a passionate believer in public service broadcasting.'

And the corporation's creative director Alan Yentob added: "Bill Cotton was a wonderful man and an inspirational broadcaster.

'Under his leadership in the Seventies the BBC commissioned and produced a raft of entertainment and comedy which set a benchmark for these genres which has rarely been surpassed.

'From Monty Python to Morecambe And Wise, from The Generation Game to Dad's Army, these shows and others like them have helped to define not just a genre but a generation.'

The son of big-band leader Billy Cotton, Sir Bill served as head of light entertainment from 1970 to 1977, when he became controller of BBC One. One of his biggest disappointments was losing Morecambe and Wise to ITV soon after his promotion.

He retired from the corporation in 1987, to work as a freelance producer on shows including Dave Allen’s 1994 stand-up special. He was awarded a CBE in 1989.

Published: 12 Aug 2008

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