Bill COTTON CBE (1928-2008)

Bill Cotton
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THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Bill Cotton, television producer and executive, was surprised by Michael Aspel at Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire.

Following a secondary education at the independent school Ardingly College, Bill joined BBC Television as an in-house producer of light entertainment programmes in 1956, working on various programmes such as his father’s Billy Cotton Band Show and popular music programme Six-Five Special.

In 1970, Bill was promoted to Head of Light Entertainment, responsible for overseeing the production of a whole series of popular and iconic comedy programmes, including The Morecambe and Wise Show, Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Two Ronnies and Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game.

Bill’s success led to a series of further promotions - Controller of BBC1 in 1977, deputy managing director of television four years later, and finally Managing Director of Television in 1984, a role he fulfilled until his retirement from the Corporation in 1988.

“How could you? Funny way to earn a living!”

Screenshots of Bill Cotton This Is Your Life

Bill Cotton's autobiography

Bill recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography Double Bill...

One day in 1995 I drove up to Castle Ashby in the Midlands with John Harris, the chairman of Alba, and his wife, Jacqui.

The growth of Alba has been the most spectacular success story I’ve been associated with since I left the BBC. I was appointed a non-executive director of a medium-size ‘value-for-money’ company selling radios and televisions, and it is now a major player in the industry.

As far as I knew that day our journey up the M1 was to attend a sales presentation by Bush, one of Alba’s subsidiaries.

We arrived in the castle courtyard and as I stepped out of the car, a band suddenly struck up Somebody Stole My Gal, my father’s old signature tune. I thought ‘That’s a strange tune to open a sales presentation’, and found myself confronted by Michael Aspel and his big red book. I’d been well and truly had.

I sat in the This Is Your Life studio humbled and amazed as a stream of show business stars paraded in to say nice things about my influence on their careers, among them Terry Wogan, Russ Conway, Bruce Forsyth, Esther Rantzen, Sue Lawley, Vera Lynn, Ernie Wise, Jimmy Tarbuck, Sandie Shaw, Cilla Black, Mike Yarwood, David Jacobs, Pete Murray and the Two Ronnies. And the special studio guests included television executives such as Paul Fox, Brian Tesler, Michael Grade and the great theatrical agent Billy Marsh. My only regret was that among this parade of famous and distinguished guests the producers did not give Kate, the most important person in my life, the opportunity of saying a few words.

I was particularly moved by the presence of Billy Marsh in the studio, frail and in a wheelchair. It must have been one of his last public appearances.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 913
  • Subject No: 893
  • Broadcast date: Wed 22 Mar 1995
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Tue 14 Mar 1995
  • Venue: BBC Television Centre
  • Series: 35
  • Edition: 21
  • Code Name: Thread

on the guest list...

  • Kate – wife
  • Jane - daughter
  • Kate - daughter
  • Lisa - daughter
  • Tom - grandson
  • Leo – grandson
  • Brian Tesler
  • Paul Fox
  • Billy Marsh
  • Ernie Wise
  • Mike Yarwood
  • Angela Rippon
  • Gerry Kunz
  • Russ Conway
  • David Jacobs
  • Pete Murray
  • Sister Damian
  • Sister Catherine
  • Jimmy Tarbuck
  • Sandie Shaw
  • Terry Wogan
  • Esther Rantzen
  • Sue Lawley
  • Vera Lynn
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Rory – grandson
  • Harry – grandson
  • Michael Grade
  • Cilla Black
  • Bruce Forsyth

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher: Sue Green
  • Writer: Roy Bottomley
  • Director: Brian Klein
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
  • Associate Producer: John Graham
  • Executive Producer: Peter Estall
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 35 subjects: Andrew Lloyd Webber > Leslie Crowther > Mike Reid > Martin Bell > Marti Caine > David Wallace > Danny Baker > Stephanie Cole > Peter Ustinov > Lesley Joseph > Arthur C Clarke > Barry Cryer > Gretchen Franklin > Edward Woodward > Ned Sherrin > Spike Milligan > Howard Keel > Raymond Gainer > June Whitfield > Debbie Reynolds > Bill Cotton > Jimmy Hill > George Baker > James Herbert > Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray > Ivor Broom > Kriss Akabusi > Helen Shapiro