Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Tuesday, 12 August 2008 11:13 UK

Tributes paid to BBC TV's Cotton

Sir Bill Cotton
Sir Bill Cotton was a former controller of BBC One

Tributes have been paid to Sir Bill Cotton, the BBC's former head of light entertainment and controller of BBC One, who has died aged 80.

Sir Bill oversaw some of the BBC's most popular TV shows in the 70s, including Dad's Army and The Generation Game.

Host Bruce Forsyth said: "He gave the public what they wanted," adding that "it's a very sad day to lose him".

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

Mr Forsyth added: "He knew about television. "He was responsible for what I think was the golden age of BBC television, which we'll never have again.

'Wonderful showman'

"He knew what the public wanted, and he gave the public what they wanted.

Archive interview clips with Sir Bill Cotton about his work

"He knew how to treat performers. He knew how to talk to them, how to get them to do things even if they didn't want to. He talked them into it because he knew it would be good for them," said the entertainer.

Mr Croft said there had been opposition to creating his comedy show, which was about the Home Guard during World War II, because of fears it would cause offence.

"Without him I don't think the show would have gone on. He undoubtedly had a nose for a hit," Mr Croft said.

"He was a wonderful showman and a great believer in his producers and he backed us absolutely to the hilt.

"He was an entrepreneur... and there's not many of his type about any more, I'm afraid. We shall miss him terribly. I loved him."

Morecambe and Wise with Glenda Jackson in 1972
Sir Bill presided over The Morecambe and Wise Show

Sir Bill, the son of big band leader Billy Cotton, joined the BBC in 1956 as an in-house producer of light entertainment programmes, working on shows including the Billy Cotton Band Show and music programme Six-Five Special.

He was the BBC's head of light entertainment between 1970 and 1977, before being put in charge of BBC One, a post he held for four years.

He then went on to serve as the BBC's managing director of television from 1981 until his retirement.

Sir Bill was awarded the Academy Fellowship by Bafta in 1998 and was knighted in 2001.

'Giant of TV'

Speaking in 2000, Sir Bill said light entertainment on television had formed part of the nation's culture.

"Basically, fundamentally, television was a performer's medium and news and current affairs were the sideshow," he said.

"One of the reasons that I honestly believe that the care taken on light entertainment had to be the same care as was taken for ballet, or opera, or serious drama, is because you are contributing to the culture of the country. I think it's sad if it isn't."

The life and career of Sir Bill Cotton

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, said Sir Bill 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 also a passionate believer in public service broadcasting."

Alan Yentob, creative director of the BBC, called Sir Bill "an inspirational broadcaster".

"Under his leadership in the 70s 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," added Mr Yentob.

Obituary: Sir Bill Cotton
12 Aug 08 |  Entertainment
BBC's Cotton 'had golden touch'
12 Aug 08 |  Entertainment
Bill Cotton: Your memories
12 Aug 08 |  Special Reports


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