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A Tribute to Sir Bill Cotton

26 February 2009
Sir Bill Cotton presented the Special Award at the British Academy Television Craft Awards in 2008.BAFTA / Richard Kendal

The Academy's tribute to Sir Bill Cotton, a BAFTA Fellow and BBC executive who oversaw some of the most popular and critically-acclaimed television shows of the BBC.

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William Frederick Cotton

(23 April 1928 - 12 August 2008)

Sir Bill Cotton CBE died on 12 August 2008 at the age of ninety. A Service in Celebration of his life was held on Thursday 26 February 2009 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, followed by a reception at BAFTA Headquarters.

BAFTA Vice-President and ITV executive chairman, Michael Grade, led tributes to his former boss in 2008, calling him: "the greatest television impresario of his or any generation."

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."

Under his leadership in the 70s, the BBC commissioned and produced a slate of comedy and light entertainment shows that set the standard for TV programme-makers, critics and audiences alike. As Alan Yentob put it: "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."

Cotton joined the BBC in 1956 as an in-house producer. He became head of Light Entertainment from 1970 to 1977, before becoming Controller of BBC One in 1977. Four years later, he was promoted to Managing Director of BBC television, a post he held until he retired in 1988.

Hilary Bevan Jones, the Academy’s former Chairman, said: "I was privileged to count Sir Bill Cotton as both an extraordinary mentor and a dear friend. He was an inspiration to us all and will be very sadly missed." Hilary interviewed Sir Bill for the BAFTA/LA Heritage Archive in October 2007 (see video clip, left).

Sir Bill was awarded a BAFTA Fellowship, the highest honour the Academy bestows, in 1998 by Michael Parkinson (see video clip, left).

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