Billy Cotton: Bandleader (1899 - 1969) | Biography, Bibliography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Billy Cotton

Billy Cotton

Billy Cotton
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Bandleader
Was Athlete Musician Football player Conductor Association football player Bandmaster
From United Kingdom
Field Music Sports
Gender male
Birth 6 May 1899, Smith Square, City of Westminster, Greater London, England
Death 25 March 1969, Wembley, London Borough of Brent, Greater London, England (aged 69 years)
The details (from wikipedia)


William Edward "Billy" Cotton (6 May 1899 – 25 March 1969) was an English band leader and entertainer, one of the few whose orchestras survived the British dance band era. Cotton is now mainly remembered as a 1950s and 1960s radio and television personality, but his musical career had begun in the 1920s. In his younger years Billy Cotton was also an amateur footballer (soccer player) for Brentford (and later, for the then Athenian league club Wimbledon), an accomplished racing driver and the owner of a Gipsy Moth, which he piloted himself. His autobiography, I Did It My Way, was published in 1970, a year after his death.

Life and career

Born in Smith Square, London, to Joseph and Susan Cotton, Cotton was a choirboy and started his musical career as a drummer. He enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers by falsifying his age and saw service in the First World War in Malta and Egypt, before landing at Gallipoli in the middle of an artillery barrage. He was recommended for a commission and learned to fly Bristol Fighter aircraft. Not yet 19 years old, he flew solo for the first time in 1918, on the day the Royal Flying Corps became the Royal Air Force. After the end of the war, in the early 1920s, he worked at several jobs, including as a bus driver, before setting up his own orchestra, the London Savannah Band, in 1924.

At first a conventional dance band, the London Savannah Band gradually tended towards music hall/vaudeville entertainment, introducing visual and verbal humour in between songs. Famous musicians who played in Billy Cotton's band during the 1920s and 1930s included Arthur Rosebery, Syd Lipton and Nat Gonella. The band was also noted for their African American trombonist and tap dancer, Ellis Jackson. Their signature tune was "Somebody Stole My Gal", and they made numerous commercial recordings for Decca.

During the Second World War Cotton and his band toured France with the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). After the war, he started his successful Sunday lunchtime radio show on BBC, the Billy Cotton Band Show, which ran from 1949 to 1968. In the 1950s, composer Lionel Bart contributed comedy songs to the show. It regularly opened with the band's signature tune and Cotton's call of "Wakey Wakey". From 1957, it was also broadcast on BBC television. Cotton often also provided vocals on many of his bands recordings and was also a vocalist on recordings that didn't feature his band.

As a racing driver, his finest moment came in 1949 when he finished fourth in the 1949 British Grand Prix, sharing an ERA with David Hampshire.

Cotton married Mabel E. Gregory in 1921. They had two sons, Ted and Sir Bill Cotton, who later became the BBC's managing director of television. In 1962 Billy Cotton suffered a stroke. He died in 1969 while watching a boxing match at Wembley.

Billy Cotton was the great-great-uncle of TV & Radio Presenter Fearne Cotton.

Selected filmography

  • The First Mrs. Fraser (1932)
  • Variety (1935)
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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