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Billy Cotton Band Show, The (1956-65)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Billy Cotton Band Show, The (1956-65)
BBC/BBC1, 22/5/1956-3/4/1965
128 editions, black & white
ProducersBrian Tesler
 Bill Jr. Cotton
 Michael Hurll
 Johnnie Stewart
WritersJimmy Grafton
 Robert Gray

Regulars: Billy Cotton, Alan Breeze, Kathie Kay, The Leslie Roberts Silhouettes, Russ Conway, Ted Rogers

Show full cast and credits

Wide-awake variety show.

Show full synopsis

Essentially a light entertainment show with a variety style, The Billy Cotton Bandshow established itself in a prime-time Saturday evening slot in which the format of music, song and dance, comedy and regular guest stars was as unpretentious as it was entertaining. With a stable line-up of dancers, singers and band members doubling up as a quasi-repertory company, the audience knew what to expect and loved it.

Reliance on key band members and singers for solo spots and duets continued the traditions of a format based on touring and dance hall residencies, while helping reduce dependency on guests and keeping costs within bounds. Nevertheless, familiar guests re-appeared with cosy regularity over the years. No show was complete without a sing along (usually a medley), often featuring staples from the music hall era. The featured Christmas show happily injected pantomime into the mix. The consistent qualities of the shows were further underpinned by employing Jimmy Grafton as scriptwriter for over eight years, and with Bill Cotton Junior producing his father's shows (after initial reluctance), high standards were maintained.

Since Billy Cotton revelled in being himself - an unpretentious cockney, who stood for no nonsense - he tended to play up the convention of having an upper-class or at least well-spoken BBC announcer-type (often played by Jeremy Lloyd) to act as his foil, and guests could include performers from the more high-brow end of the spectrum. Ever the consummate professional, Cotton unquestionably works hard - he only learned to dance in his fifties, primarily for his television shows - and as well as opening and closing the show, he is rarely off screen other then when his guests have a solo spot.

Because the programmes were transmitted as 'live', it is possible, especially on the earlier shows, to spot examples of ad-libs and occasional mistakes until, with growing confidence, Cotton and his crew rather knowingly acknowledged both the limitations and strengths of the medium. Current affairs were rarely touched on, and Cotton appeared as a comfortable figure in a safe show with only limited topicality apart from references to contemporary music, television and other popular entertainment forms.

David Sharp

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Video Clips
1. Not quite a normal show (2:12)
1961 Christmas Special: complete show (48:00)
2. Fairy Godmother (3:11)
3. Comic guitar duet (2:45)
4. Beverley Sisters mime (2:32)
Cotton, Billy (1899-1969)
TV Variety