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Sir William Fredrick Cotton, CBE (23 April 1928-11 August 2008[1]) was the Controller of BBC One from 1977 to 1981, having been the Head Of Light Entertainment since 1970. At Light Entertainment, he had been highly successful. He oversaw and in some cases helped to created some of the most famous shows of the 1970s, like Monty Python's Family Circus, The Two Ronnies and Bruce Forsyth's version of Generation Game.

His precise impact on the production of Doctor Who as the BBC1 Controller was unclear, though it can obviously be said that he was responsible for hiring John Nathan-Turner as producer. He would also have signed off on Peter Davison's casting as the Fifth Doctor.

Cotton's biggest impact may have been simply that he was the bridge by which Michael Grade walked into the British Broadcasting Corporation. Indeed, they were old family friends, since  Grade's father had been Cotton's father's agent.[2]

When Cotton moved on into the more senior role of Managing Director of Television, he became Michael Grade's boss, and backed Grade during the public backlash against Grade's 1985 "resting" of Doctor Who.

In the immediate aftermath of Grade's announcement, he backed up his subordinate, saying on 28 February 1985 that he regretted the hiatus, but the BBC "had to live within its income".[3]

A year later, he famously spoke directly to the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. On 1 March 1986, during the depths of Grade's Doctor Who "hiatus", he told DWAS that Doctor Who would indeed be returning in Autumn of that year. He also broke the news that the show would return to its 25-minute format. However, he misled fans by implying that the reason for the change of format was to increase the length of the broadcast season — something that did not at all prove to be true of season 23. (REF: The Sixth Doctor Handbook)

He was knighted in 2001 for services to Television and for being Vice President of the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 People Pill
  2. Newcomb, Horace. Encyclopaedia of Television: A-C. CRC Press. 2004. 1020.
  3. Cook, Stephen. "Doctor Who fans upset as BBC postpones new series". 28 February 1985.