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The leading showman of the mid-fifties in Britain was chirpy cockney chappie Billy Cotton, and the lively Billy Cotton Bandshow became a Saturday evening favourite on BBC TV for many years.
Beginning with his familiar bellow of “Wakey Wake-aaaay” and dashing through the signature tune Somebody Stole My Girl, the show continued at a relentless pace dictated by the jovial and effervescent Cotton.
He loved clowning around on his show, and despite his seventeen stone frame was not averse to rolling up his trousers and dancing a hornpipe or even doing a cartwheel.
A critic on the Financial Times described him as having a centre of gravity somewhere near his knees.
The show’s relatively small budget meant that it couldn’t hope to compete with Sunday Night At The London Palladium but it still managed to attract performers like Tom Jones, Cliff Richard, Alma Cogan and Terry Scott.
Cotton was regularly assisted by pinup pianist Russ Conway, Kathie Kay and Alan Breeze.
Russ Conway collapsed on stage in 1962, reportedly suffering from a breakdown, and there was more drama two years later when a special-effects piano exploded injuring a technician and three female extras.
Then in 1966, Alan Breeze was sensationally sacked by the producer, Billy Cotton Jnr (Billy’s son) after 34 years with the band.
We remember Breeze for such cultured contributions as I Can’t Do My Bally Bottom Button Up, a song about trouser-flies . . .
Billy Cotton began his career as a drummer boy in the First World War and he became a bandleader in the 1920s.
His sporting prowess encompassed boxing, playing centre-forward for Brentford and motor racing. In fact, he bought Sir Malcolm Campbell’s first Bluebird.
He arrived on television via BBC radio, with his first broadcast in 1924. His radio Band Show was a Sunday lunchtime favourite for 19 years from 1949.
Cotton died in 1969, and there has never been anybody quite like him since.