Bill Cotton, RIP 

11 August 2008

Ex-BBC TV executive Cotton dies

The death of Bill Cotton perhaps signifies a form of closure for an era that arguably represented the pinnacle of BBC light entertainment and may never ever be repeated within our lifetime, especially as the set of circumstances which gave rise to the performers of that era was more or less a one-off.

Modern requirements of target audience box-ticking may conspire against many forms of serious talent development nowadays, and this is all too noticeable in the forms of entertainment that are commissioned for channels with a narrow remit such as BBC Three.

The very tight budget that these channels have doesn’t help matters either, especially as traditional large studio-based forms of light entertainment are very costly to produce as opposed to cheap reality TV formats that attract nearly as many viewers if successful. (And there’s less to lose as well if they fail for whatever reason.)

Series such as Upstaged on BBC Three may be promoting new talent but it’s talent predominantly targeted at or judged by the BBC Three target audience as opposed to a mass audience, which is now primarily left to the likes of Britain’s Got Talent which has a fairly narrow set of selection criteria combined with a limited window of opportunity to get noticed.

It is saddening to read reports of auditions for the current crop of reality TV-inspired talent shows where obviously very talented individuals are rejected purely on the grounds that they don’t quite fit with the notion of what’s required for that particular show, whilst other performers who are clearly not that good get invited back for second auditions.

This is morally degrading for both groups of individuals since the former have to resort to attempting other methods to break into the industry, whilst the latter gain unrealistic expectations of stardom. Of course there’s always the likes of YouTube for talent spotting but traditional television is still the only place for ambitious concepts to be realised.

Television may never gain its next Morecambe and Wise until television executives break their continual obsession with giving talentless wanabees their five minutes of fame, but unfortunately the only way that this cycle will be broken is if more emphasis is placed on other forms of talent spotting and promotion.

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Wednesday 21 September 2022