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William Edward Cotton was better known as Billy Cotton (6 May 1899 – 25 March 1969) and was racing driver and entertainer.
He is mainly remembered as a 1950s and 1960s radio and television personality, although his musical talent emerged as early as the 1920s. In his younger years Billy Cotton was also an amateur footballer for Brentford F.C.(and later, for the then Athenian league club Wimbledon, now AFC Wimbledon), an accomplished racing driver and the owner of a Gipsy Moth which he piloted himself.
Born in Smith Square, London, to Joseph (born in 1858 in Coventry, Warwickshire) and Susan Cotton, Cotton was a choirboy and then started his musical career as a drummer, an occupation he also pursued in the army during the First World War. He enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers by falsifying his age and saw service in Malta and Egypt, before landing at Gallipoli in the middle of an artillery barrage. Later in the war he was recommended for a commission and learned to fly Bristol Fighter aircraft. He flew solo for the first time on 1918-04-01, the day the Royal Flying Corps became the Royal Air Force. He was then not yet 19 years old.
In 1921 he married Mabel E. Gregory and had two sons, Ted and Bill Cotton Jnr, who later became the BBC's head of variety. In the inter-war years. he had several jobs such as bus driver before setting up his own orchestra, the London Savannah Band, in 1924.
In 1949 his finest moment came as a racing driver when he finished fourth in the 1949 British Grand Prix, sharing an ERA with David Hampshire.
In 1962 Billy Cotton suffered a stroke and died in 1969 while watching a boxing match at Wembley. TV presenter Fearne Cotton is related to him, as he was uncle to her grandfather, i.e. her great great uncle.