Billy Cotton

Billy Cotton young
Billy Cotton
Born: 6 May 1899
Died: 25 March 1969
Service No.: 3065/782160

William Edward Cotton; better known as Billy Cotton, was a well-known British Band Leader from the 1930s through to the 1960s. He was famous on Radio and TV for the ‘’Billy Cotton Band Show’’ with his famous opening cry of ’’Wakey Wakey’’.

He was born on the 6th May 1899 in Smith Square, Westminster. In the 1911 Census, the family were living at 59 Horseferry Rd., Westminster. His father, Joseph was a Turnkey for the Metropolitan Water Works. Billy had six Siblings at this time.

Billy’s career with the Royal Fusiliers actually started in 1914, when at the age of 15 years and 3 months he volunteered and joined the 2/2nd City of London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers), shortly after the outbreak of war. Although underage, he took parts of his new army Kit home, where his Mother basically told him he was a naughty boy and that when his father came home he would be sent straight to bed! Not many soldiers get told that!

HMS Implacable M Dawson
After training Billy became a Drummer and left with the Battalion for service in Malta and Egypt. After a stay here the Battalion was sent to the Dardanelles and landed on W Beach on Cape Helles, Gallipoli on the 13th October 1915 where he saw active service until the withdrawal in January 1916. At this time he was still only 16 years old.

During 1916 the Battalion disbanded and Bill joined the Royal Flying Corps being Commissioned on the 9th March 1918, and later with the RAF flying a Bristol Fighter aircraft, one of which he crashed in April 1918.

For his war service, Billy received the 1915 Star, Victory and British medals.

Billy Cotton hits
Cotton, a well-known philanderer who liked a drink, was a bandleader from the mid-1930s until his death. His band even entertained British troops as a member of ENSA during WWII.

Cotton's career as a bandleader was quite an accomplishment as he could not play an instrument (other than the drums and bugle), nor could be read music! It is possible that his failure to read music was due to his dyslexia; referred to in his RAF record.

To say he had an eventful life was an understatement! To list just a few of his many vocations and achievements: 
-   Amateur welterweight boxer.
-   Semi-Professional footballer and later amateur footballer for Brentford and Wimbledon.
-   Factory worker.
-   Bus conductor.
-   The Drummer in a band.
-   Member of the Royal Aero Club, Aviator Certificate number 9594. He also owned his own          Gipsy Moth aircraft.
-   Just failing an attempt on the land speed record in 1936, reaching a speed of 112.5 mph.
-   Grand Prix racing driver from 1938 to 1949.
-   Saving the best until last. A supporter Charlton Athletic F.C. where his recording of the song      The Red Red Robins is still played as the team comes out to play at The Valley.

Billy died of a stroke whilst attending a boxing contest on the 25th March 1969. His autobiography, I Did It My Way, was published in 1970.

                                                                 Billy Cotton band

Researched by volunteer Paul Treacy.

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