Rupert Dilnott-Cooper: ITV executive whose skills kept 'Spitting Image' out of trouble

 

As head of contracts and copyright at Central Independent Television, which became ITV's Midlands franchise holder in the 1980s, Rupert Dilnott-Cooper was given some of his biggest challenges by the producers of the satirical puppet series Spitting Image. His job was to protect Central from legal action, but he regarded the show as fun and always tried to find a way to ensure that its biting humour reached the screen.

The programme began in 1984, a potent time for satire, with a markedly right-wing Conservative government in power and the Labour Party providing a weak opposition. The show portrayed Tory politicians particularly viciously – Margaret Thatcher was seen as a tyrant and cross-dresser, Norman Fowler as a Jack the Ripper-style murderer, Norman Tebbit as a bovver boy and Cecil Parkinson as the Cabinet's resident Casanova.

Dilnott-Cooper, himself a staunch Conservative, would frequently receive 8.30am phone calls on a Sunday, the day of transmission, with news of topical sketches being added to that evening's programme. One such call was to ask him whether Spitting Image could show President François Mitterand and his cabinet singing "there's nothing like a bomb" to the tune of "There is Nothing Like a Dame", following news of nuclear testing by France. He judged it acceptable and there was no legal action. Indeed, as the show became increasingly popular, many public figures regarded it as an insult not to be lampooned by it. Later, Dilnott-Cooper used his skills to help tie up contracts for the worldwide distribution of Central programmes such as Inspector Morse, then worked for Carlton until its merger with Granada Television.

He was popular with colleagues, who remember him for offering advice and enthusiasm, and his quick-witted, dry sense of humour. Dilnott-Cooper's Canadian-born father, Kenneth, worked in the Rank Organisation's business department, as well as running the British ski team – the Dilnott-Cooper Cup is still contested in the National Ski Championships. Going to the cinema was the young Dilnott-Cooper's passion and he became a fervent reader of Variety, the American trade magazine.

After attending Eton, he studied law at Hertford College, Oxford from 1973-76, and sometimes found himself in tutorials with just one other undergraduate, Tony Blair, who was at St John's College. However, Dilnott-Cooper decided he wanted to enter the film industry rather than practise as a solicitor or barrister. So, in 1976, he joined Productions Associates, a London-based Warner Brothers company responsible for PR, marketing and product placement. His first job was to accompany Brooke Shields on a press tour of the United Kingdom.

In 1979, Dilnott-Cooper became assistant production administrator at ITC, Lew Grade's company that made and distributed programmes for the television mogul's ITV franchise holder, ATV – from The Saint and Thunderbirds to The Muppet Show.

He was brought in when ITC was diversifying into film production, from which Grade pulled out soon after the disaster movie Raise the Titanic (1980) left the company on the brink of its own disaster. The film cost almost $40m to make but plummeted at the box office, causing Grade to comment famously: "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic."

The small screen beckoned when ATV was restructured as Central Independent Television in 1982 and Dilnott-Cooper was appointed the new franchise holder's head of contracts and copyright. His work embraced everything from overseeing the hiring of more actors, writers and performers than any other ITV company to negotiating the rights for a Jean Michel Jarre concert tour of China.

In 1987, Dilnott-Cooper was promoted to become director of business affairs at the company's international sales division, which became Central Television Enterprises the following year and had phenomenal success in selling programmes abroad, twice winning the Queen's Award for Export. He continued in that role for Carlton Television when, in 1994, the London ITV weekday franchise holder took control of Central. Dilnott-Cooper was appointed managing director of Carlton International, its sales arm, two years later and chief executive officer of its content division, responsible for production matters, in 2000.

During this period, Carlton bought two other regional franchise holders, Westcountry and HTV, to make it one of the two dominant ITV companies, alongside Granada. With Carlton, Dilnott-Cooper also bought back the ITC library for ITV – described by the chairman, Michael Green, as "a jewel in the crown" – as well as the Rank film archive, which included the Carry On pictures. In 2004, Dilnott-Cooper's job disappeared when Carlton merged with Granada to create a single company in England and Wales.

However, he continued to work in TV, serving on the boards of companies such as the Stockholm-based international media group Zodiac Television AB (2006-08), the digital rights management agency Base79 (from 2008) and the Canadian Film Centre (from 2011). Dilnott-Cooper, a founding director of the British Television Distributors Association and a trustee of the Television Trust for the Environment, was diagnosed with leukaemia last August.

Anthony Hayward

Rupert Michael Walter James Dilnott-Cooper, television executive: born London 1 January 1954; married 1979 Kate Mansel (two sons); died London 20 May 2013.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on