Obituary: Lord Delfont

Boris Winogradsky (Bernard Delfont), impresario: born Tokmak, Russia 5 September 1909; chairman and chief executive, EMI Film and Theatre Corporation 1969-80; Kt 1974; created 1976 Bernard Delfont; chief executive, EMI 1979-80; chairman and chief executive, Trusthouse Forte Leisure 1981-82; chairman and chief executive, First Leisure Corporation 1982-86, executive chairman 1986-88, president 1988, 1992-94, chairman 1988-92; married Carole Lynne (Carolyn Farr, nee Haymen; one son, two daughters); died Angmering, West Sussex 28 July 1994.

BERNARD DELFONT, aged three when he came to England in 1913 from Russia, was the second of a trio of brothers, the Winogradskys, who became moguls of British show business. Bernard was born Boris and took the name Delfont; Louis, his elder brother by nearly three years, became Lew Grade and was later created a life peer in the same year as his brother; and Leslie, Bernard's younger brother by two years and the only one born in England, followed Lew in name and profession into the family agency and was the father of Michael Grade, the present chief executive of Channel 4 Television.

Delfont spent 14 years in music- hall before embarking on a career as an agent and impresario which took him from theatrical management in wartime London to founding the Talk of the Town in the 1950s, presenting the annual Royal Variety Performance for two decades and heading an enormous leisure business. In 1965 he sold the Bernard Delfont Agency to his brothers' company, the Grade Organisation, for pounds 250,000. In 1967 he organised the sale of the Grade Organisation to EMI for pounds 6m. In 1980, as chief executive of EMI, he organised the sale of its entertainment interests to Trusthouse Forte for pounds 16m. And in 1982, as chairman and chief executive of Trusthouse Forte Leisure, he organised a management buyout for pounds 37.5m. Its properties then included Blackpool Tower, three London theatres, the Leicester Square Empire ballroom and cinema, seven seaside piers, 18 squash clubs, five ten-pin bowling clubs and nine discotheques. Delfont was chairman of the new business, First Leisure Corporation, until two years ago and its president at his death.

Boris Winogradsky was brought up in Stepney, in the East End of London, and educated at Rochelle Street elementary school and Stepney Jewish School. His father was a tailor's presser and did embroidery for women's dresses; his mother shared with her husband a love for amateur singing. Boris left school at 12 and followed his brother Louis, who had made a name for himself in Charleston dancing competitions, into the halls. Louis danced in an act 'Grade and Gold', with Al Gold; Boris followed suit with Al Sutan (later the comic Hal Monty) as 'Grade and Sutton'. It was to avoid confusion that Grade and Sutton, at the suggestion of Sidney Burns, an agent, were renamed 'the Delfont Boys'. (Winogradsky was 'too cumbersome to pronounce', said Burns. He suggested another variety act on his books, the Dufa Boys: 'So why not Delfont?') With Sutan, or on his own, or with a Japanese beauty (as 'Delfont and Toko', in an act entitled 'Syncopated Steps Appeal'), Delfont danced his way through the Twenties and Thirties, until, in 1937, he forsook the boards for his own agency in the West End of London.

With their talent for deals, their resourcefulness and their acumen for figures, combined with their experience of backstage and agency life, the three brothers became powers in the land, particularly with the burgeoning of the new commercial television industry in the Fifties. Lew joined such other variety characters as Val Parnell in buying into ATV. As Senior Drama Director at ARD (the first television contract holder) - with offices first in Stratton Street, Mayfair, and then Television House, Kingsway - I was in a position to observe closely the rise and continued rise of Lew, who in time became first Sir Lew, and later Lord Grade. Both ARD and ATV occupied the same Kingsway building. By this time Leslie was keeping the office warm. Bernard, soon to combine in business, was nicknamed 'Gentleman' Bernie, because of his change of name and his general style of not being in so much of a hurry as the rest of his family - - his mother Olga, his sole sister Rita, and Lew were the theatrical extroverts.

Delfont and the Grades had become more than serious rivals to the HM Tennant company long before the latter, worn out with its confident monopoly of the English theatre, lost its golden boy 'Binkie' Beaumont. Lew wore his Churchillian uniform of a huge cigar wherever he was from early morning to late at night, most of the time in his office, first in Charing Cross Road and later when head of ATV in Kingsway. 'If it's good enough for Churchill, it's good enough for me,' he said.

Whether it was variety performances or managing musical shows, and later straight dramas on tour and in the West End, Delfont had success. His honours - a knighthood and the peerage - came later, long after he had made his managerial debut with a tour of a modest cast in a play called Room for Two. Later he produced in the West End at the St Martin's Jam Today and a number of good, bad and indifferent productions including Other People's Houses (Ambassador's, 1942), Sleeping Out, Old Chelsea, with Richard Tauber, The Fur Coat and revivals of such evergreen pieces as The Admiral Crichton, The Student Prince, Where the Rainbow Ends, Something for the Boys, Rookery Nook and Rose Marie. In the years ahead he was to have such other favourites under his banner as The Duchess of Dantzic and The Count of Luxembourg.

His lists of productions were large and varied and whether he was behind the Folies Bergere Revue at the London Hippodrome, revues at the Prince of Wales, or revivals of Awake and Sing and the strange ghetto dramas of Israel Zangwill, he was jubilant at working - in evidence or behind the scenes - on so many productions, some of them concurrently, others simultaneously. On the one hand he presented such cherished stars as Yves Montand, Sophie Tucker, Harry Richmond, Mistinguett, Lena Horne and Victor Borge in special recitals; on the other, he presented at the other end of the market such old-fashioned pantomimes as those at Liverpool, Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham, Sheffield and the London Palladium.

As well as presenting the Royal Variety Performance for 21 years, he was life president of the actors' charity the Entertainment Artists Association, and was involved with many other show-business charities.

'I'm an impresario of pleasure,' he said once. Bernard Delfont was one of the most welcoming impresarios of them all.

(Photograph omitted)

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 People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice