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Elder statesman of show business dies aged 84

LORD DELFONT, one of the great show business impresarios of the century, died of a heart attack yesterday at the age of 84. In a genuine rags-to-riches story, he and his brothers Lew and Leslie Grade slept on the floor as children in one room in London's East End with their Russian immigrant parents.

They went on to have an overwhelming influence on the world of theatre, films, television and leisure. Lord Delfont's older brother Lew, Lord Grade, is still alive, and his nephew Michael is chief executive of Channel 4.

A former agent, Lord Delfont achieved his first big break by bringing the Folies Bergere revue from Paris to London in 1950. From there he went on to present hundreds of shows in London and New York, most notably staging the Royal Variety Performance every year.

Announcing his uncle's death, Ian Freeman, public relations manager of First Leisure Corporation, said: 'It was a shock to all the family because he hadn't been ill. He was still very active and closely involved with the company as president. He came into the office five days a week and was our elder statesman.'

Lord Delfont's mother, Olga Winogradsky, was a Jewish matriarch with big plans for her sons. Lord Delfont once said she was his 'greatest influence'. He followed Lew into the world of show business by becoming a professional Charleston dancer before setting up as an agent. His career as an impresario began during the Second World War when he bought cheap leases on West End theatres.

He entered theatrical management in 1941 and presented more than 200 shows in London and New York, including 50 musicals. In 1979 he branched into films by becoming chief executive of EMI, bringing films such as Death on the Nile and Close Encounters of the First Kind to British cinemas . He founded the First Leisure Corporation in 1983, leading the management buyout of the business from TrustHouse Forte. The firm's interests encompass the Blackpool Tower, 10-pin bowling alleys, discos and West End theatres.

The singer Dame Vera Lynn, a long-time friend, said: 'He will be sadly missed. He is another great character that has gone and there doesn't seem to be anybody coming along to replace him.'

(Photograph omitted)