While the work of comedian Benny Hill and that of artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh can hardly be seen as comparable, both gained enormous media attention in the USA thanks in part to the efforts of Donald L Taffner, the New York-based TV and theatre producer and distributor, who died in September 2011.
Don Taffner was born in Brooklyn in 1930 and after graduating from St John's University, New York in 1952, he took a job in the mail room at the William Morris Agency. By the time he left in 1959 he had established himself as an agent and in 1963 launched his own company, D.L.Taffner Ltd, in partnership with his wife, Eleanor. Since then, the business has grown into an internationally recognised company (known latterly as DLT Entertainment Ltd) that has produced and distributed television programmes around the world.
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In the UK, Mr Taffner represented Thames Television for more than 25 years, selling programmes such as The Benny Hill Show, Rumpole of the Bailey and The World at War to network stations across the USA. To UK audiences, DLT Entertainment Ltd is best known as the company behind the BBC's long-running sitcoms As Time Goes By (with Dame Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer) and My Family (starring Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker). Looking ahead, executives from the Taffner offices in New York have recently been in Glasgow exploring the potential of using current Scottish screenwriting talent for future sitcom productions.
In 1986 he became a shareholder and later chairman of the Theatre of Comedy Company in London's West End which continues to own and manage the prestigious Shaftesbury Theatre.
Don and Eleanor Taffner's links to Scotland began in the mid-1980s when they were introduced to Professor Tony Jones, then Director of the Glasgow School of Art (GSA). The Taffners quickly developed a passion for Glasgow and for the GSA in particular, establishing an American Friends of GSA to support the school's links with the USA.
They became avid collectors of Mackintosh's work and that of the Glasgow School and in 1986 created the post of Taffner Mackintosh Curator at the GSA, sustaining the position for almost 20 years. In 1996 the Taffners supported Glasgow Museums' Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibition when it showed on tour in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In 2000 they provided funding to allow a recently conserved Mackintosh tea room (owned by Glasgow Museums) to be exhibited at an art nouveau exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
They were life members of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and in recognition of their support for Mackintosh and the arts in Scotland, the Taffners were presented with a Wallace award at the Icons of Scotland Dinner hosted by Scotland Magazine in 2005. They were the first recipients with no hereditary connection to Scotland to receive the award – a remarkable achievement.
Mr Taffner's significant contribution to the entertainment business was recognised by the International Council of the National Academy of Television arts and Sciences who presented him with an Emmy Award "for setting new levels of creativity in the worldwide exchange of television programs". Meanwhile in the UK, Mr Taffner was awarded an OBE for his contribution to British television.
The Taffners were life-long friends and benefactors of St John's University and in 2005 were given Johnny's Angels Awards by St John's Bread and Life, an organisation devoted to providing food to those in need across the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. It was therefore fitting that a memorial mass was held in honour of Don's life at St Thomas More church on the campus of St John's University on 17 September 2011
Don Taffner is survived by his son Donald Taffner Jr, daughter Karen Butler and three grandchildren, John, Henry and Tom.