Cott was born in Leicestershire, England, on 6 July 1900. He was schooled at Rugby. In 1919, he graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst into the Leicestershire Regiment. Between 1922 and 1925, he studied at Selwyn College, Cambridge. In 1938, he became Doctor of Science at the University of Glasgow (Scotland) under another advocate of military camouflage, John Graham Kerr. Cott served in the British Army as a camouflage expert from 1919–1922, and, during World War II, as a camouflage instructor from 1939–1945. Cott was chief instructor at the Camouflage Development and Training Camp at Helwan, Egypt, under filmmaker Geoffrey Barkas from its inception in November 1941.
In the years following World War I, Cott travelled to South America, where he studied natural forms in eastern Brazil, and on the lower Amazon. He also went on research trips to the Canary Islands, and Africa, including Mozambique, Zambia and East Africa. As a zoologist, he was a lecturer at Bristol University, 1928–1932; a lecturer at Glasgow University, 1932–1938; Strickland curator and lecturer at Cambridge University, 1938–1967. Cott became a Fellow of Selwyn College in 1945.
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