`Nobody sets out to be a star-maker'

French, Saunders, Sayle, Coltrane, Mayall: without Peter Richardson where would they be? James Rampton on a comedy kingmaker's return
He doesn't have gaggles of teenage groupies clamouring for him at the stage door. He doesn't have a television show with his name in the title. He doesn't get feted around the world at awards ceremonies. But Peter Richardson has launched the careers of a lot of people who do.

French and Saunders, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, Robbie Coltrane, Alexei Sayle, Keith Allen and Nigel Planer all got their big break at Raymond Revuebar, the site of the celebrated Comic Strip club that Richardson set up in 1980. Richardson founded the club after spells as a swimming- pool lifeguard, a rock drummer, and an extra in The Benny Hill Show and Z Cars.

With his stubble, dishevelled hair and leather jacket, Richardson, 41, goes completely unrecognised in a busy Soho pub. Dragging on the first of many Silk Cuts, he plays down the idea of himself as a kingmaker of alternative comedy. "I played my part, but those people were strong when I first met them. They were already acts making people laugh. We were a team, and I was the player-manager."

Now he has put on his tracksuit and retired to the dug-out to direct his latest venture, The Glam Metal Detectives, a breathless, channel-surfing spoof of satellite television, which started on BBC2 on Thursday. It stars seven relatively fresh faces - Gary Beadle, Mark Caven, Phil Cornwell, Doon Mackichan, Sara Stockbridge and George Yiasoumi - all of whom will have to put up with being dubbed "the new Comic Strip".

Richardson hopes his history won't hinder the glam seven. "If they do become stars, then obviously, because of the Comic Strip, there'll be an element of `Oh, he's just trying to collect people', which is not the case. No one sets out to be a star-maker."

Glam Metal Detectives has been three long years in the making. Not content with a TV show, he has also had a hand in a Glams comic book, a single (performed on Top of the Pops last Thursday) and an album (produced by Trevor Horn, no less.) He is what you might call driven. Richardson admits this causes friction on occasions. And his producer, Nira Park confirms, with understandable diplomacy, that "he can be difficult to work with". Richardson is known in the business as a difficult man who gets results.

The performers certainly appreciate his thoroughness. Dave Schneider, who appears in Glam, says: "He brings the values and standards of a costume drama to comedy - which is rare. For him, comedy is not the Cinderella of television. He cuts no corners. He's a good actors' director. On some shows, the only note you get from the director is `Be funny'. Peter is prepared to talk about acting, rather than Light Entertainment. It's not just a question of `What's my motivation?' `Getting paid, of course'."

The Glams will not altogether replace Richardson's first love. His next project is to reinvent the Comic Strip Presents with the original members. "We stayed together by being apart," he reflects. "Once they all became mega-famous, the press wanted to look for some kind of rankling bitterness. But we're still good friends, we haven't fallen out.

"We'll have a new identity,'' Richardson says. "People get bored. You think, `Scrap it all, do something fresh'. We'll do longer one-offs, and we might invent a new show title - a word like `Flicks', something slightly slangy that throws away the fact that it's a film. We'll also change the Comic Strip Presents logo [a dropping bomb with "Have a Nice Day" written on the side]. The old one was from Dr Strangelove and supposed to indicate anarchy. It was the angry late Seventies, the time of punk. Now we'll have a mountain peak, or a cute little bird."

n `The Glam Metal Detectives' continues on BBC2 at 9.00pm next Thursday