Addison Cresswell: Talent-spotter who brought a string of comedians to the fore and forged a new format for television comedy

 

By the time of his sudden death, Addison Cresswell was undeniably a captain of the British comedy industry. Tall, fast-talking, dapper and not averse to thumping tables to make a point, the power he wielded as director of the comedy management agency Off The Kerb gained him a fearsome reputation, and one of which he was well aware. In 2000, he brought up his having been described as "the Darth Vader of the Fringe" before his interviewer had a chance to. His philosophy was this: "Small acts feed off the big ones and you need a few big names to make people feel it's worth going to."

Cresswell's way of working was to put on acts at the Edinburgh Fringe, then guide them to stardom through tours and television. His career represents the assimilation into the showbusiness mainstream of the 1980s alternative comedians, his preferred acts being solo stand-ups, generally male, culminating in the highly successful, but non-threatening, non-political figure of Michael McIntyre. Tellingly, his most high profile, and reputedly most favoured, client was Jonathan Ross, a creation of the small screen, rather than the stage.

The panel games and stand-up showcases produced by Cresswell's television company, Open Mike Productions, were the equivalent of the variety show formats of earlier decades. Even shows from other companies, such as Mock The Week, reflected this trend. Off The Kerb supplied its host, Dara O'Briain.

Belying a public persona not unlike a Cockney villain, he was born in Brighton, and attended Longhill High School, Rottingdean. His father was a painter who also lectured at Goldsmith's College, which presumably influenced what Cresswell called "doing illustration at Brighton Polytechnic", where he became entertainments officer. He averred that he had been "probably the richest student ever. I used to put my grant in the building society and live off the money I used to make at the club."

His inclination as a promoter was then towards music: he claimed to have obtained the services of U2 for £100. Following a visit to London's Comedy Store with friend and future performer Roy Hutchins, and finding none of the acts were "being looked after", he initially signed the comic poet John Hegley. Named by Hegley, The Off the Kerb Roadshow then toured the country. Cresswell inaugurated the management company of the same name from the kitchen table of a basement flat in Peckham, south London.

His first show at the Edinburgh Fringe was in 1982, entitled simply Alternative Cabaret and featuring alternative comedy "godfather" Tony Allen. Cresswell recalled: "The only slot you could get was after the boring play from hell ... We'd be packed out and they'd be half full for the play." The following year at the Little Lyceum, Cresswell introduced Harry Enfield, then half of a double act, Dusty and Dick.

By 1987, in an Off The Kerb season at Holland Park Theatre, west London, Cresswell was presenting Enfield, Paul Merton, Phill Jupitus (then called Porky the Poet) and Julian Clary, who went into the West End in Camping At The Aldwych (1990). Cresswell gained his first television credit as associate producer on Clary's sitcom Terry and Julian (C4, 1992).

In his autobiography, A Young Man's Passage, Clary wrote: "He was proud of the comedians he looked after, and viewed us a bit like racehorses. When he signed Jo Brand he said to me 'It's good to have a female in the stable.'"

The first television series from Open Mike was The Jack Dee Show (C4, 1992 and 1994), translating the deadpan stand-up's act to a Sixties supper-club setting. Cresswell continued to oversee BBC, ITV and Channel 4 vehicles for Dee throughout the Nineties, followed by his sitcom Lead Balloon (BBC, 2006-11). The panel game It's Only TV ... But I Like It (BBC, 1999-2002) fielded three Cresswell signings – host Ross as host and team captains Clary and Dee – while Off The Kerb continued to produce Ross's Saturday morning Radio Two show.

Not all of the cross-pollination was successful. Lee Evans's So What Now? (2001), made for BBC1 by Little Mo Films, a company formed by Cresswell and Evans, another early find, lasted one series. An appearance by Marc Wootton as spoof psychic Shirley Ghostman, on Ross's show in 2005 led to complaints. Wootton sought different representation; the clip was removed from YouTube.

When Ross and comedian Russell Brand taunted the actor Andrew Sachs on air in 2008, it raised questions about the £18m deal with the BBC that Cresswell had secured for Ross. Ross was suspended, but Friday Night with Jonathan Ross was replaced in the same slot, in November 2008, by Live at the Apollo, hosted by Cresswell's McIntyre.

In this paper earlier this year, Stewart Lee – not from Cresswell's stable – was forthright about the agent and his peers: "You have a ridiculous situation where a client of the management company is interviewing another client of a management company on a programme made by the production company owned by the management company."

Despite his real-life volubility, Cresswell was rarely interviewed, and never appeared on documentaries about the comedy business. He did much fund-raising for Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Addison Cresswell, agent and producer: born Brighton 28 June 1960; married Shelley; died London 23 December 2013.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Latest stories from i100
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 General

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Part Time Primary Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week