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
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
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

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes