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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before