Agent & manager Addison Cresswell & the colourful world of British comedy

Here is an extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. It refers to an incident when comedians Ian Cognito and Ricky Grover had a falling-out at the Edinburgh Fringe:

An excellent performer called Ian Cognito was there and he was very drunk, as is his wont. When he’s drunk, he gets aggressive. Part of his Italian upbringing, I think. 

Ricky had worked with him before, so said hello to him and Cognito grabbed him by his collar and said: 

“You’re a fat cunt!” 

Ricky doesn’t mind that sort of thing at all. He’s used to it.

So, not getting a reaction, Cognito continued: 

“You’re a fat cunt and you’re not funny!” 

Ricky still didn’t react, so Cognito added: 

“And your wife’s a fat cunt as well!”

This upset Ricky, because he’s one of those traditional people.

“Did you mean that?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Ian Cognito said.

“Can you repeat it?” Ricky asked.

Cognito said: “Your wife’s a fat cunt”. 

And, with one blow, Ricky just knocked him out. Unconscious. Displaced his jaw a bit. The lot. Ricky’s a professional, so he knows exactly where to hit someone.

Standing three or four yards away was Jon Thoday, who runs the Avalon agency. I looked over at Jon and said: 

“Oh, have you go that £500 you owe me?”

Funnily enough, the cheque arrived in the post about two days later.

While Ian Cognito was still unconscious another well-known agent rushed over and told Ricky Grover he shouldn’t hit comedians and that he, the agent, could have people killed. 

This bloke’s gone a bit funny. 

He behaves as if he’s a ‘villain’ for some reason. His father is actually a distinguished academic. He comes from a very posh family but he likes to be ‘laddish’ and he’s gone one step further now. He’s got the black Crombie, the waistcoat: everything the well-dressed villain should have.

I met a real villain who had seen him walking about in the West End of London and the agent told this bloke he was one of the Brindle Brothers. At the time, there was a bit of a feud, including occasional shootings, going on in South East London between the Brindle Brothers and the Arifs.

The un-named “well-known agent” at the end of that anecdote was Addison Cresswell of the Off The Kerb comedy agency.

Yesterday it was reported that he died in his sleep, aged 53, on Sunday night and is genuinely much-lamented. Whereas other agents might occasionally rip-off their own clients, I never heard anything bad about Addison in that respect. He was always said to be “hard-nosed” in his negotiations on behalf of his artists (which was his job) – but always in his artists’ interests.

In a 2008 Guardian profile, Kevin Lygo, then Director of Television & Content at Channel 4, described Addison as a “big, flamboyant character in the showbiz comedy world… In the end, you can judge how effective and how good agents are by the long-term relationships they have with their clients. In other words, is their client base always changing or not? Addison has managed to keep his clients for a very long time, which is an indication how good he is for them.”

Addison was oft-quoted as saying: “I don’t see us (agents) as in any way different from the people who run the (TV) channels. They’re complete bastards as well, but we all have to work with each other.”

The Daily Mirror yesterday wrote that he was “seen as a no-nonsense, forceful and larger than life character by many in the industry”.

In the 2008 Guardian profile, Kevin Lygo said of Addison: “With broadcasters, he can be volatile – but my experience with him is that he is straight, and you always have the feeling that he has his client’s best interests at heart. He has an understanding of television, and is a hard negotiator but also fair.”

I only encountered him in person a few times in 1995 when I worked on Jack Dee’s Saturday Night show for ITV1. Addison’s TV company Open Mike produced the show. He talked fast and usually seemed coked-out-of-his-head in a long dark coat. He cultivated a hard-nosed image but seemed to be honest in the sense that, as far as I ever heard, he did the best for his acts and, unlike some other agents, financially screwed companies for the benefit of his acts – he did not financially screw his own acts.

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography, from which the Edinburgh Fringe story above is taken, was published in 1996. This is an entry from my diary two years after that:

Sunday 30th August 1998

In the evening, we went to (Malcolm Hardee’s comedy club) Up The Creek, re-starting its Sunday night shows after a summer break.

Malcolm was extremely drunk in a dysfunctional way when we arrived. At the end of the show, he was so drunk that he fell over and had to be replaced by Simon Fox – one of the comics on the bill – who wore Malcolm’s jacket & spectacles and told three of Malcolm’s jokes.

I drove Malcolm and a girl back to his former home in Fingal Street (which he still rents out to people). The girl was some sort of groupie, mid-20s, glittering hard eyes caused by drugs, drink or cynicism. 

During a break in the show, Malcolm had told me how he and (a friend) had had tea with comics’ agent Addison Cresswell in Covent Garden. Malcolm and (the friend) were “stone cold sober” but Addison was heavily coked-up. He kept telling them how he was now a millionaire and how much he loved them. 

Around the same time – I guess the late 1990s – I heard two other stories.

I had a chat with someone who was thinking of buying Addison’s home. He had gone round to see the property and had been surprised to find, he told me, that the kitchen had bullet-proof glass in the windows.

A stand-up comedian with a colourful past also told me Addison had taken to carrying a gun which he would occasionally take out and wave about to appear macho.

“You shouldn’t do that, Addison,” the stand-up comedian had told him. “If you get into an argument with naughty people (the phrase he used) they may hit you. But, if they know you’ve got a gun under your coat, they’ll just shoot you straight off.”

The Guardian wrote yesterday: “Cresswell preferred his stars to be in the spotlight rather than himself although the BBC hoped he could rival Simon Cowell on a projected talent show.”

A spokesman for Off The Kerb said: ”He leaves behind a proud legacy in his tireless charity work, initiating and organising the annual Channel 4 Comedy Gala in aid of Great Ormond Street hospital. It was his dearest wish to raise enough to fund the opening of a brand new wing of the hospital, a goal that is now in sight. He is survived by his beloved wife, Shelley, his dogs Bonnie and Nessie and many, many pet fish.”

So it goes.

There is a rather strange report of his death on YouTube:

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