Oh, the wretched topic of death, such a frustrating interloper, especially at Christmas, damn you. Alas, there is no point in pretending that we improve with age. In his colossal autobiography, Ben Hecht expressed the ageing process thus: “the years diminish us, time rots our body, cools our blood, darkens our brain, and, like a furtive embalmer, prepares our bodies for the winding sheet.” All too often, humans exit the process prematurely; on Saturday, the uber-agent, my old friend Addison Cresswell, checked out at the height of his power, just as Santa was coordinating the settings on his SatNav. Addi’s death was heartbreaking for his loved ones, sad for his legions of friends and acquaintances.
Bad news travels fast: Addison’s demise percolated through Facebook and Twitter like a ruptured reservoir of sadness. Folk etched moving epigraphs on a host of social sites, a community stunned into stupefaction. This unexpected shock unified the comedy universe, many finding solace celebrating his memory. Some were immobilised by a deepsense of loss; others recognised a more remarkable full stop to a significant chapter. These flickering chronologies passionately accumulated into a string of lyrical memoires about his largesse and contradictions.
Over time, I am sure, there will be a further torrent of tall tales released into the wild. After all, the colourful scallywag was marinated in unreflective hedonism. Many accounts will be true, however some should be scrutinised through a distinct prism, as half-remembered truths of a thousand and one crazy Edinburgh Festival nights.
True, Addison’s unexpected death is crushing: it challenges our feelings about life and living, completely turning our reality upside-down, very much like an evening in the man’s company. That he’s no longer with us is incomprehensible. However, his passing marks the end of an era, for many who lived through the last 25years.
Like some bizarre landscape gardener, Addi shaped the flora and fauna of the comedy world of the last thirty years. He helped to condition a new entertainment economy. He helped it evolve into something lucrative and significant. His presence was like a megaphone, deafening the company with laughter. Some saw him as a monster devouring the principles of cultural intellectuals. I viewed him as a bastard savage; a beautiful brute crawling with ambition, fervently dedicated to each of his clients. Generous, fair, and achingly fun-loving, Addi was someone able to soothe and aggravate in equal measure. A storm trooper of clichés, and a purveyor of rapturous hedonism, his was a disruptive enterprise, conditioning a new age of vaudeville.
When TV stepped forward to platform his clients, Addi remained resolute on reaping from the bonanza. He quickly propagated a ruthless reputation, developing a willingness to go to extremes to achieve the best deal for his new clients. For many of these unknowns, he built notable live careers, turningpromising stand ups into brands, selling millions of DVDs, filling stadia, whilst crunching mega film and home entertainment deals. He ushered breathed new, hyper-competitive life into the market, aggressively building a formidable business empire of production companies and TV vehicles. His wizardry was to transmogrify these base metals; it’s too simple to suggest he was simply the man in the right place at the right time. He was more than an able deal broker, placing his stars at the epicentre. Good agents will always put the client first. he was a triple threat: tenacious, fierce and loyal, and it is for this reason many of the mega comedians never left his side.
Addison could appear as a modern day George Cole, full of larky flirtations, fluent in a ineluctable argot, playing Flash Harry, his acts a metaphoric mob of unruly St Trinian’s girls.
I first met Addison at the the end of the 1980s inside the furnace of the Edinburgh Fringe. We crossed swords, contesting a passionate fly-posting war, I wanted to own the streets for myclient, he wanted the space to be adorned with his. Bizarrely, Cynthia Payne acted as a peace-maker to curtail the conflict. He was never lost for a disparaging barb whenever we met – usually late at night – at a members’ club. Grasping my neck, thrusting his face into mine, shouting in my ear. On one occasion, I introduced him to a journalist, which was a prompt for a bizarre ritual. He tried to test the Guardian writer with a cash bribe. The encounter didn’t end well: I recall the scribbler unable to grasp the levity. I guess it was hard to see the funny side of a bundle of £50 notes.
He hired me on a number of occasions, his commissions were never handsome, but he trusted in my skills and left me to the task, sometimes made difficult by his client not choosing to engage in the promotion process. Addi would support the indifference, after all, he possessed an utter disdain for the Third Estate.
In 1991, we were hired to launch his beloved brother Luke’s extraordinary ensemble Stomp. He would call every day to ensure my endeavours were focused on the show. He had no interest other than brotherly love, his devotion was touching, and rather irritating.
The comedy world in the 21st century is now highly industrialised. Not just down to the efforts and influence of Addison, of course. Things are not the same. In truth they are what they are: no better, no worse, just very different. Edinburgh is unlikely to produce another Addison Cresswell. The current Edinburgh Fringe is a vast sandbox for a new generation to be tested and developed. Ambitious dreamers are searching for the first rung on the ladder. Perhaps the uber-agent 2.0 should be looking to exploit the talents of technology developers in a undiscovered silicon tech fringe. I would advise them to study the Cresswell codex of entrepreneurship. It might make the difference.
Time moves on, Cresswell’s diabolical fame is enshrined in the hearts of many hetouched, however, the age in which it was forged has passed, his like is unlikely to be seen again.