Michael Hurll - the man who started the British Comedy Awards – died yesterday at the age of 75.
Outside of comedy, his most significant of many contributions to broadcasting was producing Top of the Pops for much of the 1980s, turning a tired format into a more relevant music show. At one point he was simultaneously producing TOTP and the Two Ronnies.
Before then he had already notched up an enviable record in light entertainment, as producer of the Seaside Special variety shows and working with the likes of Cilla Black, Cliff Richard and David Frost.
He joined the BBC straight from the elite St Paul’s School in London in 1956 – alongside Michael Winner. Under the watchful tutelage of legendary impresario Lesley Grade, a family friend, he worked his way through he BBC from stage manager to producing and directing the Billy Cotton Show.
He started the British Comedy Awards in 1990, to raise the profile of the industry, and succeeded in creating some memorable moments of television: from Julian Clary’s joke about fisting Norman Lamont to Spike Milligan calling Prince Charles a ‘grovelling little bastard’ to the snake that tried to get into the audience.
Among those paying tribute today were DJ and presenter Mike Smith, who worked with Hurll on the Late, Late Breakfast Show with Noel Edmonds. He called the producer ‘a mentor to me and many, adding: ‘He let us be us. And he led like a General.
Writer Nigel Crowle tweeted: ‘Sad to say goodbye to Michael Hurll, Comedy/Ent TV legend, inspirational producer & really nice man. He always had the best showbiz stories.’
Towards the end of his life, Hurll suffered from Parkinson's disease, but continued to work until very recently.
He always said his job was to guide talent, rather that take the lead, saying: ‘I’m one of those people like the TV doctor: when the patient needs a bit of TLC, I’m brought in. It’s about trying to convince the performer they should be going in a different direction. Or making them bloody well work. So many of them take it easy once they’ve made it. It’s hard to get to the top but it’s even harder to stay there.’