The son of an evolutionary scientist at Cambridge University, Jon Thoday looked like he was heading for a life of academia after studying genetics at Cambridge, however he always had an eye on the performing arts.
Former president of the Cambridge Footlights, Jon Thoday didn't have the best start to his career as a talent agent and promoter. He produced a musical called Nightclub Confidential which he says himself was ‘spectacularly unsuccessful’.
After losing £402,000 the show sunk without a trace but Thoday survived and says he learnt a lot from the experience, even though he almost bankrupted himself.
Speaking about the theatre flop Thoday said: “I think that people have purple patches, and their judgement [about shows] is a lot better during that time. I was at a point where if I didn’t produce I wouldn’t get the experience, but I am ridiculously arrogant and thought you could start from scratch!”
He formed Avalon and took on Richard Allen-Turner (who would later become co-director) in 1989. Their first act was composer Steve Brown, who was working on Radio Active and was a writer for Spitting Image.
Thoday’s second client was Richard Thomas, who would later go on to write Jerry Springer The Opera, but his first big client was another Cambridge graduate David Baddiel who quickly became famous for his collaboration with Rob Newman and Punt & Dennis on the Radio 1 show The Mary Whitehouse Experience.
The show became a phenomenal success and quickly transferred to TV with Thoday later producing the UK’s first-ever arena-sized comedy gig when Baddiel and Newman took their show to Wembley.
Speaking to the Guardian about the stadium show with Baddiel and Newman Thoday said: “When we did that show, we only had one chance of it working, and we weren’t even sure people would hear them speak properly, but it worked pretty well and it was exciting.”
Thoday started Avalon Television after becoming frustrated with trying to get a show produced and long development slates. When Baddiel came up with the idea for Fantasy Football he convinced the BBC that he should ‘have a go’. Since then Thoday has produced Harry Hill’s TV Burp, Not Going Out, Russell Howard’s Good News, That Sunday Night Show and The Frank Skinner Show.
Thoday has a reputation for being quite tough, and has admitted to sometimes ‘going ballistic’ whether it be with a journalist, a rival agent, or the head of Universal DVD.
“I’m often frustrated when I see an artist being produced by another company, when the producer says to an artist ‘yeah that’s great’ when it’s not”
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