Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Maverick theatre and comedy producer honoured with new award

A major new Fringe award is to be launched in memory of a maverick producer who worked with some of the biggest acts to get their big breakthrough at the festival.

Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 11:52 am
Updated Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 12:34 pm

The David Johnson Emerging Talent Award, which is expected to be the biggest cash prize at the festival this year, has been created in honour of the colourful figure, who passed away in December 2020 at the age of 60.

He worked with the likes of Stewart Lee, Stephen Fry, Steve Coogan, Fascinating Aida, Sue Perkins and Alexei Sayle.

His best-known stage shows included Trainspotting, Disco Pigs, Fever Pitch, the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and Puppetry of the Penis.

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    The winner will be presented with the award at an hour-long comedy, cabaret and variety show on August 28, which will celebrate the life of Johnson, who passed away in December 2020. Fascinating Aida star Dillie Keane and Stewart Lee are expected to perform at the launch event for the award.

    Born in Derbyshire, Johnson started working in the music industry in the late 1980s, with Tina Turner and Dionne Warwck among the acts he did PR for. He began publicising events for the Terrence Higgins Trust, the HIV and sexual health charity, which saw him work with Fry, Alan Rickman and Ruby Wax.

    The late theatre and comedy produer David Johnson is being honoured with a new award at this year's Fringe.

    Working initially with business partner Mark Goucher, Johnson produced shows by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, Bill Hills, Steven Berkoff, Jackie Clune and former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

    A spokeswoman for the award said: “David Johnson (DJ) was a fixture on the Fringe for over 30 years.

    "DJ's ‘fringe finds’ included Graham Norton, Puppetry of the Penis, and bars that were still open at breakfast time. He produced scores of shows on (and off) the Fringe including The Rubberbandits, Sue Perkins, Alfie Brown, Fascinating Aida, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, Malcolm McLaren, Stewart Lee, Alexei Sayle, Christeene, Kim Noble, Sandi Toksvig, Marc Almond, Mark Ravenhill and many others.

    "He was a trustee of the Pleasance Theatre Trust and an associate artist at Soho Theatre, but he was mostly known for his raucous laughter, his generosity of wallet and his unnerving ability to spot an unexpected hit.

    A new Fringe award is being set up in memory of the late theatre and comedy producer David Johnson.

    "His flair for commercial theatre was matched by – and often combined with – his fervent support for new and emerging artists. The award will be made that that spirit.”

    Fry said: “This prize will keep DJ’s flame fiercely leaping.”

    At the time of Johnson’s death, Keane said: “He was possessed of absolute theatrical nous and intellectual curiosity. A stalwart champion of the new, the marginal and the edgy, DJ loved performance that had the power to shock, but only so long as it was true.”

    Perkins said: “His enthusiasm became your enthusiasm. His optimism became the engine of the work. If he believed in you, you felt like you could fly."

    Lee said: “David Johnson made me realise showbiz could be both fair and fun, which was all I ever wanted from it.”