Each new generation of actors and writers is buoyed, if they are lucky, through careers in television or theatre by producers creating their opportunities. André Ptaszynski, who has died unexpectedly aged 67, was one such ideal producer, especially for his own generation of comedy talent, which included Victoria Wood, Mel Smith, Rik Mayall and Harry Enfield.
Although he worked in television for some years with his great friend and colleague Peter Bennett-Jones – their producing company, Pola Jones, was formed in 1980 – theatre was Ptaszynski’s passion, a passion apparently concealed beneath a calm, not to say polished, exterior.
Urbane, witty, and partial to a good lunch on a regular basis with his fellow producers Michael Codron and Nick Allott, and the marketing and publicity maestro Anthony Pye-Jeary, Ptaszynski was a smooth operator.
He was producing in the West End from the late 1970s, early shows including Wood’s play Talent, Clive James’s Charles Charming’s Challenges – with James, Pamela Stephenson and Russell Davies performing the poet’s 2,000 lines of Charles and Diana’s wedding celebration with vignettes of figures in politics and the media, all done in Alexander Pope pastiche and brilliantly sustained on the page, less so in the theatre – and, in 1999, Spend, Spend, Spend, a musical fable about Viv Nicholson, who won and lost a fortune on the pools. Unfortunately, the show bombed, too, despite real merits and good reviews.
Ptaszynski was headhunted as chief executive of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Theatres in 2000, selling off some of the 13 theatres the company had acquired, and in 2005 succeeded Bill Taylor in charge of the Really Useful group, managing seven musical venures and looking after Lloyd Webber’s copyrights.
While remaining head of theatres at the re-branded LW Theatres, he accepted an invitation from the Royal Shakespeare Company to co-produce Tim Minchin’s and Dennis Kelly’s Matilda, directed by Matthew Warchus, on its West End transfer in 2011; he became the executive producer worldwide of the show, the RSC’s biggest earner since Les Misérables.
André’s father, Władysław Ptaszynski, was a Polish officer released from a prisoner of war camp in Russia on an exchange deal between Churchill and Stalin. He got on a boat thinking he was going to New York but ended up in Harwich, Essex, where he married Joan Holmes, his English teacher, and settled with her in Ipswich, Suffolk, where André was born. They obviously imbued him with entrepreneurial spirit as they ran several small businesses in the city, including shops and casinos.
From the independent Ipswich school André went to Jesus College, Oxford, where he studied English and, on graduating in 1975, turned the informal Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company, which took a Shakespeare play to American colleges during the Christmas vacation, into a professionally run outfit playing six months of the year on tour – until American Equity put a stop to it in 1978. His Cambridge partner in this enterprise was Bennett-Jones, who quickly moved into television while Ptaszynski worked as a trainee impresario at the Sheffield Crucible under Peter James, where he earned the trust and respect of Wood, Ruby Wax and Alan Rickman.
His university contacts included Richard Curtis and Griff Rhys Jones – whom he presented as Brecht’s Arturo Ui in the West End – and he would become the sole promoter for Eddie Izzard on stage in the 1990s and also for Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and the League of Gentlemen (Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith).
He produced two BBC television series by Steven Moffat, the future Doctor Who and Sherlock writer, Joking Apart (1993-95), about the author’s failed marriage, and Chalk (1997) about his time as a schoolteacher, chaotically well played by David Bamber.
His 50-plus West End producer or co-producer credits included Bob Carlton’s everlasting sci-fi Shakespeare and rock’n’roll blow out, Return to the Forbidden Planet (1990), the all-conquering 1997 concert-style revamp of Chicago, and a second Minchin/Warchus collaboration, Groundhog Day (2016) at the Old Vic.
Ptaszynski served on the board of the Oxford Stage Company (1990-97), was a highly successful and innovative president of the Society of London Theatre, SOLT (1996-99), and was on the board of the National Theatre (2001-10). He enjoyed fell-walking, yoga and “drinking wine on sunny terraces”.
Lloyd Webber observed that he “could be tough when he needed to be, but always with a twinkle in his eye and a nose for the fun side of backstage life … the West End will not be the same without his cheery figure cycling down Shaftesbury Avenue.”
He is survived by his wife, Judith Terry, whom he married in 1985, and their four children, Anna, Jamie, Rebecca and Charlie, and by a brother, Tony, and sister, Yvonne.
• André Ptaszynski, theatre producer, born 7 May 1953; died 29 July 2020