Nascent Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe 1956–1963: Continuity, Evolution and Legacy

David Jarman School of History and Classics University of Edinburgh MSc Dissertation August 2005

Declaration This dissertation has been composed by David Jarman, a candidate for the postgraduate award of Master of Science from the School of History and Classics, at the University of Edinburgh. The work it represents is the candidate’s own.

David Jarman, 8 August 2005

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Acknowledgements The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is an annually changing, ever-growing event in the city’s calendar. Such relentless expansion can limit opportunities to take stock of the Festival’s history. This paper attempts to redress the balance to a small degree, complementing undergraduate research and analysing the impact of different developments on particular parts of the Fringe. My thanks go primarily to my supervisor at Edinburgh University Dr Trevor Griffiths, whose help in formulating research questions, and attempting to answer them, has been invaluable over the past year. Contact with several influential individuals from Fringes past has been very illuminating, particularly Dr Patrick Brooks and Andrew Kerr who have longstanding connections with the Fringe Society, and Jim Haynes whose varied contributions to the Edinburgh Festival survive today in the form of the Traverse Theatre. The efficiency of the staff at the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish Theatre Archive is a boon to every researcher using their material, and proved crucial in the course of this research. Extensive thanks are also due to colleagues, friends and others I have met over years of involvement in the Fringe who have provided interest, support and assistance in the course of producing this piece of work. Arts festivals are increasingly important in the life of cities across the globe, and are attracting increased academic attention. The work that follows is a historical contribution to a multidisciplinary field of research, and hopefully a good read, covering as it does a process of change and drama in a fascinating period of British history. David Jarman Edinburgh, 8 August 2005

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Contents Acknowledgements Illustrations acknowledgements Introduction: Of fringe and Fringe Supply and demand What took so long? Accentuating the positive Conclusion: A late review Bibliography iii v 1 15 23 31 37 42

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Illustrations acknowledgements All images used below are taken from the Festival Fringe Society’s anniversary book The Fringe. 50 Years of the Greatest Show on Earth, written and edited by Alice Bain and published by The Scotsman Publications Ltd. in 1996. Page 9 Page 15 Page 20 Page 29 Page 34 Page 39 Page 40 Fringe programme cover, 1961: The Fringe, p. 5. An Edinburgh Fancy programme cover and ticket, 1957: The Fringe, p. 24. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead poster, 1966: The Fringe, p. 13. Additional Entertainments programme cover, 1957: The Fringe, p. 5. Cast of Beyond the Fringe, 1960: The Fringe, p. 15. Fringe programme cover, 1966: The Fringe, p. 5. Better Late… poster, late 1950s: The Fringe, p. 13.

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Introduction: Of fringe and Fringe The very essence of the Fringe… The Fringe’s power lies in the fact that a good group with a “different” play can find an audience in Edinburgh… from the front row one can touch the actors in some scenes. The available space is handled cleverly… The general approach owes a lot to the cinema technique – there are short episodes and rapid changes of scene. Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 23 August 19561 Mr Charles Barron, the Aberdeen students’ leading actor and chairman of their committee… suggested that there should be some sort of co-operation between all the “fringe” companies… He suggested the formation of a committee of producers and stage managers on the “fringe” to keep in touch throughout the year to obviate overlapping. Could not all the “fringe” companies unite in putting out a brochure about all the non-official events instead of each company having to print and circulate leaflets as at present? he asked. Glasgow Herald, 29 August 19572 In these two quotations the character and potential of the fringe movement, which had developed around the Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama since the inaugural event in 1947, are laid out.3 In only a decade the unremitting arrival of uninvited (yet increasingly welcome) groups had developed some coherent characteristics, on which each subsequent annual influx of contributors, audiences and critics developed the event. This research develops the themes of these opening passages, and demonstrates their roles in an evolving narrative capturing two distinct yet increasingly co-dependent phenomena: the nature of the work performed on the fringe, and the foundations and ideology of the fledgling Festival Fringe Society. On the eve of its sixtieth anniversary, reassessment of the Edinburgh Fringe is pertinent and necessary. The evidence discussed below clarifies the centrality of the period in question to the Fringe’s apparent success in the intervening years, and contributes to current discussions of the place for such events in Edinburgh’s cultural calendar at a time of increased national and international festival competition. Arts festivals have been the subject of a flowering of multidisciplinary interest in the last decade or so. The current work takes a place alongside papers on their political, economic and spatial relevance such as Anderson and Prentice’s ‘Festival as Creative Destination’ and Waterman’s ‘Carnivals for Elites?’4 Waterman outlines geography’s broadening scope, from focuses on cultural and economic production to public consumption. A festival’s impact is seen to extend beyond its transient existence to a realignment of identities, values and celebrations, akin to that historically encountered in country fairs and folk cultures. Anderson and Prentice, with a foundation in tourism research, also concentrate on consumer-side analysis, defining seven ‘segments’ of Edinburgh’s festival audience.5 While both studies, particularly Waterman’s, benefit to a degree from historical contextualisation, their focus is on

1 Edinburgh Festival Society Papers (hereinafter EFSP), National Library of Scotland (hereinafter NLS), Dep. 378:401, Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 23 August 1956. 2 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:402, Glasgow Herald, 29 August 1957. 3 It is hoped that distinctions will be clear where necessary between references to the Edinburgh Festival fringe and the Festival Fringe Society created to support it. Likewise references to the Edinburgh Festival(s) – both the overall event held between midAugust and mid-September in this period or its constituent parts – are context specific. It took several Festivals before the Fringe became accepted as a proper noun, although this did predate the Fringe Society’s formation. 4 V. Anderson and R. Prentice, ‘Festival as Creative Destination’, Annals of Tourism Research, 30(1) (2003) 7-27; S. Waterman ‘Carnivals for Elites? The cultural politics of arts festivals’, Progress in Human Geography, 22(1) (1998) 54-69. 5 Anderson and Prentice, ‘Festival as Creative Destination’, pp. 11-12. Audience segments include ‘Serious Consumers of International Culture’, ‘Scottish Experience Tourists’ and ‘Accidental Festival-Goers’.

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socio-anthropological analysis, researched with primary reference to the present day and the development of models that may be applied to other similar situations in the future. A more overt historical grounding informs Jamieson’s work on the ‘Festival Gaze’, examining the modern local authority’s creation of select bounded ‘and seemingly spontaneous spaces’ conducive to safe but exciting interaction for and between visitors.6 Her narrative explains how ‘Edinburgh’s first international festival re-established communities of high culture and conferred legitimacy to the spatial and temporal structure of arts festivals in the city’.7 The notion of conferred legitimacy, in the appropriation of a ‘canonized European culture sphere’, established foundations on which Edinburgh subsequently sought ‘festival city’ status. Jamieson demonstrates the importance of the festival’s roots in understanding later developments, a theme this paper will return to when concluding, and in turn provide a historical context for subsequent literature. f Twenty-first century publicity material from the Festival Fringe Society succinctly portrays the early years of the Edinburgh festival for those performing outwith the high profile main event: ‘setting up independently of any organisation and finding their own venues… none of the performers was invited to take part, they used small and unconventional theatre spaces and were obliged to take all of their own financial risks’.8 The same publication trumpets the extraordinary statistical record of the modern event, including over one and quarter million tickets sold in 2004, while recognising both the implied and overt bequest of its much smaller and less coherent younger self.9 The fringe was a collection of amateur, professional and student groups, seeking to contribute their agendas and ambitions to Edinburgh’s elitist International Festival, claiming some ownership of the model.10 The Fringe is now the world’s largest arts festival, an open access international showcase of talent, served by a central administrative organisation. A complex historical narrative links the two by accident and design, of which the years studied here marked the first watershed, defined much of the landscape and scenery, introduced key protagonists and laid out a plot which as yet shows no sign of concluding. Writing the Festival Fringe Society’s first Treasurer’s Report in 1960, R. Neil Barber reflected that ‘It was decided that the initial [preceding] year would be one in which it would be possible to decide in what direction the aims of the Society should be managed’.11 Thus 1959, the year that immediately demonstrated the ‘advantages of even limited cohesion, such as advice on halls, central booking

K. Jamieson, ‘The Festival Gaze and its Boundaries’, Space and Culture, 7(1) (2004), p. 69 (emphasis in original). Jamieson, ‘The Festival Gaze and its Boundaries’, p. 66 (emphasis in original). Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Annual Report. (Edinburgh, 2004), p. 8. 9 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Annual Report (2004), p. 6. Total Fringe sales in 2004 reached 1,253,776, a 73% market share of attendances at Edinburgh’s annual festivals. 10 D. Jarman, ‘Mirror of the Nation. The Edinburgh Festivals and Scottish national identity’, (Univ. of Edinburgh unpublished M.A. dissertation, 2001). 11 Festival Fringe Society Papers (hereinafter FFSP), Scottish Theatre Archive (hereinafter STA), Special Collections Department of Glasgow University Library (hereinafter GUL), L.a. Box 1/1, R.N. Barber, Treasurer’s Report, Balance Sheet and Accounts for the year ended 31st December 1959, (Edinburgh, 1960).
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facilities, and more adequate publicity’, rooted itself as a fulcrum for the period under examination.12 Implicit in Barber’s words however is the suggestion that ‘the aims of the Society’ had already been defined, conceivably while or even before steps were taken to constitute a body to administer, but not direct, the Fringe festival. 1956 itself saw a healthy level of speculation on what just such a development might look like, and marks the entry point to the period being studied. Donald Wolfit, appearing in a play outwith the International Festival’s programme, proposed that the Festival Society ‘acknowledge the presence of “acceptable” Fringe groups… the rest would remain strictly on the fringe of the Fringe’. 13 The Spectator reflected further on the inherent disparities of life in festival Edinburgh, a tale of ‘Two Nations, the haves and have-nots’, fringe groups ‘driven out to small and draughty halls, producing on a shoe-string, unrecognised, unassisted, even (most unfairly) unendowed, sometimes, with sufficient talent!’.14 Therefore although there was recognition of the existence of fringe groups, clearly enjoying diverging resources of funding and talent yet identified under a common broad heading, little coherence united them outwith press listings compilations. By 1963 however considerable evidence may be presented of an ambitious Fringe Society, coupled with a wider festival that was responding positively to the values of democratic open access and innovation. Turning again to the Treasurer’s Reports, Dr Patrick Brooks outlined ‘a record [fifth] year’, with Society funds up £270 on 1962, future plans to run the Fringe box office ‘as a private venture… thus relieving the [voluntary] Society of any administrative and financial responsibility’, while future expansion of services would hopefully increase membership levels.15 The Society had no ambitions to expand its original aims, but plenty of new ideas to fulfil that remit better. Indeed the 1963 AGM agreed an amended (2nd) constitution which obliged the Society to take ultimate responsibility for the provision of a centralised box office, while altering its winding up clause.16 Initially, any funds held by the Fringe Society were due to go to the International Festival Society upon dissolution. This was altered to include ‘such other body as may be decided at the final General Meeting of the Society’, for the Fringe had now established itself in Edinburgh, and should a new organisation be required to improve still further on its administration it would build on a recognised pedigree. Contextualising these years within the broader British cultural and political experience turns up iconic events, individuals and movements. Labelled by Dominic Sandbrook as taking the nation ‘from Suez to The Beatles’ these were days when ‘most of our people have never had it so good’ according to the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, while John Lennon reflected that in fact ‘nothing happened except that we all dressed up’.17 Other cultural historians point to the ‘Cultural Revolution… the great period of transformation between 1958 and 1973’ that fed, for example, a structuralist movement prioritising the breaking down of boundaries between genres, and focusing on language as key to understanding

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EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:442, Glasgow Herald, 02 September 1959. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:435, Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 24 August 1956. 14 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:436, The Spectator, 07 September 1956. 15 FFSP, STA, GUL, L.a. Box 1/5, Dr. P. Brooks, Treasurer’s Report for the year 1963, (Edinburgh, 1 July 1964). 16 FFSP, STA, GUL, L.a. Box 2/29, Festival Fringe Society Constitution, (Edinburgh, 25 August 1963). 17 D. Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good. A history of Britain from Suez to The Beatles (London, 2005), pp. xviii; xxi. Page 3

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‘human and social behaviour’.18 Such commentators often question the extent to which these phenomena extended from the metropolis to the provinces or vice versa. In the Edinburgh Fringe there was at least the opportunity to both disseminate new ideas between attendees, wherever they came from, and foster local cultural opportunities for artists and audiences. Few appear to deny the ‘myth of the Angry Young Man’ and his New Wave impact on British culture, born in 1956 of ‘John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger and Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider’.19 Returning to Sandbrook, Within six years it was widely accepted that Osborne’s play marked an irrevocable and revolutionary shift in post-war British culture… in the context of the Butskellite consensus, dissent could only be expressed in cultural terms… [Yet] New Wave theatre appealed only to a small, well-educated minority of the public.20 While reflecting Hobsbawm’s assertion that ‘the rise of a revolutionary popular entertainment industry geared to the mass market, reduced the traditional forms of high art to elite ghettoes’, both historians recognise the artist’s role in affecting the perceived legitimacy of social and political structures.21 Sandbrook juxtaposes the ‘grittiness’ of ‘Kitchen Sink’ dramas with Westminster’s cosy post-war, post-Suez welfare complacency, and Hobsbawm notes the appeal of contemporary East European artists who had ‘the sense of being needed by their public’.22 This is not the only period in Scottish, British or European history in which the iconic or partially mythical powers of particular cultural products held sway over popular consciousness, the media and so on. What may be asserted is that the years in question, and certain elements therein, have left a legacy in the collective memory of this nation and the Fringe at least. Contemporary outlets for this influential work need only have been limited, and their actual direct audiences small, for the right combination of opportunity, attention and means of expression to ensure that such voices as spoke for and of the common experience were heard.23 This is the broader artistic and cultural context in which the Edinburgh Fringe of the late fifties and early sixties is located. While dwarfed in some respects by the International Festival, just as consumer exposure to Salad Days and The Sound of Music was in another league to the products of the New Wave, the Fringe could both announce revolutionary work and see some of its efforts disappear without trace. This paper describes the means by which largely unquestioned legacies were created by Fringe performers and administrators. It will not be argued therefore that the Fringe has stagnated since this period, but rather that it has continued to evolve. Positioning 1956-1963 as the single most important phase in its history provides a necessary chronological focus, yet pertinent material will also be used from neighbouring

A. Marwick, The Arts in the West since 1945 (Oxford, 2002), pp. 101; 180-183. R. Hewison, In Anger. Culture in the Cold War 1945-1960 (London, 1998), p. 152. 20 Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good, pp. 180; 184. 21 E. Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes 1914-1991 (London, 1995), p. 509. 22 Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good, pp. 182-183; Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes, p. 506. 23 Hewison, In Anger, p. 152. Look Back in Anger received its opening night on 8 May 1956, 18 days before the publication of Colin Wilson’s The Outsider. ‘Both could be discussed in the same breath… The reviews in the Sunday papers gave the signal that something was happening, and the popular press followed’.
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years. While each post-war decade of British history has its attendant myths and icons, can it be mere coincidence that these events in Edinburgh took place against a ‘Cultural Revolution?’.24 f There is a relative paucity in existing historical literature on the Edinburgh Fringe and wider festival compared to the extensive media coverage contemporaneous with particular events. This has been highlighted in previous festival history research, and no existing academic debates have come to light on the issues covered here.25 Instead, mainstream festival literature has a propensity to mark anniversaries, the fiftieth event in 1996 for example, or milestones for particular venues. Narratives are often clearly defined and the writer’s empirical knowledge may be exploited in the first person. While works on the Edinburgh International Festival touch on the Fringe directly, and will be drawn upon where appropriate, their greatest benefits lie in providing a context for the unofficial festival’s story. Iain Crawford, for example, notes a stocktaking exercise in the later 1950s as the Festival ‘showed irritating signs of becoming a fixture and therefore thought had to be given as to how it was to be developed’.26 Regardless of whether they contributed to the Fringe’s development in this period, certain characteristics of the International appear to have legitimated aspects of the Fringe. Crawford discusses the precarious support for commissioning new work among members of the Festival Council – a City Corporation dominated and therefore funding orientated body – after a poorly received theatrical production of The Hidden King in 1957.27 It has already been suggested that one of the Fringe’s greatest contributions to the festival in this period was the rapid acceptance by producers and audiences of the merits of new work, particularly theatre. Another International based work by Eileen Miller develops this further, noting that ‘many professional actors were beginning to appear [on the Fringe]… The groups were beginning to work together’ and constraints on the International’s artistic freedom were feeding its upstart companion.28 The Fringe Society marked the fiftieth festival with a colourful book of photos, posters, memories and key developments.29 What it lacks in intellectual rigour it substitutes with a wealth of first hand insights, recollections and accounts of the key debates. ‘Dr Patrick Brooks, first secretary of the Fringe Society’ put his foot down in 1962 ‘and said I don’t think we should restrict the size of the Fringe. I don’t think we can’, and whether Dr Brooks had identified an obvious reality of the nature of the Fringe or whether this was a debate that genuinely persisted at the time, there have been no moves to overturn the policy since.30 As this research seeks to demonstrate some of the key developments occurring on the stage itself that contributed to the evolution of the fringe in this period, attention will be given to some of the groups
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B. Moore-Gilbert and J. Seed (eds), Cultural Revolution? The challenge of the arts in the 1960s (London, 1995). Jarman Mirror of the Nation. I. Crawford, Banquo on Thursdays. The inside story of fifty Edinburgh Festivals, (Edinburgh, 1997). 27 Crawford, Banquo on Thursdays, p. 53. 28 E. Miller, The Edinburgh International Festival 1947-1996 (Aldershot, 1996), p. 48. 29 A. Bain, The Fringe. 50 Years of the Greatest Show on Earth (Edinburgh, 1996). 30 Bain, The Fringe, p. 7. Page 5

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and venues which pioneered new ways of working. An exemplar of this from its opening night in January 1963 has been the Traverse Theatre, a self-conscious illustration of the diversified rationale of the Fringe which provides another bookend to the years studied. An inherent paradox in portrayals of the theatre’s history reflects the disparate nucleus of committed individuals who founded it, each having distinct cultural ambitions. Subsequently, however, accounts express the desire to see festival Edinburgh ‘reflected in a public forum – a theatre, a gallery, a bookshop, a meeting-place – not for three weeks of the year, but always’ with a practised ease.31 Regardless of the unrest and scandal, personalities and near financial ruin an accepted version of events appears to have emerged, and to that extent it may even serve as a model for this study. Born out of opportunity, partly because of perceived gaps in the International’s programme and partly the momentum of Fringes past, an institution has grown from roots that undoubtedly saw tension between the creative impulse and a growing need for administrative and financial organisation and accountability. And yet the fringe, and the Fringe Society, lack the comparable works that have emerged to document one of its most important elements, ‘a small Edinburgh theatre… [with] a huge influence on British cultural life… [and] a reputation that spans the globe’.32 Alistair Moffat held the position of Fringe Administrator from 1975 and published The Edinburgh Fringe three years later, parts of which approximate closer than any other work to the aims of this paper. His ‘purpose in writing its history is to account for it as it developed… recording such facts as were available rather than… attempting to recreate atmosphere’.33 A rigorous approach produced a well-sourced account, including the development of a more formal organisation, ‘no longer seen as merely an “Additional” facet of the Edinburgh festival. People had come to expect something of the Fringe, as a permanent feature’.34 Promoting a philosophy of ‘spontaneity and complete artistic freedom’, alongside ‘Innovation and the Right to Fail’, the Fringe threw off the shackles that afflicted certain International Festival circles.35 Moffat’s commentary style eschews excessive narrative, except when discussing case studies such as the Traverse Theatre. This reflects both the hands-off approach of the Fringe Society and its mandate to administer, not direct, the festival, but also the author’s proposal to present ‘facts’ – hindsight is seen to privilege structure and apparent progression over the realities of complex and protracted negotiation. We are therefore introduced to the need for a Fringe Society as a consequence of pragmatism, shared aims, mutual benefit, and a fairly rapid acceptance of the situation once it proved successful; underpinned of course by a democratic ideology of serving the performers. ‘Essentially that is how the Fringe Society operates today.’36 The final two writers analysed for their contributions to the existing literature continue the theme of works reflecting both their subject and authors. Another former Fringe Administrator
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J. McMillan, The Traverse Theatre Story (London, 1998), p. 11. J. Killick, A. Pollock and S. Unwin (eds) The Traverse Theatre 1963-1988 (Edinburgh, 1988), p. 3. A. Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe (Edinburgh, 1978), p. 11. 34 Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, p. 33 35 Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, pp. 15; 35. 36 Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, p. 44.

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from the 1980s, Michael Dale, published Sore Throats and Overdrafts in 1988.37 An instinctive emphasis on creating atmosphere, contra-Moffat, simplifies certain narrative elements, perhaps pursuing readability at the expense of insight. Dale’s own place in the story is exploited through three extensive interview/conversations at the end of the book, and a historiography that directs the material towards his contemporaneous Fringe Society. This contrasts quite noticeably with Moffat’s efforts to present the Fringe as foremost a movement and even philosophy, striking a balance between pragmatism and opportunism with regards the Society. If the two authors discussed above exemplify some tension between insight and accessibility it can be a false choice where an author achieves both. Owen Dudley Edwards opens his contribution to a collection on Scottish theatre with the following summary: …the EIF [International Festival], wishing in 1960 to define its parameters, declared them… to be Beyond the Fringe; the Fringe, conscious that in 1967 the EIF had been declared a Mausoleum in the New Statesman by Tom Nairn, grew into a protest movement all the sharper as the EIF establishment snorted and sneered its contempt.38 This it would appear is all one needs to know about relations between the Festivals in this period. Elsewhere he characterises an early Fringe Administrator’s resolve ‘that the only way it [the Fringe] could carry out its chosen destiny of revolt was by giving itself vital rules and sticking to them’.39 There is therefore little distinction between case study, memoir, and review, characterising the Fringe itself as the action moves between shows, interspersed with meetings of old friends and reflections on Edinburgh. Once again, the work is a product of the author and his experiences, filtered according to his priorities. The research outlined below is a historical contribution to the current increase in academic attention paid to arts festivals, taking its place in a multidisciplinary arena. Thematically it is more focused than other historical accounts of the period, yet remains broad in the range of sources used. While drawing together existing contributions to the history of the topic, the paper breaks new ground in devoting space to recording and analysing the motivations and ambitions of those who laid the foundations of the modern Fringe: administrators, venue and theatre company managers, playwrights and even journalists. Substantial interest in the proposed research from those attending a recent conference suggests it is both necessary and timely, as does current anxiety regarding the pretenders to Edinburgh’s festival city crown.40 Examination of those key elements in the Fringe narrative that have left legacies to today’s practitioners will provide at the very least an account of what inspired the present situation, which values and priorities have been maintained and why. While other disciplines may present a more overt interest in the present day festival, this paper contributes both a cultural-

M. Dale, Sore Throats and Overdrafts (Edinburgh, 1988). O.D. Edwards, ‘Cradle on the Tree-Top: The Edinburgh Festival and Scottish Theatre’, in R. Stevenson and G. Wallace (eds), Scottish Theatre Since the Seventies (Edinburgh, 1996), p. 35. 39 O.D. Edwards, City of a Thousand Worlds, (Edinburgh, 1991). 40 ‘Festivals and Events – Beyond Economic Impacts’, Leisure Studies Association conference, Napier University, Edinburgh, 68 July 2005.
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historical context for such work, and an independent critical engagement with the world’s largest arts festival. f As suggested above, research for this paper has also been informed by consultations with key individuals from this period of Fringe history. In contrast to the majority of information available, interviews allow historians to directly pursue particular themes with key contributors. As it is in the nature of open access arts festivals to encourage private enterprise there will necessarily be a variety of concurrent narratives and priorities, both at the time and when recalled some forty or fifty years later. While contact with these individuals has been relatively unstructured, initial discussions aided in contextualising the period and providing new subjects for case study attention. The lack of Fringe based historical work may have contributed to a high level of interest amongst contributors: as the immediate post-war period is receding from living memory opportunities to revisit such experiences may be rare. The opening two quotations to this introduction borrowed from press coverage and analysis of the Edinburgh Fringe. Journalistic sources must always be approached with caution in historical research for they are the production of numerous agendas, such as the journalist’s and his editor’s. The coverage given to a story may also be heavily influenced by the importance given to it by that publication compared to other contemporary news stories. And yet the most substantial Festival archive makes just such material available, providing countless media insights into the period in question. The Edinburgh International Festival houses its archive in the National Library of Scotland, and fortunately for this study appears to have interpreted its media-gathering role relatively flexibly for at least its first twenty years. Thus the coverage comprehends Edinburgh’s early Documentary Film Festival, the Military Tattoo and those additional entertainments on the fringe of the ‘main’ event. For the purposes of this research all available printed reports of the period in the archive were considered via a trawl of scrapbooks compiled from cuttings identified at the International Press Cutting Bureau in London, and ‘pasted up’ by the Scottish Tourist Board.41 The weight placed on an event may be judged to an extent by the volume and breadth of press coverage included: royal visits held a very high profile, as did Menuhin’s performance at an outer-Edinburgh council estate hall in 1958.42 As will be shown below certain developments in the first contested steps of the Fringe Society received press coverage, both reports of meetings and direct contributions to the debate from journalists who had seen the event develop over many years. With no minutes of these meetings thus far discovered, articles from 1958 onwards that detail the ambitions, ‘interim constitution’ and inaugural office holders are often the best sources available.43 It is also clear that the press was in turn used as a means of publicising the new Fringe Society, granting space to appeals that those groups intending to perform the next year contact the newly installed Secretary. Further evidence of the importance of the media is provided by many of
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EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:402, Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 15 September 1956. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:404, Bulletin (Glasgow), 12 September 1958. 43 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:404, Edinburgh Evening News, 11 September 1958. Page 8

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the cultural historians discussed above, with Sandbrook explaining that the term ‘angry young man’ was a press officer’s invention and showing how a label such as ‘kitchen sink’ drama stuck as fast as the presses rolled.44 The media’s role in identifying, popularising and legitimating cultural expression by connecting it and the ideas it carried with a broader public has proved as important in this period as any other. As already discussed above certain Fringe Society documents are also available. The Treasurer’s Reports are accompanied by AGM Minutes, Constitutions, letters, marketing material and other communications in the Scottish Theatre Archive held at Glasgow University. One of the immediate benefits of the new Fringe Society from a historical perspective therefore was the impetus and capacity to maintain a written record of its business from the late 1950s. It is also interesting and revealing to note that press attention in the structure of the Society declines substantially after its first full year of action in 1959, although coverage continues of individual shows and events. This is perhaps a further sign of the immediate acceptance of the Society. Its presence continued unopposed, leaving debates on its remit and responsibilities to be held internally and at the AGM. Again, the material that has made its way into the archive and is therefore available today can only be a proportion of that which might have been useful to this or any other research. It is hoped however that as several administratively important documents remain, among many others, that substantial insight can be gained from these sources. f Some key hypotheses will guide this paper, based around the concurrent progress of both the Fringe Society and changes in the festival it was created to support. They will also serve to provide much of the structure below through three main chapters, drawn together in a final concluding section. It is proposed therefore that between 1956 and 1963 the Edinburgh Fringe granted contributors the opportunity to present particular agendas and new work, building on efforts from previous years and reflecting the wider society that hosted the Festival. Secondly, the formation of the Festival Fringe Society was a product of many interventions, but this paper explores the notion that its creation was inevitable once enduring gaps in the existing formal structures and programme of the wider festival had been identified and exploited: an accident waiting to happen. Lastly, if that was the case then this period in Fringe history is vital to its ensuing existence as a positive creative force in Edinburgh and the wider British cultural scene – a progression from a more reactive first decade, and ultimately the reason why it has survived and thrived with negligible alteration to its key orthodoxies to the present day. Within this discussion questions will also be raised about how new some of these developments actually were, why certain genres had the success or profile that they did, and what role the individual elements played in the Fringe’s early narrative. Personal interest on the part of the author has inspired
44

Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good, pp. 178-179; 182. Page 9

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much of this work, including a desire to examine a festival model that has now been exported (with varying modifications) to many cities on many continents. Perhaps the Fringe ideal is more important than what actually appears on the stage, and on that basis it has survived the slings and arrows of tiny audiences, poor funding, outrage and scandal – or perhaps such things themselves contribute to the essence of the Fringe.

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Supply and demand While Riddle’s Court hall is certainly very small, the group have built up their technique there… the surroundings, for those who see their entertainments at night, contribute a very distinctive atmosphere. The Scotsman, 27 August 19571 …it was quite clear from the title which was foisted on us, that the Fringe had become a competitive irritant to the organisers of the official Festival… [Beyond the Fringe was] an attempt to outbid the presumptuous outsiders who opportunistically pitched their tents on the edges of the REAL Festival. Jonathan Miller2 The twin genres of drama and revue dominated the Fringe in this period, with professional, amateur and student groups fluctuating in their contributions. While smaller, ‘The musical fringe has a less improvised air than the dramatic variety’ noted The Scotsman in 1960, with groups often more locally based using the Festival as a natural focus for their own calendar.3 Puppetry was among other genres to put itself forward onto the Festival, three groups featured in 1959 regardless of an official invitation.4 Indeed, this is the basis on which all ‘fringe’ groups appeared by 1956, organising venues and publicity themselves, distributing ticket stock out to agents and having little idea with whom or what they might be sharing the Festival until they arrived. Moffat identifies two key fringe characteristics at this stage: recognition from the International Festival of ‘the Fringe as an integral (but not integrated) part of the Edinburgh Festival’, and ‘that it was the proper home for Scottish drama’.5 This chapter therefore concentrates to a large extent on this consistently significant genre, in common with both the press coverage analysed, and the groups that appear to have contributed most to the Fringe Society as recorded in the Fringe archive. The research outlined below responds to the hypothesis that contributors to the Fringe were exploiting opportunities to promote work that reflected their society, and contributed to developments in particular art forms, specifically drama. A truism of Fringe history in almost any period will be the appearance of groups using the festival for their own ends while contributing to the overall event. Taking the professional, amateur and student categories in turn, this paper will suggest that this phenomenon dates back at least to the mid-fifties, while testing the hypothesis that they represented and reflected the discipline of which they were a part. Crucially the suggestion that they also demonstrated, indeed advanced new practice within their field will be tested, potentially a reflexive exploitation of the opportunity to hand. It was a theme taken up
1 2

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:400, The Scotsman, 27 August 1955. Bain, The Fringe, p. 7. 3 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:405, The Scotsman, 19 August 1960. 4 FFSP, STA, GUL, L.a. Box 2/18, Lee Puppet Theatre Fringe Society Questionnaire return. ‘There is not room for 3 puppet companies at this time… it is only advisable to encourage one “incoming” puppet theatre.’ 5 Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, p. 22. Page 15

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by the Financial Times in 1958, rendering the fringe ‘by the working of the laws of supply and demand. The supply is the large number of visitors either culture-hungry or culture-weary. The demand is the never-ceasing demand of the aspiring performer, whether amateur or professional, to be seen and applauded.’6 Under this analysis, were the fringe an Edinburgh ice cream parlour many increasingly varied flavours from around the world would flock to its freezers in search of a fabled audience, eager to be noticed, sampled, applauded and talked about. The article surmises that ‘Most tastes are catered for’, but neglects to clarify if this is the paying public’s preference for performers, or vice versa. No professional performer held a consistently high profile on the fringe in the 1950s than Duncan Macrae. He had performed in the International Festival’s celebrated 1948 production of Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaites, and was a familiar face to audiences across Scotland from his touring productions of repertory and new work. By 1955 he was emboldened to criticise the International’s directorship for the lack of native contribution, the only means by which the Festival could be more than ‘merely a commercial proposition’.7 A somewhat unsatisfactory reply celebrated his ‘extremely big contribution… official or unofficial was, in a sense, immaterial’ to Ian Hunter, the Director in question. A year later Donald Wolfit’s appearance indicated ‘the London feeling that official Festival backing is no longer required for a West End company’s visit to Edinburgh at this time’: audiences didn’t seem to mind, nor increasingly did the performers.8 What may be in evidence however was a desire among Scottish professional groups to present indigenous work, and primarily that which would find a knowledgeable, often local, audience. A similar policy is apparent in the history of the Edinburgh-based Gateway Theatre Company, everpresent in the International Festival programme between 1954 and 1965 (except 1959 when most of the Company were involved in another revival of The Thrie Estaites).9 Tellingly, ‘the principle of including Scottish theatre in the Edinburgh Festival was a culturally significant one during this period, though in practical terms it depended on the existence of a city-based producing company controlling its own venue’.10 Macrae did indeed run his own venue for the fringe, the Palladium, where the work presented helped finance other work presented by his ‘Scottishows’ company. He later matched this financial, pragmatic exploitation of the opportunity granted by the fringe with a vocal call for a Scottish national theatre company while speaking at the Fringe Club in 1961.11 Clearly those groups and individuals who built the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe into their calendar had to judge to what extent they could promote new work if it meant jeopardising their financial security. Part of Macrae’s agenda in 1961 was also to single out the ‘stinkers’ the International Festival had commissioned, while attacking the Arts Council’s policy of asking too much too rapidly from the country’s repertory companies. Nearing the end of the period in question therefore the Fringe, and the Society, were
6 7 8

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:441, Financial Times, 5 September 1958. Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, p. 22. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:401, Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 20 August 1956. 9 D. Smith, ‘The Gateway Theatre Company’, in I. Brown (ed.), Journey’s Beginning. The Gateway Theatre Building and Company 1884-1965 (Bristol, 2004), 53-59. 10 Smith, ‘The Gateway Theatre Company’, p. 59. 11 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:406, The Scotsman, 29 August 1961. Page 16

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recognised soapboxes from which to question the direction of professional theatre in Scotland. It is likely that Macrae would have found a way to make his views known regardless, but he chose to exploit the exposure granted by the evolving Fringe model. The Traverse Theatre appears on the Fringe at the end of this paper’s focal period, and discussions between its researcher and Jim Haynes, a key founder of the theatre, identified its role in granting accessing to the Fringe for professional actors. Moffat describes a decline in this component of the Fringe, the larger scale shows from Macrae giving way to one or two person works, a development the Traverse could capitalise upon, and then lead.12 ‘A steady sequence of productions of avant-garde classics’ through 1963 proved the venue’s credentials, while working under club status meant the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship could be avoided.13 As a year-round venue the theatre helped sustain the livelihoods of various people involved in the building’s work, while also simply granting them a place to perform, and have their work performed. During the Festival however, it also provided national and international attention, both reflecting the reputation the venue was building and accelerating the gathering exposure its methods of working were attracting. The Guardian’s theatre critic Michael Billington’s introduction to a 25th anniversary volume on the Traverse questions ‘why a small Edinburgh theatre, seating around a hundred, should for twenty-five years have had such a huge influence on British cultural life’.14 Contributory factors must include the drive to create a space where professional actors and directors could produce intelligent and challenging work, capturing the festive spirit as filtered through the founders of the venue. That their efforts fed back into the Fringe helped galvanise new means of working, ‘a play can exert a unique psychological hold on a small audience… What the Traverse discovered in the early Sixties has since reverberated round Britain and the world’.15 The amateur dimension to the Fringe appears to have been focused to an extent around the Scottish Community Drama Association (SCDA), hosts of an annual competition for the opportunity to perform during the Festival. In presenting Thieves’ Castle in 1955 the Edinburgh Evening News generously recorded that director ‘Callum Mill has taken his cast to the limit which their experience imposes’.16 1961 saw them relocate the final to the refurbished Leith Town Hall as the Evening News foresaw a stable footing for amateur theatre in Edinburgh.17 Falling between these two events meanwhile dramatist T.M. Watson levelled a challenge in the Glasgow Evening News that sub-standard Edinburgh groups were denying more worthy regions the chance to appear.18 While the drive to exploit the Festival appears unchallenged, ‘Only the fact that the festival was held in Edinburgh gave these clubs a position… it is time that the Edinburgh tail stopped wagging the Scottish dog’. It is therefore apparent that breaking into the open access Fringe often involved working within an existing framework. The Traverse created the opportunity for performers and playwrights to present
12 13 14

Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, p. 33. McMillan, The Traverse Theatre Story, pp. 15, 18. Killick et al (eds), The Traverse Theatre 1963-1988, p. 3. 15 Killick et al (eds), The Traverse Theatre 1963-1988, p. 3. 16 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:400, Edinburgh Evening News, 30 August 1955. 17 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:406, Edinburgh Evening News, 6 September 1961. 18 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:436, Glasgow Evening News, 1 September 1956. Page 17

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their work, while the SCDA performed the same role for its member groups; both organisations had a year-round programme as well. Moffat records an increase in amateur groups from three to eight between 1955 and 1959, beyond which the Fringe Society was in place to aid more groups’ introduction to the Fringe. Any development prioritising inclusion – whether it be to present amateur work judged the best of its kind, or an attempt to represent different elements of a particular community – can become considerably less effective unless the structures of power and influence which control that inclusion are understood. From its inception the Festival Fringe Society incorporated any group into its programme that met the necessary deadlines etc, theoretically opening the opportunity to perform with full marketing and administrative support to any group. Amateur companies outwith the SCDA did appear on the Fringe, yet the risks involved resulting from poor attendances were substantial at this time, and have continued to be so. Likewise the level of decentralisation in today’s Fringe was further exaggerated in the period studied while the Society emerged and set about defining itself. The SCDA appears to have taken an interest in the formation of the Society itself, the South East Scotland division attending founding meetings according to the Glasgow Herald.19 The paper makes no mention of any ulterior motive it may have had to influence the administration of the Fringe, but once again there was clearly an apparent advantage in being privy to the developments. The first attempted central Fringe box office, ‘a most important addition to the booking facilities in the Edinburgh Festival’, was established in 1955 by the students of Edinburgh University, using rooms in Old College off Chambers Street.20 The convener of a series of open meetings in 1958 that led to the formation of the Festival Fringe Society, Michael Imison, was a member of the student Oxford Theatre Group: he was duly elected the Society’s first President.21 Former student performers also supplied the personnel for Beyond the Fringe in 1960, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1966, and have maintained close links with the Fringe Society throughout its existence.22 There were also recurring themes among universities’ experiences: multiple presentations, such as Aberdeen’s three pieces in 1956, from George Bernhard Shaw, Jean Cocteau and a revue; rented spaces, well used by ‘old hands at the game of camping in their hardwon church halls, others have never perhaps, even been away from home before’; while the 1963 revues from Oxford (‘a shabby lot’ except for ‘a ravishing girl’) and Cambridge (‘suave, civilised, soigné, brushed and bourgeois’) were both applauded by Harold Hobson in The Sunday Times.23 In his Festival roundup he felt ‘It may be thought irresponsible to exalt a couple of light-hearted amateur revues above serious and complicated professional plays’, but it seems to have been a common

19 20

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:404, Glasgow Herald, 8 September 1958. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:399, The Scotsman, 17 August 1955. 21 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:399, Edinburgh Evening News, 11 September 1958. 22 Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, pp. 69-72. 23 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:401, The Scotsman, 13 July 1956; Dep. 378:402, The Scotsman, 27 August 1957; Dep. 378:409, The Sunday Times, 25 August 1963. Page 18

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occurrence. A healthy combination developed, of pragmatism to minimise expenditure, and groups seemingly at ease bringing new work to the Fringe in search of an audience, such as new playwright John McGrath’s Why the Chicken from Oxford Theatre Group in 1959.24 Student enterprise is one pillar on which the modern Fringe is based, for which there may be several reasons. One theme developed above discusses the notion that while the audience for a new piece of work such as Look Back in Anger may have been small, the play attracted a large amount of attention and helped define an era.25 According to Robert Hewison ‘one of the remarkable changes in cultural life after 1956 was the shift of emphasis that brought theatrical writing back into the mainstream’, which was an arena dominated by the products of higher education.26 Sandbrook demonstrates with almost contrived regularity how many of the trailblazing ‘angry young men’ were Oxbridge scholarship educated, and while 1950s ‘theatre could no longer aspire to the massive popularity of the cinema, its audience was associated more than ever with intellectual eminence’.27 An environment might therefore be described whereby ambitious students, filtering modern influences through their provincial universities (Moffat records groups from Sheffield, Cardiff, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Oxford Universities in 1956) helped define and expand the work presented on the Fringe in this period.28 Those who sought careers in the field helped consolidate links to the metropolis as well, via institutions such as the BBC and its expanding role in television, and thence a national audience. The Fringe stage was, literally, set for groups and individuals to use, but again there are signs that real advantage was to be had by working through established structures, with existing resources to hand. Even by 1954 a high pedigree was expected in the Edinburgh press from visiting Oxford groups, the ‘Players’ brought over seventy people, the girls lived separately from the boys of course.29 A year later saw Oxford Theatre Group’s last year in their Riddle’s Court venue, lamented in The Scotsman’s letters page for having consistently brought high quality new work that contributed to the overall Festival.30 The following year, in a new venue, they continued to do well, but it was success and innovation built on proven and established foundations. Continued innovation could therefore be cultivated not through building a group that could deliver – that was already in place – but by introducing new work into the repertoire, confident that an audience was in place to approach the material critically but supportively. Aberdeen was already the second group to present Look Back in Anger by 1960, while the Oxford Times made no mention of living arrangements when suggesting that the city’s groups were taking too many shows to Edinburgh and risking over exposure.31 Festival histories have a tendency to look back at events and imbue them with influence, yet the engaged manner with which student groups approached the Fringe and helped mould it to suit their agendas was at times genuinely progressive, and acts as a model for all subsequent contributors.

24 25

Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, p. 36. Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good, p. 175. 26 Hewison, In Anger, p. 165. 27 Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good, p. 175. 28 Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, p. 33. 29 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:398, Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 5 August 1954; The Scotsman, 5 August 1954. 30 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:398, The Scotsman, 29 August 1954. 31 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:405, Evening Express (Aberdeen), 6 August 1960; Oxford Times, 2 September 1960. Page 19

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Today’s Fringe is an amorphous experience at times, and this chapter has only highlighted a few groups out of a similarly fluid period. In August 1958 The Scotsman asked ‘Where does it begin and where does it end?’ of the fifteen to twenty theatre and dozen or so musical productions expected that year.32 Highlights included ‘a cycle of Yeats plays’ by the Irish Festival Players and The Sporranslitters’ damming of Braid burn for their outdoor performances. Clearly the professional, amateur and student elements studied above only offer limited snapshots of the overall Fringe. Nevertheless the case studies have examined common means by which groups brought work to Edinburgh under their own aegis, seeking an audience for the sort of work they felt deserved the exposure Edinburgh was increasingly willing and capable of providing. The importance of working within and through clearly defined networks and organisations has been explored, whether they were established community associations or ancient universities. Ultimately, some of the most successful products of these organisations were instrumental in creating the body which has done more than any other to encourage and facilitate participation on the Fringe, as examined in the next chapter.

32

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:403, The Scotsman, 19 August 1958. Page 20

What took so long? Why, the Fringe has even got itself a full-scale official club… has all the atmosphere and fuss of a Victorian Conservative club. Scottish Daily Express, 8 August 19601 I asked him [Lord Grant] whether he ever felt that his connection with the Fringe was an embarrassment and I am glad to report that he said it was not. He agreed to remain Chairman of the Board for another year. Correspondence from Andrew Kerr, Company Secretary 30 August 19712 The creation of the Festival Fringe Society at the end of the 1958 Festival marked the culmination of broad disagreements over its form and scope, yet now seems both inevitable and subsequently barely questioned in its remit. It provides one of the clearest narratives on which to build this research, also tracing previous calls for such an organisation and the debates that led to its creation and first few years. The first part of this chapter attempts to portray the environment in which the Fringe Society was formed, later asking whether it was clear in the late 1950s that this element of the Edinburgh Festival would prove so successful and why the Society’s priorities appear not to have changed in nearly half century. The Fringe thus far described may be read as a compartmentalised festival, for although groups knew they were attending an increasingly established arts event, an individual’s experiences were dictated by the fortunes of their theatre company. ‘Everywhere these student encampments are warmly supported by their local neighbours, who watch out for them’ reported The Scotsman in 1957.3 ‘There is friendliness between the groups too’, and it has continued to be so ever since, yet the motivation and imagination to establish the Fringe Society the very next year demanded more than perhaps the lending of props. The Society that was formed operated to protect and promote the interests of the existing groups on the Fringe, and there are signs that it was perhaps those with most to lose who led the search for a way to secure their annual investment in time, money and artistic credibility. Early on in the 1958 Festival the Oxford Theatre Group, ‘one of the senior of these “unofficial” companies’, launched an ‘ambitious project to unite Festival “Fringe” companies in their own society’.4 The proposed aims of Michael Imison, from the Group, were to ‘promote the interests of all the “Fringe” groups by providing an organisation to pool information… help in cutting costs… [and] act as an official negotiating body for the “Fringe”’. The Scotsman’s article covering the meeting explains that the Society would represent the Fringe ‘to the “Official” Festival, providing centralised information for Press and public, preventing duplication and repetition by companies appearing, and lowering costs by bulk purchases and block-hiring of equipment’. The door, one might say, was not being flung open to aspiring Fringe groups on these grounds, for although they suggest life would become easier for all, the ones to benefit most would most likely be those accustomed to Fringe life, its ups and downs, and of course its costs.
1 2 3

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:405, Scottish Daily Express, 22 August 1960. FFSP, STA, GUL, L.a. Box 2/19, correspondence from Andrew Kerr to Dr Patrick Brooks. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:402, The Scotsman, 27 August 1957. 4 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:403, The Scotsman, 21 August 1958. Page 23

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There is no suggestion that anyone would be employed or rewarded for their service by this Society, yet the proposals could never have been unadulterated altruism when a possible two-year qualification before granting membership was discussed. Imison and Oxford would draft a constitution before a second meeting, stating their overall aim was ‘benefit from some central form of organisation – and yet [it] would not affect independence of view’. A realistic appraisal suggests that the only formulation of a ‘Fringe Society’ likely to succeed would indeed be one created for and of the groups. In seeking to maximise their summer investment, naturally they tried to identify those areas – information gathering and distribution for example – that would benefit the whole, without damaging their interests. One of the most interesting aspects to the project was the focus on relations between the Fringe and the International Festival, particularly as this was not a new topic of discussion. One of the most distinctive aspects to the Edinburgh Festival from 1947, its very first year, was the provision of more culture than anyone had planned for.5 Local organisations established the Documentary Film Festival, military retreats across the city built a platform for the Tattoo, and those groups credited with representing the first ‘fringe’ also claimed their right to take part. Commenting in 1954 John Christie of Glyndebourne Opera, a founding component of the International, asserted that the Festival’s success was maintained through consistent high quality, arguably with one eye on those independent contributions which didn’t make the grade.6 Later that summer a meeting of Fringe groups, also striving for the highest standards, sought funding from the International Festival for a prize to ‘encourage the more experimental groups… [which] might enable others to come back again’.7 Acknowledgment was craved, partly because people simply didn’t know there was a Fringe until they got to Edinburgh, hence the call for combined publicity also suggested at the time. Ultimately no prize was forthcoming, for while Ian Hunter, the International’s Director, promised a ‘very carefully considered’ response to the request, he foresaw ‘ramifications’ resulting from ‘official recognition’.8 Again each party looked firstly to its own interests and it simply didn’t benefit the elite International Festival to indulge in something ultimately beyond its control, which could prove the thin end of what has become a very large wedge. An extra couple of years, and a new Director at the International, helped alter perceptions of the Fringe’s role within ‘official’ circles. Robert Ponsonby felt ‘that the Fringe should be given every possible encouragement by the Festival Society, and, indeed, I think it does receive it’, but he recognised that any attempt to ‘regulate’ the Fringe implied a ‘policy clash’ between the roles of the Festivals.9 In this tenth year of the Edinburgh Festival a conscious assessment of the means by which the city presented its prized summer attraction was all consuming, opening different elements up to public and professional scrutiny. Iain Crawford, noting a Scottish Tourist Board report, felt ‘Uncomfortable evidence was being produced that the Festival was truly important to Edinburgh’:
5 6

Jarman, ‘Mirror of the Nation’. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:398, The Scotsman, 26 August 1954. 7 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:399, Edinburgh Evening News, 8 September 1954. 8 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:399, The Scotsman, 9 September 1954. 9 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:402, Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 8 September 1956. Page 24

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discussions of ambition and direction were not restricted to Fringe circles.10 Ultimately Moffat believes this to have been a time of flux in inter-Festival relations, for while the Fringe needed support from somewhere, it recognised the flexibility of unofficial status.11 In keeping with its autonomous spirit, the only place that support could feasibly have come from was within the Fringe itself, but it would take further meetings in 1958 to clarify just how it was going to be attempted. ‘“Fringe” Society Again Mooted. Poor Attendance at Meeting.’12 The Scotsman listed nine, out of a possible twenty-five, groups at Michael Imison’s second meeting in August 1958. Now about half way through the Festival, the article is still interested in relations between Festivals: A suggestion by Mr Imison that the proposed society should attempt to gain recognition by the Festival Society did not go down too well with the other delegates… “But why do we want to be recognised by the official Festival Society”, asked Piers Haggard, president of EUDS [Edinburgh University Dramatic Society] “Recognition brings ties.” With hindsight it seems obvious that the Fringe had to take responsibility for its own organisation, and based on the limited material to hand for this research defining motivations for seeking an alternative is largely speculation. Widespread support is apparent for Imison’s plans, an Edinburgh booking agent even felt that ‘[International] Festival officials are very keen on the fringe and very keen that it should exist as it does just now. Anything they can do to help cannot be done in an official way’. The young Oxford student’s ambition had brought disparate elements of the Fringe together, and he perhaps felt the weight of future expectation resting on his shoulders. Links with the International would provide him with an existing structure through which he could fulfil other elements of the Fringe’s proposed constitutional duties – if passed at a third meeting. Alistair Moffat notes the opposition to ‘a pet Fringe’ within International circles, ‘although the question of coordination was another matter for some’.13 Everyone at the ‘Fringe’ meetings represented a group, and each supportive group sought a Society that would help it achieve its aims in attending the festival. External reluctance to assume responsibility for it and internal resolution to maintain independence narrowed dissenters’ options ahead of another 1958 gathering. The third meeting, on 6 September, identified more fractures between Fringe groups, perhaps signifying that the debate had moved on from the question of official recognition. Another Scotsman article is the key source for this ‘Cranston Street Hall conference’, for which poor attendance was this time blamed on an administrative glitch in distributing ‘invitations’, and a feeling among some companies that they were established enough.14 The Saltire Society believed that ‘If we were in on it, it might be from a benevolent point of view only. The general feeling is that we don’t need it’. Rutherglen Repertory Company’s Charles Baptiste is quoted as saying it would ‘attract more groups to the Festival’, so perhaps another week’s contemplation had led some people to start seeing some potential long term appeal in the venture. (Rutherglen were in fact one of the groups who missed the
10 11

Crawford, Banquo on Thursdays, pp. 43-44. Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, pp. 23-26. 12 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:403, The Scotsman, 30 August 1958. 13 Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, p. 43. 14 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:404, The Scotsman, 8 September 1958. Page 25

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call to attend – supporting the venture regardless boded well once lines of communication were improved.) Edinburgh based groups with a secure financial base and audience could naturally see relatively little benefit in a Fringe Society. Comparatively speaking, those who had to invest more each summer recognised the inherent risks and difficulties they faced, and appear keen to throw their weight behind an organisation that could open up the Festival to more groups. By this stage it appears inevitable that some form of organisation would be created, the Glasgow Herald even listed the companies who pledged £5 to make it happen, but its priorities, agenda and expected effectiveness were open to further question.15 The shift in emphasis, such as it is reflected in the reports available, was however towards the final arrangements as agreed at a fourth and final meeting on 10 September, a stage reached that is ‘Essentially… how the Fringe Society operates today’.16 ‘Now at last some of the Fringe groups themselves have inaugurated an Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society’, announced the press, proving Edinburgh was ‘a focus for the genuinely creative’.17 Drawing the International in to the picture was now a question of comparison, for although one sought ‘a uniformly high standard. The Fringe by its very nature has no uniformity.’ The Bulletin adopted a similar context for ‘the “fringe” well organised… should mean improved publicity and booking arrangements… still better things from those adventurous outsiders… And the stronger the opposition the more bold and vigorous the official festival society should be’.18 The Fringe had been an irrepressible element of the Festival since 1947; the absence of an organising body for the first dozen events reflected a decentralised nature that had suited the groups who returned each year, yet now they had created just such a body. It is little surprise that it took time, and heartening to reflect that there was so little opposition once the Fringe Society had been created. Perhaps the press already had their articles written well in advance, waiting for the opportunity to support a venture from those who had supplied such well received work in recent years. From 10 September 1958 the Fringe was served by an organisation that owed its loyalty to all the groups who joined, run by people who made it their job to both assist with everyday practicalities and look beyond them to the fullest extent of Edinburgh’s broad appeal. f The first Festival Fringe Society constitution, as held by the Scottish Theatre Archive, is an exercise in self-awareness, reflecting the debates behind its creation and the interests of both the Society itself and the individual groups. Under article 2 membership ‘shall be open all companies presenting an entertainment not sponsored by the Festival Society, during the Edinburgh International Festival Season’.19 Firstly therefore this was always intended to be more than merely a listings or information point, membership of a society implied a degree of interaction with it, and the promotion of a common affiliation, if not identity with other members. And anyone could join, if they conformed to the spatial
15 16

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:404, Glasgow Herald, 8 September 1958. Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe, p. 44. 17 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:404, The Scotsman, 12 September 1958. 18 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:404, Bulletin (Glasgow), 12 September 1958. 19 FFSP, STA, GUL, L.a. Box 2/16, Festival Fringe Society Constitution, September 1958. Page 26

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and temporal boundaries of the Festival, observing the limits the Fringe placed upon itself. Pragmatically, the management committee had no time, resources or probably interest in promoting events outside the summer Festival. Limits on Society activity were also crucial to maintaining widespread support from different interested parties and external observers: it had been created to assist and act for Fringe groups, and that would only be possible if organisations such as the International Festival were aware who they were dealing with when the time came, and who they in turn represented. Article 3 explicitly states that the Society is mandated to provide information to groups, public and press, and do whatever else is felt necessary to promote its members’ interests. However, ‘The Society shall not attempt to control the policy or presentation of member companies’. It appears that members of the Fringe Society could hardly lose from its creation under these circumstances, maintaining full discretion over their work in return for increased publicity and information. As portrayed above it is unlikely that any other framework would have been permissible to the groups, particularly the longest standing and most accomplished among them. And as the Society was formed exclusively by those connected primarily to a particular theatre company or ensemble, it is unlikely any would have contemplated interfering with another’s management or programming policy. Only once it was established did groups encounter an organisation actively interested in certain aspects of their affairs, by which time limits on its terms of operation had been set. At a basic level, it was inevitable that a Society was formed, yet the level of disagreement described above, and the variance in the means by which the organisation has fulfilled its constitutional aims since imply that the devil is ultimately in the details of a consciously flexible administrative body. It was clearly a work in progress for its first twelve months, ‘managed initially by a committee containing one representative of each member company’, and trimmed down at the first AGM. The Edinburgh Evening News identified ten groups as the core founders, now led by Michael Imison as President, with those planning shows in 1959 asked to contact local printer Ian Cousland for inclusion in an ‘official programme’.20 Cousland’s involvement from the earliest stage, alongside a 1963 amendment to the constitution to include a ‘centralised Box Office service for members desiring to use such a service’, correlate again with the Fringe Society’s ability to build upon and incorporate existing practise.21 Cousland had published a Festival map and listings since 1954, funding this private venture through advertising.22 Likewise, Edinburgh University students had run a centralised box office, managing to undercut the normal ticketing agents, from 1955.23 That these fundamental elements of the Fringe

20 21 22

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:404, Edinburgh Evening News, 11 September 1958. FFSP, STA, GUL, L.a. Box 2/29, Festival Fringe Society Constitution, 25 August 1963. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:398, Glasgow Herald, 20 August 1954. 23 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:399, Edinburgh Evening News, 17 August 1955. Page 27

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Society’s justification for existing were previously in private hands lends weight to the ‘inevitability’ argument, for there was clearly a demand for them; indeed the programme and box office are among the most important aspects of today’s Society as well. Again we can trace an existing structure’s path into the Fringe’s orbit, to be adapted and incorporated into the range of benefits to be gained through membership. Just as the genre, style and agendas of the productions which appeared on the Fringe were partially selected on what was seen to be missing from the International’s programme, so the Society itself was formed by contributing groups to fill a gap in their developing understandings of their festival. A balancing act between the different independent groups’ notions of what benefit such an organisation might be to them, obstructed by the eleven months separating one event from the next, delayed but ultimately secured the consensus that emerged. The Scotsman reflected this in 1958, recognising that the ‘Fringe was the “something extra” which no one had planned. With it the Festival took on an unpredictable new life of its own, bursting the bounds of the original conception, but in a way that immediately became recognised as right and natural.’24 Henceforth the Festival Fringe Society was similarly regarded, for if in subsequent years it hadn’t existed, it would have been necessary to invent it.

24

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:404, The Scotsman, 12 September 1958. Page 28

Accentuating the positive There seems to be a happier relationship between the official Festival and the ‘Fringe’… it now seems to appreciated that the enthusiasts who bring shows to Edinburgh at their own risk are an asset to the whole occasion… a stimulating challenge to the official drama. George Scott Moncrief in The Tablet, 2 September 19611 The Company is established to promote, maintain, improve and advance education, particularly by the production of education plays and the encouragement of the Arts, including the arts of drama, mime, dance, singing and music, and to formulate, prepare and establish schemes therefore, provided that all objects of the Company shall be of a charitable nature. Certificate of Incorporation of Festival Fringe Society Limited, 22 May 19692 The use of the two quotations transcribed above illustrates a transition through the course of the 1960s, from an appreciation of the Fringe’s contribution to the Edinburgh Festival with primary reference to the International, to one concentrating solely on the ambitions of the Fringe in its own right. The 1969 incorporation of the Festival Fringe Society, as a company limited by guarantee with charitable status, provides a postscript to the period studied in this paper. It was an opportunity to take stock of the situation in the late sixties, and provide a platform for further improvements in the services provided. Working within the 1956 to 1963 timeframe of this study, it is relatively straightforward to identify those elements which were in place by the time Kennedy was assassinated and the Profumo Affair helped end Harold Macmillan’s years as Conservative Prime Minister. From its first full festival in 1959, the Fringe Society had an opportunity, indeed was obliged, to make good on the expectations and optimism of both its members and external observers. In summing up everything the Fringe now stood for, ‘conscious of its value’, The Times observed with a sigh that ‘It is most unlucky that this overdue assertion of its own importance should be made in a year in which the plays fall far below their usual level of interest. Nobody is to blame’, for the groups do their best and the Society was established expressly to eschew all programming responsibility. 3 On press appreciation the Fringe hit of 1959 was undoubtedly John McGrath’s Why the Chicken. Harold Hobson’s review started ominously, for here was another visit to a cold Fringe venue with an apron stage (‘they remind me of washing up’), and after initially finding it ‘easy to contain my joy’ a hush marked ‘the start of a real play’.4 Hobson’s final accolade is to identify the only two International Festival productions that could ‘touch’ McGrath’s work: The Thrie Estaites and Flanders & Swann. The Oxford Theatre Group, again key players in the Fringe, could not have intended to compete for spectacle with another Estaites revival, or sought the familiar popularity of the double act. A Festivalwide trait of playing to one’s strengths, from the grandeur of the Tattoo to the ambitious Fringe group’s emphasis on strong writing and committed performances is therefore in evidence. A common thread through much media discussion of the Fringe in 1959 is a buoyant projection of future success. The Fringe Society’s creation may be seen as a catalyst for many developments, not
1 2 3

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:408, The Tablet, 2 September 1961. FFSP, STA, GUL, L.a. Box 2/32, Memorandum and Articles of Association of Festival Fringe Society Limited, 22 May 1969. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:442, The Times, 3 September 1959. 4 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:442, The Sunday Times, 6 September 1959. Page 31

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Accentuating the positive

least by providing a point around which to discuss this component of the Festival. The Scottish Daily Mail, a title often sceptical of the excesses on the Fringe, heralded ‘the newly formed Festival Fringe Society, set up to act as “guide, philosopher and friend” to the small companies, [which] has paid off handsomely’.5 By 1962 Ronald Mavor, writing in The Scotsman, declared that it was never more evident that the drama is the poor relation in this Festival… new ideas about how it is to be managed are urgently needed… [yet] this year’s Fringe, from the point of view of content, has lived right up to its now international reputation.6 Implied in Mavor’s comments is a realisation that people now came to Edinburgh for the Fringe itself. Journalists and audiences sought out work with the expectation that it might prove to be that year’s hidden gem. Performers brought their work in the expectant hope that they might become a critical and popular success, some even managing to cover their costs. Of 1962 still, the Glasgow Herald listed Ionesco, Cocteau, Satre, Arthur Adamov, J.B. Priestley and Shakespeare among playwrights on the Fringe, much of this work freshly translated and new to Edinburgh or even the world.7 The majority of the work highlighted was dramatic in character, a longstanding Fringe characteristic in response to perceived neglect from the International, but it also appears that several annual components were falling into place. A high standard of work would encourage critical attention, (many journalists loath to leave London for the ‘official’ fair alone,) and generate substantial publicity for Fringe groups. Publicity encouraged audiences both to see particular shows and to visit Edinburgh in the first place as it enhanced its reputation for good new work. And where there’s an audience, groups have greater security when planning to take part, either in search of attention or income. The Fringe Society played a practical, pragmatic part in this, and symbolically it reflected a broad desire to see the Fringe survive by way of innumerable individual contributions. A particularly positive development, and one which coincides with the Fringe Society’s arrival in 1959, is intermittent discussion of the International Festival with reference to the Fringe, a reversal of fortunes in only a dozen years. The Times Educational Supplement acknowledged that the ‘newly founded Festival Fringe Society is full of beans… It may be a bad day for the main festival organisers if the tail begins to wag the dog, but it will be great fun for the tail’, and perhaps commentators. 8 Although apparently less so for the International’s then Director Robert Ponsonby, who made it clear ‘that there simply would not be a fringe without the Festival. And life is easier for fringe organisers than for organisers of the official Festival, who have to have their programme completed by January’, presumably with only the bare minimum full time paid staff in both Edinburgh and London.9 Ponsonby’s frustrations were published three Festival-filled weeks before he tended his resignation, to take effect after the 1960 Festival. Miller’s 1996 history of the International Festival highlights several of his main grievances, from the ‘general policy’ of the Festival Society and its ‘reluctance to experiment with new works’, to a ‘tendency to “play safe”’ and preoccupation ‘with the box office

5 6

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:443, Scottish Daily Mail, 13 September 1959. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:407, The Scotsman, 10 September 1962. 7 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:407, Glasgow Herald, 18 August 1962. 8 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:443, Times Educational Supplement, 11 September 1959. 9 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:442, Glasgow Herald, 22 August 1959. Page 32

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Accentuating the positive

appeal of the programme’.10 Whether it was apparent in International circles that the Fringe appeared to have overcome these difficulties has not been revealed in the research for this paper, yet it seems that finance, conditions and experimentation were causing one festival to thrive and the other to stall. In terms of a ‘general policy’ for the Fringe, it was of course to decentralise, and forego the pleasures of Directorship and committee accountability. No investigation into this period of Edinburgh Festival history, let alone one focusing on Robert Ponsonby and relations between festivals, can ignore the four gentlemen who performed at 10.30pm for a week at the Royal Lyceum in Beyond the Fringe. Part of the 1960 International Festival programme from a Director ‘who had always been rather irked by the success of the Fringe’s satirical revues’, the show has done as much as any to create Festival legend and foster a rich legacy.11 Iain Crawford labels the work ‘fringe English… from the traditions of Swift, Hogarth, Chesterton and Coward… the purpose was mockery or take-the-mickery not reform’.12 Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook would probably agree, telling Michael Billington at the time that their target was ‘complacency’.13 Ultimately it is debatable if the work was genuinely beyond the Fringe for it was indisputably of the Fringe in style, if perhaps of superlative quality as evidenced by its somewhat unexpected transfer to Brighton, London and New York. The Fringe had crept up on the International Festival, announced itself as a secure and integrated element of Edinburgh’s summer outpouring of creativity, and with his parting shot one International Director had employed some of the cream of revue talent and challenged them to out-Fringe themselves. On watching one rehearsal Ponsonby couldn’t help asking ‘Oh my God! What have I done?’14 f With remarkable prescience The Scotsman published a letter in September 1954 which warned of the ‘The Festival “Fringe”. A real danger’.15 The author foresaw numerable consequences arising from greater ‘fringe coordination’ which would only encourage more groups to come. Supply would outstrip demand, ‘undignified and unworthy rivalry’ with the International would ensue, and the professional component to the fringe would go, replaced by amateur work of lower standards that would lose the event the public’s goodwill. Fortunately ventures such as the Traverse Theatre were contributing to the Fringe by 1963 and the professional
10 11

Miller, The Edinburgh International Festival, p. 49. Miller, The Edinburgh International Festival, p. 50. 12 Crawford, Banquo on Thursdays, p. 64. 13 Sandbrook, Never Had it So Good, p. 539. 14 Crawford, Banquo on Thursdays, p. 64. 15 EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:399, The Scotsman, 11 September 1954. Page 33

Nascent Fringe

Accentuating the positive

element was secure, particularly so with the many former students whose careers subsequently kept them acquainted with the Edinburgh Festivals. It would appear that many of the other risks have not been averted however, and after half a century there are indeed more groups on the Fringe because of the feared levels of coordination; fortunately ticket sales over a million each year suggest demand is keeping up with supply. Evidence of what constituted coordination is available in the Fringe Society’s Treasurer’s Reports, which highlight the costs of producing publicity material for the Fringe as a whole, via the programme, and the running of the Fringe Club and box office. These were means by which the Society supported its members, providing information to various sources and focal points for what had previously been a disjointed event. The International Festival’s press archive contains barely a mention of former debates surrounding the direction of the Fringe Society after 1959. It is possible that once it had arrived, the International felt less need to record the efforts of those groups nestled around the ‘main’ event. However, the Film Festival doesn’t lack for coverage despite being a separate entity from 1947, so it is quite possible that the Fringe Society was simply accepted as a necessary and correctly constituted body as soon as it proved its worth from the end of the 1958 festival. Coverage instead tends towards the tangible benefits made possible by its creation, such as the ‘coffee mornings with informal talks by revered distinguished exponents of the Arts’.16 One such noble figure was a muchdelayed 22-year-old Peter Cook, explaining to Fringe President Michael Imison that his flat had been invaded by reporters following the previous evening’s premiere of Beyond the Fringe.17 By default, design and accident the Festival Fringe Society, and the festival it had been created to support, were looking forward to continued innovation, exposure and influence. The relationship between the two was sometimes ambiguous, but quick acceptance of the benefits, and risks, of coordination established a progressive momentum behind the Fringe that has barely been dented since.

16 17

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:442, Edinburgh Evening News, 21 May 1959. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:405, Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 23 August 1960. Page 34

Conclusion: A late review …of course, the old process has not ceased. The ‘Fringe’, having become more organised and official in its own right, finds itself this year with a modest ‘unofficial Fringe’… but one imagines that may not last. The advantages of even limited cohesion… are so considerable as to make it unlikely that many companies will deliberately renounce them. Glasgow Herald, 2 September 19591 …and the transfer of Festival grants towards the financing of community festivals and amenity projects in the city’s districts. Infringe, 18-21 August 19722 From an article on ‘Alternative Edinburgh’, a guide to seeing Edinburgh on a budget, complete with suggestions for the running of the city. Edited by students Bill Campbell, Barry Wright and Gordon Brown. The research outlined above on a key period in Edinburgh Festival Fringe history has sought to place its development within a wider British cultural context, of new writers, contemporary themes and the ambitious adaptation of genres, particularly theatre. Within this the Fringe has its own narratives, and far from being a trial opportunity for distant theatres in London’s West End or the provinces was emerging as an event of national standing, increasingly recognised internationally as well. In turn it is also possible to find foreign parallels, in 1959 The Times noted ‘One of the most heartening features of the New York scene during the past few years has been the growing importance of so-called “offBroadway” theatre’.3 In seeking to define the qualities of this year-round phenomenon the ‘Special Correspondent’ may instead have had their eye on the Scottish capital: It may be that financial stringency strips the inessentials and so reveals the play; or the enthusiasm of dedicated actors may give life to the text, under the guidance of those who do not expect to make money and share in a long run, but choose their play for love of what it says, and what it can enable them to say. Manhattan had long been recognised as a hub of cultural provision in America, around which had evolved a thriving support system of media attention, new talent and audiences. With a will to perform and structures in place to promote their work it seems financial resources were no longer a prerequisite for those who wished to contribute, much as became apparent in Edinburgh, as analysed above. Edinburgh’s Fringe had less time to make good on the trend, for the International Festival had only existed since 1947 to act as a draw for the necessary ingredients, but those unofficial contributors seized their opportunities well. As has been outlined the Fringe consistently benefited from the adoption and adaptation of existing structures up to and during this period. Theatre companies that had established themselves through repeated annual appearances by 1959 were at the forefront of discussions regarding a possible Fringe Society. The nature of that Society when it was created owed much to both previous attempts and the debates surrounding them, and to bodies such as the Edinburgh People’s Festival, which had coordinated events such as Joan Littlewood’s appearances with Theatre Workshop in the 1950s.4 What

1 2 3

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:442, Glasgow Herald, 2 September 1959. FFSP, STA, GUL, L.a. Box 2/18, Infringe, 18-21 August 1972. EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:445, The Times, 13 November 1959. 4 Bain, The Fringe, p. 10. Page 37

Nascent Fringe

A late review

emerged in the many meetings of the 1958 Festival was an organisation that provided benefits to the groups who appeared on the Fringe, both new members and its founders. It was born of those groups and both shared and codified their priorities, introducing services and facilities that benefited audiences, critics and other external parties only as it suited those who funded and comprised the Society. The creation of the Festival Fringe Society was undoubtedly a watershed however: for the first time an organisation existed with ambitions to support the entire Fringe, and has continued to do so from the point of its conception onwards. Very quickly it seems certain individuals associated themselves first and foremost with that body, rather than the theatre company or other group that had first brought them into the Festival’s orbit. This meant they could take a more dispassionate view of the event as a whole, and assume a responsibility for easing the introduction of new groups and ventures, which might be seen as unnecessary competition by member companies. There may be some small irony that by 1970 the Society was facing calls for reform – led naturally enough by Oxford Theatre Group – and the introduction of ‘a full-time salaried Fringe director’ after becoming ‘too established – like the people who run it’.5 Mere months would pass before John Milligan was appointed Fringe Administrator, and another watershed had been passed, based as ever on the efforts that preceded it.6 The 1970s also saw the birth of the ‘super-venues’, housing numerous groups under their roofs: Alice Bain identifies the Heriot Watt University union, and from 1981 the Assembly Rooms as early ventures.7 They added a new level of administration to their performers’ Fringe adventure, ultimately replicating many of the Fringe Society’s functions. It has therefore been vital for the Society’s continued success, even its effective survival, that it maintains a distinct identity and awareness of its function in supporting its registered groups. Being such a decentralised festival everyone associated with the Fringe is entitled to claim some ownership of it, from performers to venue programmers and audience members. However, seeking to do the same of the Fringe Society, and deflect it from its unique role supporting the groups both collectively and severally, is a fundamental misunderstanding of its remit, its priorities and its history. f Considerable continuity marks the history of the Fringe between 1956 and 1963, which this paper has looked at from the perspectives of the groups attending, the shows they performed and of course the structures that enabled various elements of the festival to succeed. The evolution that characterises the period is informed by this, and in turn identifies the importance of these few years to subsequent Fringes. That legacy is most tangible in the model that emerged by accident and design, subsequently to be adapted elsewhere as events and geography dictate. What distinguishes those Fringes that now exist all around the world, with

5 6

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:445, Daily Mail, 27 August 1970. Bain, The Fringe, p. 5. 7 Bain, The Fringe, p. 35. Page 38

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A late review

many of the same essentially open-access ideals first defined in Edinburgh, is a partial or total bypassing of the organic and inevitable creation of the Society studied here. The very fact that groups came to Edinburgh not expecting to find such a body but were motivated to set it up themselves, ensuring it reflected their group identity and artistic independence, means there is not another like it. The twenty first century has seen the conscious establishment of Fringe circuits and moves to share information between Societies. There are now, in effect, certain elements that are intrinsic to the nature of Fringe festivals, and accompanying expectations of the services to be provided to those they come into contact with. This need not have been the case yet it finds its roots in 1950s Edinburgh. From that period onwards the city has had a Fringe festival that prioritises the artist and his or her group, and in turn their own priorities. As such they have hardly changed, and still reflect a need to publicise and sell their shows, facilitate the development of creativity and enable ever more people to experience the Edinburgh Festival. In fact, every reason given for attending becomes a Fringe priority, identified in 1955 as the chance to ‘turn an honest penny… bask in a reflected glory… [a] compulsion to show the world their worth… enjoy themselves and have a good run for their money’ – admirable motivations for any period.8 Despite initial inertia, as analysed above, the Fringe Society is very much there for new groups wishing to attend, a characteristic which became second nature once people started developing a loyalty to the wider fringe, rather than just their group. This development highlighted the benefits of total Fringe independence as it enshrined an identity alongside (rather than attached to) the International Festival. For this reason Dr Patrick Brooks, Society Treasurer in 1967, encouraged more experimental theatre, it being the established work of tomorrow, and therefore granting the Fringe opportunities to influence British and world culture still further. ‘The Festival Fringe Society should devote more energy to booking halls, arranging accommodation and smoothing out minor legal problems for groups wishing to appear on the Fringe’ he stated, but with no restrictions on who, what or how many should appear, a move that could only lead to a new fringe of the Fringe.9 He recognised that while the Society reflected the priorities of the groups it would be valued and supported, even defended. Any deviation from this line and no one could begrudge any maverick who then presented their work free of any such carefully established administration, without so much as a backwards glance. The first fabled groups to appear uninvited in Edinburgh at the same time as the inaugural International Festival claimed a right to attend. By the same token the Documentary Film Festival presented an independent programme in 1947, and The Thrie Estaites brought the cream of Scotland’s theatre community together the next year to make good on a perceived native shortfall on the International stage. The applauded internationalist ambitions of the Festival’s founders justified its creation, and in doing so conferred legitimacy on the city and, crucially, all those who presented their own

8 9

EFSP, NLS, Dep. 378:399, The Scotsman, 16 August 1955. EFSP, NLS, Acc. 11518:1, The Scotsman, 21 August 1967. Page 39

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A late review

contributions.10 In turn, those groups that maintained this practice granted an immediately accepted legitimacy onto the new Festival Fringe Society, as long as it remained a creation of the groups and an independent expression of the Festival’s post-war ideals, promoting creativity and understanding. Since then the Society has in turn embodied the wider Fringe’s capacity to confer legitimacy on everything it influences and inspires: performers, subsequent far flung Fringes, unusual performance spaces, new writers, innovation and indeed the festival atmosphere itself. Constitutionally granted parity of opportunity and exposure by the Society, groups are almost duty bound to experiment and realise the Fringe ideal. Jim Haynes’s comment on the early Traverse Theatre, an exemplar of this potential, could equally apply to the Fringe that inspired it: ‘The excitement level just rose and everyone felt that we were doing something new and important and meaningful’.11

10 11

Jamieson, ‘The Festival Gaze and its Boundaries’, p. 66. J. Haynes, Thanks for Coming! (An autobiography), (London, 1984), p. 57. Page 40

Bibliography Edinburgh Festival Society Papers, National Library of Scotland, Dep. 378 Edinburgh Festival Society Papers, National Library of Scotland, Acc. 11518 Festival Fringe Society Papers, Scottish Theatre Archive, Special Collections Department of Glasgow University Library Bulletin (Glasgow), Daily Mail, Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, Edinburgh Evening News, Evening Express (Aberdeen), Financial Times, Glasgow Evening News, Glasgow Herald, Infringe, Oxford Times, The Scotsman, Scottish Daily Express, Scottish Daily Mail, The Spectator, The Sunday Times, The Tablet, The Times, Times Educational Supplement

V. Anderson and R. Prentice, ‘Festival as Creative Destination’, Annals of Tourism Research, 30(1) (2003) 7-27 A. Bain, The Fringe. 50 Years of the Greatest Show on Earth (Edinburgh, 1996) I. Crawford, Banquo on Thursdays. The inside story of fifty Edinburgh Festivals (Edinburgh, 1997) M. Dale, Sore Throats and Overdrafts (Edinburgh, 1988) Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Annual Report (Edinburgh, 2004) O.D. Edwards, City of a Thousand Worlds (Edinburgh, 1991) O.D. Edwards, ‘Cradle on the Tree-Top: The Edinburgh Festival and Scottish Theatre’, in R. Stevenson and G. Wallace (eds) Scottish Theatre Since the Seventies (Edinburgh, 1996) J. Haynes, Thanks for Coming! (An autobiography) (London, 1984) R. Hewison, In Anger. Culture in the Cold War 1945-1960 (London, 1998) E. Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes 1914-1991 (London, 1995) K. Jamieson, ‘The Festival Gaze and its Boundaries’ Space and Culture, 7(1) (2004) D. Jarman, ‘Mirror of the Nation. The Edinburgh Festivals and Scottish national identity’, (Univ. of Edinburgh unpublished M.A. dissertation, 2001) J. Killick, A. Pollock and S. Unwin (eds) The Traverse Theatre 1963-1988 (Edinburgh, 1988) A. Marwick, The Arts in the West since 1945 (Oxford, 2002) J. McMillan, The Traverse Theatre Story (London, 1998) E. Miller, The Edinburgh International Festival 1947-1996 (Aldershot, 1996) A. Moffat, The Edinburgh Fringe (Edinburgh, 1978) B. Moore-Gilbert and J. Seed (eds) Cultural Revolution? The challenge of the arts in the 1960s (London, 1995) D. Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good. A history of Britain from Suez to The Beatles (London, 2005) D. Smith, ‘The Gateway Theatre Company’, in I. Brown (ed.), Journey’s Beginning. The Gateway Theatre Building and Company 1884-1965 (Bristol, 2004), 53-59
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Bibliography

S. Waterman ‘Carnivals for Elites? The cultural politics of arts festivals’, Progress in Human Geography, 22(1) (1998) 54-69

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