Fringe stars attack blitz on swearing in programme adverts

Comedian Richard Herring is fuming over the censorship
Comedian Richard Herring is fuming over the censorship
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FOR 65 years it has offered a stage for free expression where artists face no fear of censorship.

But it appears that the fundamental ethos of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe does not extend to the 400,000 copies of this year’s annual programme.

Organisers have been accused of implementing a “Draconian” policy after rude words in titles of shows and the blurbs written by comedians to promote them were censored for inclusion in the official publication’s listings section.

Fringe bosses today defended the policy, saying it had been implemented in the past and that children should not be exposed to inappropriate terms.

As a family newspaper, the Evening News routinely masks expletives, but artists said the sudden censorship suggested the Fringe was losing its edge.

Festival veteran Richard Herring saw an asterisk added to the title of his show so it read as “Talking C*ck”.

In 2002, a show of the same name was untouched, while posters with the uncensored title will be put up throughout the city this summer.

Mr Herring said the policy had “serious repercussions for artistic freedom”. He added: “I can’t recall ever having come across such petty censorship before. What if there was a kids’ show called Cock-a-doodle-do, would that get censored? What if Dick Van Dyke played the Fringe? Or Joe Cocker?

“I am concerned about the Draconian level of censorship that is occurring here and what it says about what the Fringe is turning into.”

Stand-up Stuart Goldsmith expressed anger after an exclamation mark was added to the title of his show so it read as “Pr!ck” in the programme.

He said the change could lose him ticket sales, as it would not show up during an internet search for his show.

John Fleming, who will stage the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and has been attending the Fringe for 27 years, said comedians had been protesting about the move, which he branded “idiotic” and “potty”.

“In 2009, I did a show that had a swear word in the title. There wasn’t a single complaint.

“I don’t understand having an exclamation mark instead of an ‘i’. You can still read it.”

Neil Mackinnon, head of external affairs for the Fringe, said that decisions over the content of listings were taken on a case by case basis and insisted there had been no deliberate shift in policy.

He said: “It is not for us to vet the content of anyone’s shows – that’s one of our principles – but the listings have to be read by people of all ages. There are over 200 children’s shows so there has to be some restriction.”

Simon Donald

The Viz co-founder is fronting a ‘swearing school’ Fringe show

This is crazy. It’s supposed to be an arts festival which is all about being open-minded and having the opportunity to speak openly.

The words they censored are not in themselves offensive. Only the use of those words in certain contexts could be deemed offensive. They are jumping the gun by predicting the meanings people will attach to them.

There is also no point in censoring just one letter – there are only five vowels. Anyone who would be offended is going to be offended anyway because it’s obvious what the word is.

They could have used a zero instead of an asterix or a number one instead of an exclamation mark – that would make just as much sense.