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Tributes for man dubbed 'Mr Festival'

TRIBUTES have been pouring in to the Festival impresario who first brought the Tattoo and fireworks party to Edinburgh.

Regarded by many as "Mr Festival", Sir Ian Hunter, who died on Friday at the age of 84, took over as artistic director of the International Festival in 1949 and ran what became the world’s biggest arts festival until 1955.

He went on to found new festivals across Britain and the rest of the world, including those of Bath, Brighton, Hong Kong and the 1965 Commonwealth Arts Festival in Glasgow, London and Liverpool.

Edinburgh International Festival director Brian McMaster today said: "Sir Ian Hunter was involved in the very beginnings of this great Festival. His achievements laid the foundations for the continued success of the Edinburgh International Festival."

A spokesman for the Fringe added: "The very first Fringe in 1947 was brought about by eight companies gatecrashing the International Festival.

"Despite this, Ian Hunter supported the Fringe, welcoming the albeit anarchic upsurge of enthusiasm and talent his own festival had created. In many ways, he laid some of the foundations of the close working relationships the two organisations enjoy today."

Sir Ian was born in Middlesex in 1919 but was educated at Fettes College in the Capital, where he was a gifted musician, playing the French horn and conducting the school orchestra. He served in the Royal Army Service Corps during the Second World War, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war, he decided it was too late to return to his training as a professional conductor.

He instead found work as an assistant for Rudolph Bing, then in charge of the Edinburgh Festival. When Mr Bing left to run the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Sir Ian took over as the Festival’s artistic director.

He oversaw a period of great change for the Festival, bringing in leading European companies to perform and coming up with a host of new ideas. In 1950, he organised the first closing fireworks concert on the Castle Esplanade.

He is also believed to have initiated the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, now one of the Capital’s biggest attractions. But exactly how the military parade was instigated is unknown. Sir Ian said in 1955, five years after the first Tattoo: "I still have in London our first draft (of plans for the Festival). I remember very well a note that Rudolph Bing made in that first draft. It was ‘piping and dancing in the Castle precincts,’ and that was the gem of the idea that led to the Tattoo."

A spokesman for the Tattoo today added to the tributes, saying: "We were sorry to learn of the death of one of the most important figures in the Festival’s history. Our thoughts are with Sir Ian’s family."

As well as directing numerous other festivals, Sir Ian managed some of the most important stars of his day including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and cellist Jacqueline du Pr. He continued to advise on the planning of festivals around the world until the 90s.

Sir Ian is survived by four daughters from his first marriage to Susan Russell.

 
 
 

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