Fringe preview: Philip Pope and Rory McGrath

Rory McGrath and Phil Pope
Rory McGrath and Phil Pope
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‘MY mother was brought up in Edinburgh, so I have a family tie and love coming back any time of year,” says a delighted Philip Pope. “But the Fringe feels like coming home in a different way.”

Pope returns to the Capital this month to do a Fringe show with long-time collaborator Rory McGrath for the first time in 23 years. A collection of witty songs and tales, it’s called Bridge Over Troubled Lager.

McGrath, star of BBC Two’s Three Men In A Boat, and Pope first worked together in 1983, on the Channel 4 comedy Chelmsford 123. It was the first series from Hat Trick Productions, which McGrath co-founded. The production company went on to make the likes of Drop The Dead Donkey, The Kumars at No 42 and Whose Line Is It Anyway, and although McGrath has moved on, he reflects that they found much of their talent in Edinburgh.

“The Fringe is the best place in the world for TV companies to find new talent. There is absolutely nothing on earth that comes close to competing with the Fringe for showcasing such a huge number and huge variety of acts,” he says.

“I’m particularly excited this year because my daughter is doing her sketch comedy show Twins... I’m also very frightened because my daughter is doing her sketch comedy show Twins, which I think is better than our show. I’ll give her some pocket money if she gives me some jokes.”

If the Fringe is still the best place to discover future stars, Pope has seen many changes since he first performed here in the 70s.

“The biggest change is in the people and their appearance - not just ours,” he offers. “The 70s saw beige giving way to punkish rebellion and young people with a selection of body-piercings... but some things never change. Last time we were here the Rolling Stones were just starting their first farewell tour - I think it’s still going on.

“The Fringe was a lot smaller then and the Festival proper still the thing. Comedy was mainly undergraduate sketch stuff but change was in the air. Straight from performing here we appeared at the Comic Strip in London, where we were confronted with alternative comedy.

“The 90s were exciting in their own way - the Fringe was starting to be taken over by more established acts, which was slightly disappointing, there was a sudden rise in the number of stand-up comics.

“Coming at the same time as a surge in political correctness this meant that they couldn’t make jokes about other people for fear of being shouted down, so we ended up with 3000 comedians talking about themselves - which I’m sure they found very interesting.

“Now the place is buzzing with shows and talent in every doorway. It’s just great to be part of it. Making full use of technology and social media there is now an immediacy about being here, a sense of being in the moment. All life is here... and then there’s our show.”

• Bridge Over Troubled Lager, Assembly, George Square, until 26 August, 10.10pm, £12-£13, 0131-226 0000