Take yourselves back to say, 1974. Edward Heath is prime minister. Remember him? Teeth. Weird laugh. Tory. Posh. Messed about with orchestras and sank a yacht.
Imagine back in those dark days of winters of discontent and three-day weeks, he and his Tory cabinet decided that something had to be done to cheer Britain up. Back then, remember, Britain meant London.
So the cabinet sits about that big shiny table and hit on a wizard wheeze.
That Fringe thing, up in Edinburgh. And that International Festival. What’s it doing up there? Too bloody far for the culture vultures to go. Why not shift the whole kit and caboodle sharply south, get Larry Oliver and some other well-kent names to do a turn and bingo – Fringe on the Thames!
The London theatricals turn their luvvie firepower on the problem.
Everybody wants to be seen with Larry! Dear, dear Richard Burton knocks it out the park with a cut down version of Hamlet, performed in the holding cells of the Old Bailey, and Lionel Bart directs Faye Dunaway in new one-woman show Towering Inferno – Elevator Tales at the Old Vic. It’s a smash, baby.
Fast forward to 2017. Endless news bulletins about another knock-out year for London Fringe and Fest, with chest thumping hoo-ha in the press about audience numbers generating thunderous applause, humongous ticket sales leading to massive economic benefit and all brought to the global stage by good ol’ London town.
In the North, we would sit festering remembering what was once ours. Sporadic little campaigns would start and stop to bring our Fringe back, but to no avail. Endless letters to the Scotsman demanding it’s oor art, and countless Scots luvvies bemoaning the lack of opportunity here, far from the Thames Fringe.
Don’t think it couldn’t have happened. When governments get bees in their bonnets about something, then by jings, can they move, whether to recapture a tiny island in the South Atlantic, shut down entire industries or hold snap elections that they just know they can win by a landslide.
Had the government back in those funky days of flares and Jackson 5 realised just how successful the Festival and Fringe were going to become, you bet plans would have been laid to make sure that London got its mitts on the money and the prestige.
But no. Fortunately, Mr Heath may have been many things, but visionary was not one of them.
There’s a venue for that
It is our Fringe, and whether we like it or not, it is a massive success story.
For three weeks a year, our city is a glittering disco ball of creativity, attracting internationally-famed movie stars to try their hand in tiny cramped pop-up theatres, high school musicals from America’s Midwest and one legged ballerinas who fancy trying their hand at close quarter magic.
At least I think that’s what she said. I wasn’t really listening to what she was saying. I was watching the cups. The ball was defo under the cup in the middle.
Every year an audience the size of the Olympic Games swirls in and out of our city. More tickets were bought last year for the three weeks of the Fringe than tickets sold for the Euro 2016, which is football, I believe, and very popular.
They bring with them their cash for the hotels, restaurants and bars. They hopefully take with them memories of a beautiful, vibrant and welcoming city. There are fringes all over the world now, adopting a Scottish ideal of open access and anything goes, mate, just don’t think we haven’t seen it all before. This is a success on a global scale. Let’s wallow in it in a very unScottish way and blaw our trumpet loud and long.
I can find you a venue for that . . .
Opera that’s bound to move you
American visitors appear to be particularly happy about buses. No idea why. I get the impression they think the Number 22 is a moving Fringe show. Mind you, sometimes it is.
On one evening last week, we were serenaded by a love-lorn son of Leith singing down the phone to his ex-bidey-in who had run off with the three-piece suite and the dog.
Two women were having a loud and very animated row about the damage a random teen had done to the cooker. A Spanish lady chipped in her tuppence worth and a dapper wee chap from Poland commentated from the sidelines. Set that to music and it’s contemporary opera.
We do it our way
And as the sun sets on another Fringe, let’s pat ourselves on the back proudly, and allow ourselves just a wee patronising glance southwards for a bit. Let’s give them the full stony Scottish: “Oh aye. Art, is it? Performace, is it? Music, is it? Dance, is it? Comedy, is it? Theatre, is it? Come and see how we do it here . .