Appeal launched as organisers reveal plans for new Edinburgh Festival Fringe archive

It has helped launch the careers of Rowan Atkinson, Sir Billy Connolly, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Stephen Fry, Alan Cumming, Emma Thompson, Craig Ferguson and Dame Maggie Smith.

Thursday, 21st April 2022, 8:11 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd April 2022, 3:36 pm
The late Robin Williams was at the Fringe in 1971 with a student theatre company from California's College of Marin, who performed a Wild West version of The Taming of the Shrew. Picture: Peter Kramer
The late Robin Williams was at the Fringe in 1971 with a student theatre company from California's College of Marin, who performed a Wild West version of The Taming of the Shrew. Picture: Peter Kramer

Now the organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have issued a public appeal for memories of their encounters with the stars - before and after they shot to fame.

The Fringe Society has launched plans for an new archive dedicated to the festival's past as venues, promoters, producers and artists prepare to return to the first full-scale event in three years this summer.

It is also seeking photos taken over the last 75 years showing everything from backstage excitement and drama to unique Fringe experiences, memorable shows and spectacular street theatre.

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Sir Billy Connolly brought his Great Northern Welly Boot show to the Fringe in the early 1970s. Picture: John Devlin

The past 75 years of the Fringe, which has been the world’s biggest arts festival for decades, is expected to be showcased in the official programme for the event, which is due to be published in July, under the plans to create a new catalogue celebrating the event’s heritage.

The Fringe Society said it was looking for recollections of seeing a household name when they were still unknown, brief encounters with the stars and unexpected involvement in shows for its new archive.

It is also expected to highlight previously unsung heroes who kept a show, venue or company afloat, unlikely friendships and relationship forged on the Fringe, and the people behind the scenes “who make the Fringe happen.”

Photographs are also being sought to illustrate the annual transformation of the heart of the Scottish capital for the Fringe each August.

Stephen Fry was a complete unknown when he appeared at the Fringe in a Cambridge Footlights show.

The Fringe’s origins date back to 1947, when eight theatre companies unable to perform at the inaugural International Festival decided to go ahead with their own shows. The word ‘fringe’ was used in some of the earliest reports of the unofficial shows which were staged. The first guide appeared in 1954 and the Fringe Society was officially formed in 1959.

Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Derek Jacobi, Eddie Izzard, Steven Berkoff and Robin Williams are among the other stars who appeared at the Fringe when the were unknown.

The Fringe is also credited for groundbreaking early performances by the stars of Monty Python, The Goodies and The League of Gentlemen.

The Fringe Society’s appeal states: "2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and we’re excited. We want to use this moment to celebrate all the incredible opportunities, careers, relationships and more that have been created at this important arts festival. To do that justice, we’re asking for your stories.

Dame Maggie Smith is one of the best know stars to appear at the Fringe as an unknown.

“We want to hear about the Fringe moments that have made the festival amazing for you, dating back as far as you can remember. Whether you’re a performer, an audience member, a worker, a producer, a venue operator, a local, a PR, a journalist, a Fringe Friend or a Fringe fan – we want to hear from you.

“We want the funny, the inspiring, the motivational, the weird and the wonderful.

“We want you to tell us anything that makes you smile when you look back on it.”

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “This is such an important year for the Fringe.

Jessie Buckley, winner of the Best Actress in a Musical, and Eddie Redmayne, winner of the Best Actor in a Musical, celebrate at the Olivier Awards (Picture: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for SOLT)

"Not only is it our 75th anniversary, it’s also the joyous return of live performance to Edinburgh’s stages and streets after the crippling effects of the pandemic.

“The response already from artists and audiences points to a very special Fringe.

"This year also marks a real renaissance moment for the festival. We are pushing for better rather than bigger, making plans for the future and look forward to all the brilliant creativity and work that’s still to come.

“But as we do that, we also wanted to take some time to honour every incredible moment that the Fringe has already created over the last seven and a half decades.

"The careers that were born on late night stages in the back rooms of pubs. The debuts that emerged, blinking under stage lights, before setting the world on fire. The friendships, partnerships and working relationships that have been cemented in Fringe venues, and on Edinburgh’s streets. The incomparable experiences people have had as audience members.

“We want to hear the funny, the emotional, the weird and the wonderful, and we’d love to see any old photos or videos, too.

Phoebe Waller Bridge won a Scotsman Fringe First Award for the stage version of Fleabag in 2013

"We can’t wait to celebrate all that the Fringe has been before, to embrace the joy of its return in 2022 and be excited about all it can become in the future.”

Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, said: “Nothing embodies Edinburgh like the Fringe.

"It is synonymous around the world for its broad spectrum of acts, pop-up venues and giving breaks to new artists.

"It helps bring the city alive in August and gives joy to thousands of our residents and visitors.

“Our city embraces its marvellous eccentricity each year, with people from all parts of the world celebrating our unique festival and enjoying everything and anything they want.”

Donald Wilson, culture convener at the city council, said: “For 75 Years the Fringe has amazed, entertained and educated audiences young and old across the city.

"As we mark this very special anniversary this year it’s the perfect time to look back on our memories and personal highlights.

“Live performance and street theatre are part of the capital’s cultural DNA and I look forward to seeing the outcome of this project as people share their favourites.”

Meanwhile the Fringe Society has announced the return of a crowdfunding initiative to help artists and venues put on shows. An initial 24 projects are already up and running on the FringeMakers platform, which is run in collaboration with Crowdfunder.

Nearly 800 shows have been registered for this year’s Fringe programme ahead of the programme launch in July. Hundreds of other shows are also expected to put ticket on sale in early May and early June.