Doubt cast on the legality of PBH Free Fringe contracts at Edinburgh Fringe

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe

An Edinburgh Fringe street scene: this could be a comedian…

Yesterday’s blog about the unnecessary chaos surrounding PBH Free Fringe and Freestival shows at the Edinburgh Fringe estimated the financial damage to around 150-170 acts at around £77,000 in total.

As I wrote yesterday: It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

As an example of the effect of the intransigence on one individual act, 2015 UK Pun champion Leo Kearse has told me this:

Short answer – I’m currently down about £1,200

I had two shows booked in to Cowgatehead and St John’s – Pun Man’s Pun Party and Hate ‘n’ Live (a show where comedians improvise rants about audience topics pulled out of a bucket).

They are both great shows. They will be replaced by some shit from the PBH z-list. I shudder to think how shit that’ll be.

I have paid Freestival fees, Fringe registration, train tickets, accommodation deposit.

I’m baffled as to how the current situation is beneficial to the venue owners, the Fringe Society, the audiences, or the acts.

I think PBH and his evil cohorts have behaved despicably to cause maximum disruption to the acts.

I doubt I’ll do the Edinburgh Fringe again. Other festivals offer better gigs and better exposure.

There is a clip on YouTube of Leo performing:

Promoter Bob Slayer has also issued a press release about surrealist act Michael Brunström:


Michael Brunström, nominated last year for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality, has moved his Edinburgh Fringe 2015 show to Heroes @ The Hive, following the dispute between PBH Free Fringe and Freestival over programming rights to the Cowgatehead venue.

More money wasted: the poster Michael Brumstrom had designed for his Freestival show

More money wasted: the poster Michael had designed for his once-a-Freestival-show

Heroes promoter Bob Slayer offered Brunström a slot at the Big Cave in The Hive in exchange for a large (400g) bar of Toblerone. This agreement was made orally.

“Both PBH Free Fringe and Freestival could learn a thing or two from Bob Slayer about professionalism, efficiency and mature behaviour,” said Brunström.

Heroes will also be hosting Phil Kay and Russell Hicks – whose show Psychedelicious had also been scheduled at Cowgatehead – in Bob Slayer’s Blundabus.

In 2014 Michael Brunström was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for his show The Human Loire, in which he impersonated the longest river in France, nailed grapes to Ted Cruz’s face and chewed the legs off a heron. Brunström’s 2015 show, The Golden Age of Steam, includes further surreal stunts involving his body, voice, legs, some ping-pong balls and a tiny fern.

Interestingly, Pear Shaped Comedy’s Anthony Miller had this comment to make on my blog of yesterday, in which I mentioned the PBH Free Fringe’s contract which (uniquely among Fringe operators) bans acts appearing or wanting to appear at a PBH Free Fringe venue from appearing or negotiating to appear at any other free venue. I called this a restriction of trade. Anthony Miller wrote:

Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller asks Why? Why? Why?

I still maintain that by applying exclusivity terms to people over who else they can work for BEFORE employing people (and he is an employer even if he pays people by venue barter) he is attempting to run a de facto pre-entry closed shop system. This is illegal.

Someone said it doesn’t matter if it’s illegal or not just that it’s stupid, but the law – when it works – exists to protect us from destructive patterns and practices in society.

So why is it illegal? Why is it more than just an old man with eccentric rules on which of his competitors his acts and people who want to gig for him can also gig for?

It is illegal because the effective purpose of all pre-entry closed shop systems is effective control over entry into the labour market by one body with the effective result of decreasing the overall number of people in the labour market. And that is exactly what is happening here.

It is not an accident that a load of people are now going to the Fringe NOT to work. It is by design.

PBH wants to be a monopoly controller.


He wants to control the number of people entering the labour market.


Then he can decrease competition.


He has become a victim of his own success…. Monopoly of £0 entry gigs gives him control of who does and doesn’t enter the labour market. And that is what he wants.

This situation is not an accident. It is the inevitable long term consequence of any closed shop system. A system which always puts one-person coterie in charge of who can work and who can enter the workforce.

I am sure PBH has an incredibly long waiting list… but would it be so long if people who were not on it did not fear blacklisting?

Robin Ince (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Robin Ince (Photo by Vera de Kok)

I also this morning received some reaction from Robin Ince to a reference in yesterday’s blog to an upcoming benefit gig for the Free Fringe which includes performers Stewart Lee, Nick Helm and Robin Ince. Robin writes:

Stewart. Nick and I agreed to do benefit to support acts doing Free Fringe; we have no gain from it. Maybe it is time we stopped doing benefits and let the lazy comedy fucks who can’t be bothered to do any to start doing ten minutes here and there.

Do I support the acts who have been fucked over. Yes. Would I do a benefit for them? Yes.

Do I think Freestival are innocent victims and PBH is the big villain?  No.

Meanwhile, the saga continues.

A general perception I think (including by me) was that the fact there were three members of the same family – all called Kenny Waugh – somehow involved in the saga meant there was chaos between Kennies. In fact, I understand, there was only the one Kenny – the middle one – involved in talking to both the PBH Free Fringe and to the Freestival.

The Waugh family – one or more of them – rent the Cowgatehead building from the Crolla family. 

A Crolla family is involved in ownership of the La Favorita pizza company which sponsors the Freestival. But, as I understand it, they are different Crolla families.

Elio Crolla, who was involved in the Cowgatehead building last year, died on 26th January this year, which will not have helped the tangled web of ownership, rentals and rights within the building.

I think my head may soon explode.



Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Legal system

8 responses to “Doubt cast on the legality of PBH Free Fringe contracts at Edinburgh Fringe

  1. Quick check on shows that there are 110 shows listed in the programme for CGH and St John’s. PBH is claiming to have rebooked 50, so that’s 60 acts out in the cold.

    Anthony’s points are bollocks (sorry Anthony) because PBH isn’t actually employing anyone. Comedians are essentially sole traders, each running a serviced-based business. Stage time is “the product”. Promoters are effectively vendors, purchasing product from comedians and reselling it to consumers.

    So if PBH is breaking a law, it’s probably more to do with restrictive trade practices. The clause in the PBH contract about dealing with rival suppliers (Laughing Horse and Freestival) certainly seems like a vertical restriction which is sometimes illegal, although the legislation is fairly complex. If anyone was really fussed about it, they could contact the Competition and Markets Authority, or the Office of Fair Trading.

    PBH might argue that they’re not promoters as such, but providing a service on a non-profit basis. Fine, but it’s still a vertical restriction and being non-profit doesn’t make much of a difference if the enterprise is commercial in nature, which it is. By the way, there are two people recently who have been vocal about how non-profit implicitly means non-evil: Peter Buckley-Hill and Sepp Blatter. Just saying.

  2. I maintain that he is an employer because he insists they are in his venue at fixed times regularly over a month and hold a bucket and do promotion for the entity as whole in return for the venue. You can be an employer and not pay people in cash. How anyone would be taxed for this I’m not sure. But being a sole trader doesn’t mean you don’t have any employment rights or aren’t employed. The sole traders I work with are “employed” by the company I work for and can be switched on and off depending on revenue flutuations or need but they still have contracts and they still have rights. Also they might be contractors or have classed themselves as limited companies. But can you call bartered labour “working for someone”.
    Yes I think so. But then … Honestly who knows what the Free Fringe is? A service provider? Or a business? Or both? Or a Union? Or a hybrid? Well … it must be SOMETHING and fit into some regulatory framework somewhere? Is it a trade union?
    Is it only employers you can take to a Tribunal?
    One of the problems is that PBH’s organisation is a kind of hybrid that doesn’t fit into conventional market models. From a rather anal geeky point of view that’s what’s interesting about it…

    One thing we know the Free Fringe isn’t is a Charity. Yet it does fundraising. This isn’t illegal… but it’s interesting. Non charity fundraisers I did find out are regulated by the fundraising standards board … there’s a toothless regulator for everything these days.

    Anyway I don’t know the true legal situation but if it was me I would – in the immortal words of Vinnie Jones “talk ta my salicitar”

  3. If I had a brain I’d join in…

  4. Anyway seemingly it’s quite rare for a Trade Union or Employer to actually be taken to court for breaching closed shop rules because when they came in of course all official TUs stopped running closed shops (at least in simple forms) but I did find this:

    “It is also unlawful for an employer to refuse to interview or employ a job applicant who is not a member of a trade union (or of a particular trade union) or who has made it clear that he (or she) has no intention of joining a particular trade union or any trade union. A job applicant may complain to an employment tribunal if he (or she) suspects that he has been denied a job (or a job interview) for one or other of those reasons. The complaint must be presented within three months of the alleged unlawful act. If the complaint is upheld, the tribunal will order the employer to pay up to £53,500 by way of compensation (section 137 and 140, Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992).”

    So there you are if my contentions that
    1) The Free Fringe is a Trade Union
    2) The Free Fringe is an Employer
    both turn out to be true then theoretically you can take the Free Fringe for up to £53,500 each?

    It’s difficult to know what would actually happen because one is not a lawyer but it is amusing to speculate…? It would be odd if the rules didn’t cover sole traders and their Unions as, of course, the Unions of sole traders were generally the biggest closed shop operators historically because they had the most “need” of closed shops due to massive labour oversupply. The most obvious example of course is Equity. These days of course Equity is not a closed shop it just sells lots of insurance no one really feels they want but would probably cost more to buy if they didn’t get a collective bulk discount.

  5. Tempted to say that it’s actually a cult, but cults have a tendency to sue. I have, however, heard lots of people recently describing PBH as “a massive cult”.

  6. This is hilarious. You twats are still working for these idiots for nothing! Get yourselves an agent and work harder. It’s not rocket science.

    I see ‘Fantasy’ Miller is still sticking his oar in where it’s not wanted.

  7. If only the problem were as simple as people working for nothing but I fear it is as complicated as people working for less than nothing…

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