NOTE: KATE SMURTHWAITE SAYS WHAT IS QUOTED IN THIS BLOG IS TOTALLY UNTRUE..
I once had to write an encyclopaedia entry on ‘Christianity’ in, I think it was, 23 lines.
It was an utter nightmare because, almost as soon as Christianity started, it broke into schisms which then, themselves, broke into other schisms. One might almost call them catty-schisms.
I would not like to write an entry on the Edinburgh Fringe, especially the history of its ‘free’ shows.
The Edinburgh Fringe is like the Great Barrier Reef – a vast sprawling single entity controlled by no-one, not even itself.
Who am I to query the Byzantine plotting, counter-plotting and shadow nether-world of gossip surrounding Edinburgh?
The basic back story is that Peter Buckley Hill rescued the Edinburgh Fringe from high prices and mediocrity by creating the Free Fringe. He was later helped by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse. But they split and Alex formed the Free Festival, competing with the PBH Free Fringe of Peter Buckley Hill.
These ‘free to enter’ shows were theoretically free for audiences, but there was a bucket at the end into which people could throw money. It was like indoor busking.
Promoter Bob Slayer then came along with what was possibly a more honest name instead of ‘Free’ – ‘Pay What You Want’ shows – via his Heroes venues which initially appeared in the Free Festival brochure but which then amicably became more separate.
Then there was another schism within the Free Fringe and this new breakaway group promoted themselves as the Freestival.
A couple of years ago, there were blogs aplenty about the tussle between the Free Fringe and the Freestival over the Cowgatehead venue in Edinburgh. Who knows which brother said what to whom about what or whom? Who knows if some meetings which allegedly did not take place two years ago were actually sound recorded? I merely mention it.
I just know that, if I get sent a good story, I will print it.
A couple of days ago, I got a message from someone I shall call Captain Bird’s Eye. The good Captain told me something I knew and something I did not know. He told me:
PBH was unfortunately poorly and in hospital for a short while.
I knew this.
Then he told me something I did not know:
Whilst PBH was out of action one of his leading team members Kate Smurthwaite took over the reigns immediately ousting Paul B Edwards and then appointing Chris Coltrane as comedy director. PBH is now out of hospital. This was his response:
Dear Friends (I hope) of the Free Fringe
As I wrote to you some days ago, I’m quite ill. Many of you have expressed sympathy, for which I thank you. This is not a plea for further sympathy.
My point is: I’m ill. I’m not dead.
And while I’m not dead, the Free Fringe is still my organisation, in which you of course have a stake.
While I was in hospital, the reins were taken up by some members of the team, some of which was indeed helpful. However, I did not anticipate that decisions and personnel changes would be made without consulting me and presented to me as faits accomplis.
I had, and I sent it to you, a scheme for encouraging more volunteers to come on board in a transparent fashion, so that we could transition to the next generation of management openly and co-operatively. My illness meant that I was not able to set this in motion in October as I had planned.
This does not mean that decisions others have made, no matter how helpfully, are binding on me. I’m still the dictator until a better and more harmonious scheme is put in place.
The only new Artistic Director I have appointed is Ewan Leeming, to replace myself as AD of Science and Rationalism.
Contrary to what you may have heard, I have not approved a new arrangement for Comedy. There will need to be one and I would like to hear from interested and appropriately experienced parties. This is a large portfolio and will require a team.
As of the sending of this email, Kate Smurthwaite has no managerial or organisational role within The Free Fringe. I thank her for all the things she has done in the past, both professionally and personally.
I merely pass this on, as I received it, unedited, without comment.
Except to say I feel I have come unstuck in an alternate universe in which the after-events of the Russian Revolution or the start of Christianity have somehow transposed themselves into the world of Edinburgh Fringe comedy.
What further truths, half-truths and fantastical twists lurk in the shadows I know not.
We live in interesting times.