If you happen to find yourself in Edinburgh at this time of the year, you’ll very quickly discover that you can barely move for enthusiastic young thespians thrusting flyers into your hand, or subjecting you to a snippet of their latest three-star show as you battle your way through the crowds to find sanctuary in one of the city’s many fine pubs.
It’s hardly surprising – the collection of events that makes Edinburgh luvvy central in August is the largest arts festival in the world. And the whole thing started on this day back in 1947.
The “Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama” (as it called itself in 1947) was the highbrow originator of it all. It was set up to bring international culture to Scotland’s capital after the Second World War, with classical music making up a large part of its programme. It ran from 24 August to 13 September.
However, along with the big, serious names came a few renegade troupes of actors, bringing with them their own performances, which they put on in whatever venues they could find around the periphery of the main festival
Every year, more and more of these fringe performers came. And in 1958, the Festival Fringe Society was formed to bring some sort of order to the proceedings. Soon, the number of individual festivals began to grow. The Film Festival joined in, the Military Tattoo began, jazz and blues singers got in on the act, literary greats flocked to the Book Festival, and even scientists got a look in with the Science Festival.
These days, the Fringe Festival is arguably more mainstream than the International Festival that spawned it. It’s certainly bigger: this year, it boasts 50,000 performances of 3,000 shows at 300 venues scattered around the city.
Combined, the festivals are a huge money-making behemoth, estimated to bring in over £100m to the city’s economy.