24 August 1947: the first Edinburgh Festival takes place

This day in 1947 saw the start of the first Edinburgh Festival – which has grown to become the largest arts festival in the world.

Edinburgh Fringe hopefuls © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Good grief. Where's the nearest pub?
(Image credit: © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In any normal timeline, 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 desperately battle your way through the crowds to find sanctuary in one of the city's many fine pubs. It's different this year, of course. But during the usual course of things, the collection of events that makes Edinburgh luvvy central in August makes up 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

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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: last year, it boasted 59,600 performances of 3,841 shows at 323 venues scattered around the city.

Combined, the festivals are a huge money-making behemoth, estimated to bring in over £200m to the city's economy.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.