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Fringe ticket chaos leaves laughter in short supply

Blue skies over Edinburgh's Royal Mile did much to help fill the streets and create a pre-festival buzz yesterday. But the anticipation felt by hundreds of thousands of fans heading for the Fringe Festival, many travelling across the globe to be in Scotland's first city, was beginning to wear thin by mid-afternoon.

The Fringe previews began yesterday, but for a fourth successive day phone and box-office sales had to be cancelled or suspended because of a malfunctioning computer system.

It meant that festival-goers wanting to book to see the usual mixture of comedians in cages, cross-dressing Blue Peter presenters and human slugs in a circus were kept waiting again.

It is the tenth day in a row that sales have been adversely affected in one way or another, scuppering pre-festival publicity and causing resentment among those who have made their annual pilgrimage to the arts, comedy and music bonanza.

Only tickets booked well in advance could be collected yesterday. Dozens of Fringe-goers who were unaware of the computer problems were turned away – to their obvious disgust.

A Fringe spokesman, Duncan Fraser, said that more than 100,000 tickets had been sent by post. "We sell most of our tickets in August so, though it's hard to say how many we'll sell overall, we're not doing too badly," he said.

He added that Fringe staff were continuing to recommend that fans pick up tickets from individual venues rather than going to the central box office.

Ken Reynolds, a 70-year-old Fringe pilgrim from North Queensferry in Fife, had booked more than 30 tickets. "I'm disgusted. I've been coming to the Fringe office for more than 30 years to book my tickets and I've never had any problems," he said. "I had no idea I wouldn't be able to pick up my tickets today. I'll have to spend the afternoon going round individual venues to get what I want."

Karen Koren, artistic director at the Gilded Balloon, one of the best known comedy venues in the city and home of the Late'n'Live show, said her sales were down by around 10 per cent. "We're down a fair bit in terms of sales. Most of our advance ticket sales are through the Fringe office before we get our own box office up and running," she said. "We're hoping things pick up now that we're open for business, and that we can get the message out that people can get tickets here."

John Barrow, a promoter at the Acoustic Music Centre, said: "Ticket sales are definitely not what they should be. Not everyone has a computer and we really rely on the Fringe office. I just can't understand why it has taken as long as it has for the Fringe to sort out its box office. If it isn't up and running soon we'll be in big trouble."

Last year a total of 1.7 million tickets were sold over the course of the festival, which is the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world.

On Sunday the Edinburgh Festival Fringe begins and five days later it will be the turn of the Edinburgh International Festival.

The comedy festival, which began yesterday, has more than 250 shows across 55 different stages, and is being billed this year as the largest comedy festival ever produced.