Edinburgh Festival 1994: Past perfect: Appearing at Edinburgh needn't be a nightmare. Here, Fringe veterans remember the best of times

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The Independent Culture

I can't remember exactly when my best year was, but some time in the Sixties. It was the first time I went, and I was in a big show with Joan Littlewood: Henry IV. The set was like High Noon - like something from a cowboy film, and it split the audience down the middle like a catwalk. The critics mostly hated it. But I bumped into one, from behind the Iron Curtain, as it was then, who thought it was wonderful. He said, 'Not only have you divided the audience in two, but you have total alienation as well.'

Spinetti's 'Dogman]' is at the Pleasance, Fri-3 Sept.


Every Edinburgh is torment and has me sobbing under the duvet, coming out in acne and irritable bowel syndrome. But 1989 was particularly memorable, as I was pregnant and so allergic to drink. Normally I develop cirrhosis of the liver, but unfortunately this foetus was inside me, and so alcohol was impossible. That year I was nominated for a special commendation in the Perrier Awards. I felt like when Liz Taylor gets a special mention at the Oscars when she has cancer or is in a wheelchair or whatever - a sympathy vote because I was pregnant, basically. I celebrated with a sip of dry sherry.

'Bad Behaviour', Pleasance, Wed-1 Sept.


1963] The first year I ever performed on the Fringe. I had left Oxford two days previously, and here I was in Edinburgh as a bass player with the Oxford University Revue. What a way to grow up] The Fringe was different then, of course. There were only 25 shows altogether and they were all within four feet of each other. The Oxford Revue got such good reviews that it transferred to the West End and we all thought we were made for life but the show folded after two weeks, and there we were, 22 years old, out of work, and my career in showbiz over already. It took me 12 years to get back to the Fringe in 1975 (cont. next year).


1988, because I met the woman I now live with and have a child with and I swore that year not to get off with anyone and just to be celibate. And within days I was madly in love and still am. Also, the play I took up that year, Mammon Robot Born of Blue Woman, was nominated for the Perrier Award. It got me the job in Red Dwarf, although I didn't know it at the time.

'Blue Helmet', Assembly Rooms, 15 Aug-3 Sept.


Last year. My show was on quite early, so I was out by seven and I could go out and watch other shows. I went to a benefit gig by Arthur Smith and Arthur presumed that I was on next and introduced me. Some nights, I had really small audiences, so I just used to take them in a cab to see shows I wanted to see. One night my sole audience was this bloke who had flown in from India. We jumped in a cab and I told him jokes on the way to Lee Evans's show.

Pleasance, Thurs-27 Aug (not 15, 23).


My favourite (and only) year was last year. I was playing in a room which seated 60 people and I expected to pull about 20 people a night. When I arrived the first Saturday and I saw the 'sold out' board under my name, I just couldn't believe it. In fact, I sold out every night and had to do extra performances. I got two reviews in the broadsheet newspapers on the first day and Eddie Izzard, who I was living with, told me that at his first festival, he got only one mention in a review, on the last day. This year, I have booked a 140-person room.

Pleasance, Thurs-3 Sept.


1992, when I did a show with Arthur Smith. It was like catching the spirit of Edinburgh: we charged 50p admission and then gave the audience their money back when they left, and a bit more sometimes - once we gave a bloke pounds 6 extra. Plus it was a very wacky show. A friend of mine said he wanted to be in it and we said he could if he wore a bear costume. We did not think he would seriously do it, but he rolled up in Edinburgh with this bear costume, so we had to write in a bear half an hour before the show. It turned out to be hilarious. That same year, we did this gala performance and charged pounds 10 a ticket for it. It was meant as a joke. People thought it was a benefit performance, but it was just for us.

Pleasance, 21 Aug-3 Sept (not 27, 30, 31).


1988, which was my first proper Edinburgh. I had heard stories about Edinburgh being full of drink, drugs and free sex on tap, and it was all true that year. I was sharing a room with Nick Hancock, who now hosts Room 101 on BBC2, and he was the perfect partner in crime as he had a great capacity for alcohol. I met my wife that year - or so she tells me: I am a bit hazy about it.

Gilded Balloon, Fri-27 Aug.


Last year was my first hour and it was good to know that I can do a show alone without getting cramp or falling over or fainting. Almost all my other festivals have been good because of Arthur Smith's tour of Edinburgh: he gets people from the Gilded Balloon when they are really pissed and takes them on a tour of the city. One year, he led us into the back of a furniture van singing 'All Things Bright and Beautiful'.

'Split Tease' with Linda Smith, Gilded Balloon, 14 Aug-3 Sept.

Continued overleaf


1963, as I went to a great conference of international writers and we had a very early streaker - that was before streakers were fashionable. For the last two or three years, I have been one of the judges for the Perrier Awards, which is also great fun.


1992, because I got the Perrier Award for Most Promising Newcomer. The year before, though, I was doing a show with Alistair McGowan and we did a late-night gig at which there were only ever about 10 very drunk people watching. One night, the host, Ray Hannah, took his belt off and started whipping it around while standing on a table. Just to get some attention. Then someone asked him whether he ever expected to get laughs out of his lousy belt.

'Pub Internationale', Pleasance, Fri- 29 Aug.


As an American, my first trip to the Fringe was astounding. Edinburgh gave me everything I could possibly want from a festival: theatre, dance, art and a glimpse of Emily Woof's naked breasts. But it wasn't the Fringe that left a lasting impression, the people did. I soon learnt from the good folk of Edinburgh that: 1) there are no blacks in Scotland; 2) the further south you go, the tighter the sphincter is; 3) British women bonk on the wrong side anyway.

Acropolis, 25-29 Aug.


My most memorable year was 1992. I had seven shows that I had produced, one of which was Eleanor Bron's one-woman show. It was great to see an actress of that standing playing at the Pleasance, which is a tiny venue. The audience were just delighted. That summed up Edinburgh for me: it is the only place where the famous and the brand new can rub shoulders.


Last year, which was my first year. I got to perform and everything happened to me. A guy collapsed at my show and lived. My audience and I invaded another show because it was making too much noise. Arthur Smith wandered into my show drunk one night and made requests from my list. Audiences from other shows wandered in. I had lies printed about me, and bad reviews. Oh, and I met Steven Berkoff.

Assembly Rooms, Fri-3 Sept (not 15 Aug, 1 Sept).


1985 was my first Edinburgh and it was chaos really, completely disorganised. We had bad reviews from everybody, saying we were the worst show to have ever hit Edinburgh and that we were very unprofessional. And yet we packed the venue out every night.

The high moment for me was when Andy, Cliff and I were on stage, completely pissed, singing 'Underneath the Arches'.-

(Photographs omitted)