Edinburgh pulls up the drawbridge as TV rivals dig in for Hogmanay

Edinburgh will become a walled city tonight to reduce the risk of a Hillsborough-style tragedy at its Hogmanay celebrations. But restricting the number of New Year revellers won't diminish the challenge facing rival television networks endeavouring to bring the party atmosphere to viewers across Britain, finds Media Editor Rob Brown.

Organising a party in a city of breweries is harder than it sounds. Orchestrating live television coverage of a jam-packed, open-air jamboree is even trickier in a part of the world where al fresco often means al freezing. "We're at the mercy of the elements" sighed Sandy Ross, executive producer of ITV's turn of the year show - and that was just yesterday's press launch he was referring to.

As co-presenters Anthea Turner and Philip Schofield braved wind and rain to pose for photographers in water-logged Princes Street Gardens, Mr Ross was entertaining no illusions about the technical challenge facing his 150-strong outside broadcast team. "We have to get our 16 cameras in the right positions because once the party gets under way there will be almost a quarter of a million people making sure we can't move them around."

Still, he's immensely proud of the fact that his crews will be out in the thick of the action rather than snuggled up in the castle like their less intrepid counterparts from the BBC. "We're going to be at the real party whilst they might as well have stayed in their studio," said Mr Ross.

Actually, the Beeb would have a bit of a job constructing a set to equal the Scottish baronial splendour of the Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle, which will form the hub of its Hogmanay show. Its props department would also be fairly pushed to match the spears, swords, and other assorted medieval weaponry which festoons its oak-panelled walls.

Such an armoury, mixed with copious amounts of alcohol, means that the audience has had to be carefully pre-selected. Liz Scott, who has been producing Hogmanay shows for more than two decades, said: "Audiences are always very dodgy at New Year."

The BBC has enticed American folk legend James Taylor to cross the Atlantic for tonight's show, but the emphasis will be on traditional Scottish entertainment. ITV's offering will be far more contemporary. Topping its bill is Texas, a rock band which hails from Glasgow.

The BBC's programme will also bebeamed across the Continent on the cable channel BBC Prime. "Edinburgh has become the happening place at Hogmanay", enthused Liz Scott. "Any Hollywood director would die for a set like the heart of Scotland's capital city."

And that's a Glaswegian talking. Sandy Ross, an Edinburgher born and bred, naturally concurs, although he's not so sure that many movie-makers in Tinseltown would relish a cast numbering a quarter of a million and rather the worse for drink.

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