Famous Grouse to fly the Fringe coop

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FAMOUS GROUSE, one of the biggest sponsors of the Edinburgh Fringe, is to withdraw its funding, it emerged yesterday. After next year, the Scottish whisky label will cease to fund the Famous Grouse House, which has provided a showcase for one of Scotland's best-known products, manufactured by Highland Distillers.

The decision, conveyed by fax, came as a surprise to Scottish International, the company behind the venue, which this month hosts 150 acts, including Dance Base, one of Scotland's top dance companies. It had been thought the whisky firm was happy with the venue, whose focus on Scottish music and contemporary dance fitted the Highland image of its whisky.

The withdrawal follows the decision last year by Calders, another drinks firm, to pull out of the Gilded Balloon, one of the Fringe's leading comedy venues, after the company was caught up in controversy about Myra and Me, a play that was inaccurately reported as featuring a re-enactment of the Moors murders.

Peter Scott, a director of Scottish International, said of the decision: "I would have thought that if you had a project as successful as this with your brand as its namesake you couldn't go wrong."

Meanwhile, a financial crisis at the Assembly Rooms may result in its management being taken over by the Gilded Balloon. The Assembly Rooms is the only venue to receive council assistance - pounds 270,000 in the past six years - but it still owes Edinburgh city council pounds 150,000, including pounds 65,000 in rent arrears.

The council, having run out of patience, will put the venue out to tender next week. The financial trouble appears to stem from the divergence since last year of dates for the Fringe and the International Festival.