Internet bank turns Perrier Awards into the 'eddies'

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Generations of Britain's funniest comedians began their careers by winning the Perrier Prize at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. But from August, the comedy prize all emerging talent wants to win will be no more.

After its 25-year sponsorship of the award - which was won last year by the stand-up Laura Solon - the fizzy water company is pulling out and the internet bank Intelligent Finance is stepping in to create a new prize, the "if.comeddies" - or "eddies" for short.

Announcing the deal yesterday, Nica Burns, the West End theatre producer who founded the awards, said the new sponsors were a smart and dynamic company with roots in Scotland, but a national audience - just like the awards themselves. "Over the years, the Perrier Awards have become known simply as 'the Perriers'. In renaming the awards, we wanted to find a name that would quickly become synonymous with the celebration of comedy in Edinburgh and one that would be easily adopted by our audiences," she said.

"Our new name, therefore, incorporates four things: Edinburgh, the name of our new sponsor, the word comedy and - taking our cue from the Oscars and the Tonys - a friendly personification."

Stefano Agostini, the managing director of Perrier, said the 25-year relationship with the awards had "exceeded all our expectations". He added: "But 25 years is a record sponsorship and we felt it is time for us to explore new opportunities for the brand."

Ms Burns denied Perrier had pulled out amid protests against its parent company, Nestlé, which has been accused of non-ethical practices. But the announcement was nevertheless claimed as a victory by campaigners, who coordinated boycotts of the company and its products.

Patti Rundall, the policy director of Baby Milk Action, which accused the company of aggressive marketing in the Third World, said: "Although Nestlé/Perrier says it is pulling out because it is looking for new opportunities, I have no doubt that this decision is because the sponsorship backfired and instead of enhancing the company's reputation, it brought exposure to its irresponsible marketing."

Mark Parker, the managing director of Intelligent Finance, who lives in Edinburgh, said the company had a minimum three-year commitment to the awards, but that the plan was to support them long term.

"The if.comeddies will become synonymous with humour and wit - not traits you instantly associate with a bank. Here at Intelligent Finance, we celebrate and admire these qualities and are incredibly proud to sponsor these internationally acclaimed awards," he said yesterday.

Ms Burns said the awards had grown enormously since their first year, when 60 people gathered for the ceremony in a small art gallery and when only about 50 shows had been eligible.

Now, about 250 shows compete every year for an award that has been a springboard to success for stars including Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Steve Coogan, Lee Evans, Eddie Izzard, Frank Skinner, The League of Gentlemen and Garth Marenghi.

But there will be some changes this year. They are still being finalised after consultations with more than 150 comedians, but will include an increase in the overall prize money and a new award.

There are also plans to offer greater support to the shortlisted acts, many of which have found it difficult to make the transition from a one-hour show on the Fringe to wider success.