News: Free Fringe Founder Pulls Out of Edfringe 2014

Free Fringe 2014

Peter Buckley-Hill, who founded the Free Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival, has announced that he is pulling out of the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe. At the time of writing it seems that PBH's Free Fringe will continue, but without PBH. In a lengthy letter emailed to accepted and offer-pending shows, he explained the problems he had been having with one of his proposed venues. At the end he concluded that "I therefore confirm that I shall not be a part of Fringe 2014. My reasons are my own and none of you has a right to know them or assume them."

Buckley-Hill, 66, started the  Free Fringe in 1996 with just a single show and over the years – particularly in the last six years – it has grown substantially in stature. Respected acts such as Robin Ince who might have previously played in a venue that charged a fixed ticket price, chose to appear on the Free Fringe.

But there have also been problems and rivalries. The Laughing Horse organisation also now runs a substantial number of free gigs in Edinburgh and last year Bob Slayer enjoyed considerable success with his Heroes of the Fringe venues, although his model is slightly different – you can buy a ticket in advance if you want to guarantee admittance, but you can also pay nothing if there is room and, as is the tradition, drop some money in a bucket on departure.

In 2009 Buckley-Hill won the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards Panel Prize. 2013 was a major game-changing year for the Free Fringe. Adrienne Truscott picked up the Foster's Award Panel Prize for her show at one of Slayer's venues, while John Kearns, who appeared at the Voodoo Rooms as part of PBH's Free Fringe, won the Best Newcomer Award. This year a number of major performers, including Foster's nominee Nick Helm, are rumoured to be opting for free gigs.

This year, however, there is a new breakaway organisation on the block. Freestival is reported to be taking over a number of venues, including, according to Peter Buckley-Hill, the Cowgatehead venue where he was hoping to stage gigs. Over the last few months there have been ongoing tensions which appear to have now come to a head with Buckley-Hill deciding to call time on his full-time Edinburgh involvement, although he does say in his email that "I shall continue to offer my administrative expertise and considerable knowledge to the Free Fringe in the run up to Free Fringe 2014."

The full email can be read here.

*It also emerged today that the four biggest venues – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly – will not be marketing themselves as the Edinburgh Comedy Festival this year. They have previously been criticised for trying to break away and have been accused of forming a cartel. 

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