Free Fringe accused of obstructing comics

Ban on appearing at rival venues

The organisers of Edinburgh’s Free Fringe have been accused of placing unfair rules on its comedians – causing at least one show to be cancelled.

Any comedian taking a festival show at one of the PBH Free Fringe venues programmed by Peter Buckley Hill is barred from regularly performing at a venue run by the rival Laughing Horse organisation, since the two sides had an acrimonious falling-out after working together in 2004.

But the rule has been branded a ‘restriction of trade’ damaging to young talent after it put the kybosh on a revival of the Greatest Show On Legs – the variety troupe founded by the late Malcolm Hardee that famously featured the naked balloon dance.

The show had been scheduled to take place at The Hive, which is part of the Laughing Horse network of venues – but problems arose as one of their performers was booked to appear in a show on the PBH Free Fringe.

Greatest Show member Martin Soan said: ‘It’s outrageous. PBH [Buckley Hill, pictured] seems to believe that, if anyone performs anywhere else, then they’re not allowed to perform at his places. It could destroy young people’s careers because it can come across as intimidating or bullying though, of course, I am sure it’s not intended that way.

‘That is detrimental to people’s careers. It’s restriction of trade. Not a good way of nursing young talent; it is restricting talent’s ability to perform where they want.’

Soan also told blogger John Fleming he was put under pressure to move the Greatest Show On Legs to a PBH venue – but point-blank refused on principle, even if it means the show won’t now go the Fringe.

He said: ‘I’m not going to lose sleep over it. But what I’m angry about is this PBH character. Who does he think he is? He was prepared to poach an act. He was just being bloody obstinate and horrible, if you ask me.’

The rules of the PBH Free Fringe say performers even approaching them for a slot should not also be in talks with the Laughing Horse, which a spokeswoman said was designed to ‘protect the integrity and reputation of the Free Fringe brand and to provide the best deal on the Fringe for performers and audiences.’

She added: ‘It is important for us to maintain our reputation and not be mistaken for a promotion which regularly misuses our brand name, but with whom we have no association. We are upfront about this and believe it to be entirely fair.

‘Many restriction clauses exist and are regularly imposed by promoters and venues on the comedy and variety circuits – this is not something we have invented.’

However, although all Edinburgh venues have their own selection criteria, it is quite common for a comedian to have, say, a stand-up show in one venue and be in a sketch group in another.

For his part, Buckley Hill said: ‘We have done the fairest and the best thing in the 65-year history of the Fringe for performers.  Without us, they'd still be losing thousands of pounds. Let anybody who wants to cast a stone reflect on what they themselves have done to help performers at the Fringe.’

  • Since this article was first published, it has been announced that the Greatest Show On Legs will be performed at the Hive, but with guest performers replacing the comedian who is also part of the PBH Free Fringe

Published: 8 Apr 2012

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