FOR 25 years, some of the biggest names in comedy were inextricably linked to a sparkling mineral water.
• Steve Coogan In Character With John Thomson - winners in 1992
Now the annual battle in Edinburgh to be named best comedian at the world's biggest arts festival is to be played out to a backdrop of Australia's most famous amber nectar.
Organisers of Britain's best-known comedy prize will today announce that the future of the Fringe showpiece has been secured by a big-money deal with drinks giant Foster's.
The UK's second best-selling lager will be the title sponsor of the former Perrier awards, after its promoter Nica Burns had to dip into her own pocket to ensure the event went ahead.
Perrier pulled out of the awards in 2005, after 25 years, and a new deal was struck with banking firm Intelligent Finance. However, in the wake of the global financial crisis, that firm pulled out of the renamed If.comedy Award after just three years – and efforts to attract a new backer drew a blank last year.
Its last year of sponsorship was overshadowed by controversy as major venues promoted acts under their own "Edin-burgh Comedy Festival" banner.
IF's withdrawal meant the scrapping of the annual midnight award-winners party in favour of a modest lunchtime ceremony.
Ms Burns declined to comment last night ahead of an official announcement in London.
However, a source close to the impresario said: "It's fair to say the event would have been in serious doubt if a major sponsor hadn't come on board this year. It costs a lot of money to run and it was unlikely it could have gone ahead without a title sponsor."
A spokesman for Foster's, which became famous in Britain through comedian Paul Hogan's advertising campaigns in the 1980s, said: "There will be an official announcement on Wednesday. We cannot say any more about this until then."
An insider at the company said: "We hope to have a relationship with the organisers of these long-running awards for the forseeable future."
The European brand of Foster's, which sells more than 2.5 million pints in the UK every year, was snapped up by Edinburgh-based Scottish and Newcastle in 2006, but S&N was then itself taken over by Dutch giant Heineken two years later. Foster's, a previous sponsor of Edinburgh's Hogmanay street party, last week announced a major deal to back more than 100 hours of comedy on Channel 4 from the end of this month until Christmas – including Peep Show, 8 Out of 10 Cats and The Frankie Boyle Show.
At the time, Heineken's UK brands director Mark Given said: "Humour has been enshrined in the DNA of the brand since Foster's was introduced to UK drink-ers by comedian Paul Hogan, and we know comedy plays an important role in the social lives of our core consumers."
The firm's involvement in the Fringe is expected to see its most prestigious prize renamed the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award. The deal is believed to be worth in around 150,000 and is understood to mean that the top prize money is still 16,000.
The former Perrier award was first presented to the Cambridge Footlights in 1981. Its winning line-up included the then unknowns Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson.
Other winners over the years include Daniel Kitson, Rich Hall, Al Murray, Lee Evans, Steve Coogan, Sean Hughes and Frank Skinner.
However, Perrier's involvement became mired in controversy after the drinks firm was bought up Nestl, which faced prolonged criticism over its marketing of powdered milk in Third World countries.
FULL LIST OF WINNERS
2009 Tim Key - The Slutcracker
2008 David O'Doherty - Let's Comedy
2007 Brendon Burns - So I Suppose THIS Is Offensive Now
2006 Phil Nichol - The Naked Racist
2005 Laura Solon
2004 Jackson's Way - Will Adamsdale
2003 Demetri Martin - If I
2002 Daniel Kitson - Something
2001 Garth Marenghi's Netherhead - Richard Aoyade, Matthew Holness, Alice Lowe
2000 Rich Hall Is Otis Lee Crenshaw
1999 Al Murray - And a Glass of Wine for the Lady
1998 Tommy Tiernan - Undivine Comedy
1997 The League Of Gentlemen - Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith
1996 Dylan Moran Is Indisposed
1995 Jenny Eclair - Prozac And Tantrums
1994 Lano & Woodley - Colin Lane and Frank Woodley
1993 Lee Evans
1992 Steve Coogan In Character With John Thomson
1991 Frank Skinner
1990 Sean Hughes - A One Night Stand
1989 Simon Fanshawe
1988 Jeremy Hardy
1987 Brown Blues - Arnold Brown with Barb Jungr & Michael Parker
1986 Ben Keaton - Memoirs of an Irish Taxidermist
1985 Theatre de Complicite - More Bigger Snacks Now: Tim Barlow, Jos Houben, Marcello Magni, Simon McBurney
1984 The Brass Band - Loois Tooloose, Jimby, Fritz Frumheimer, The Captain and Bulford
1983 Los Trios Ringbarkus - Steve Kearney and Neil Gladwin
1982 Writer's Inc - including Victoria Pile, Jamie Rix, Nick Wiltor
1981 Cambridge Footlights - Penny Dwyer, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery, Paul Shearer and Emma Thompson