Archive reveals how rations helped make the first Edinburgh Festival happen

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra attracted a full-house to the Usher Hall at the first festival in 1947.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra attracted a full-house to the Usher Hall at the first festival in 1947.
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A new archive created to mark the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival has revealed how the city’s residents were initially divided about the first event - but ended up ensuring it went ahead by donating rations.

The online treasure trove shows how The Scotsman and its then sister title, the Evening Dispatch, were hit with an “avalanche” of correspondence split over whether the event should happen or not after they both revealed plans for the first festival.

How the plans for the Edinburgh International Festival were reported in The Scotsman in 1945.

How the plans for the Edinburgh International Festival were reported in The Scotsman in 1945.

The EIF’s new “storytelling” site recalls how 6000 homeowners across the city offered rooms for festival guests following a plea from Lord Provost John Falconer because hotels had not yet been de-requisitioned from military use in the Second World War.

Residents also helped overturn a ban on Edinburgh Castle being lit up for the festival by donating their own coal rations to help welcome visitors to the city, and also helped dress the city with flowers and flags in time for the event.

Volunteers manned a Festival Club at the Assembly Rooms, preparing and cooking 2500 meals a day for visitors to the city, while the festival liaised with the Ministry of Food to ensure there were enough ingredients.

The original inspiration for the festival was said to have been a walk along Princes Street by the Austrian-born opera impresario Sir Rudolf Bing, general manager of Glyndebourne Opera, and the soprano Audrey Mildmay in 1942. The archive reveals how news of moves to set up a new festival in Edinburgh was first reported in November 1945 - less than three months after the end of the war.

Volunteers cooked 2500 meals a day for visitors to the first Festival Club on George Street.

Volunteers cooked 2500 meals a day for visitors to the first Festival Club on George Street.

A article in The Scotsman, headlined “Edinburgh as a world festival centre,” revealed moves were afoot to stage a “short but brilliant season of three weeks or a month.”

It stated: “Lord Provost Falconer has had the project closely at heart, as for it not only accords with Edinburgh’s historical and cultural status, but fits into the tourist traffic potential of the city, the natural attractions of which are admittedly unique.”

The new site - 70years.eif.co.uk - states: “On Saturday 24 November 1945, the plan for an International Festival in Edinburgh was announced in three newspaper articles in The Scotsman and the Evening Dispatch, which later became the Evening News.

“An avalanche of letters from Edinburgh residents arrived on editors’ desks, both for and against the notion of a festival. Most people enthusiastically favoured the idea. The response confirmed the desire for a spectacular celebration of the ‘flowering of the human spirit’, the founding vision expressed by the Lord Provost in the aftermath of a harrowing world war.”

Behind-the-scenes dramas, eleventh hour fundraising efforts and political interventions are all recalled in the new archive, which allows people to add personal memories.

Nicola Kenny, the EIF digital manager, said: “It’s been a great experience to look back over the incredible 70 year history of the International Festival and find just some of the wonderful stories told by audiences, artists and former members of staff. The website has a varied selection but there are so many tales to be told.
“We hope this will be a starting point for even more people to share their stories from the festival, from those who coming for the first time in 2017, to those who have been coming since 1947.”