Step back in time on new walking tour celebrating history of Edinburgh Festival

The Great Northern Welly Boot Show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1972 featured Billy Connolly, as well as Kenny Ireland (chorus, right) and Bill Paterson (chorus, second right). Picture: Denis Straughan
The Great Northern Welly Boot Show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1972 featured Billy Connolly, as well as Kenny Ireland (chorus, right) and Bill Paterson (chorus, second right). Picture: Denis Straughan
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It is the cultural extravaganza that has taken over the Scottish capital every August for more than 70 years.

Now the history of Edinburgh’s International Festival and Fringe is to be celebrated with a walking tour.

Natalie Allison has created the Edinburgh Festival Tales Tour

Natalie Allison has created the Edinburgh Festival Tales Tour

It will recall some of the most celebrated performers to have graced the city’s stages, relive famous incidents and publicity stunts, and visit the site of venues past and present.

The Edinburgh Festival Tales Tour has been created by producer and performer Natalie Allison after she discovered that there was no official archive for the festivals held in the city.

Now she plans to recruit a team of theatre-makers and comics to lead the tours, which she says will allow ticket-holders to “learn of the legendary stars, shows, talent and tales that made Edinburgh iconic”.

Publicity material for the new tour, tickets for which have gone on sale on the Fringe website, state: “We take you behind the scenes of this historic city, through cobbled streets and closes, showcasing an unforgettable journey to the bright lights of Edinburgh’s biggest stages.

“The tour is being made with the artists’ journey at its heart, giving audiences the chance to follow in the footsteps of the performers and companies that have come to play at the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe across the decades.”

Allison said she spent around six months poring over books and newspaper articles in the collections of the National Library of Scotland and the Central Library to research the tour.

Starting at The Scotsman Hotel, the route will cover about a mile of the city centre, between the Bridges and Lothian Road.

Ian McKellen, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Marlene Dietrich and Rowan Atkinson are among the big names the tour, which will be staged twice a day in August, will feature.

Allison, who has been staging and performing in Fringe shows since 2012, said: “There were a lot of celebrations around the 70th anniversary of the International Festival and the Fringe in 2017.

“It really got me thinking about why their history wasn’t better known about and why there didn’t seem to be a proper archive.

“As someone who is planning to be involved a lot in the future I felt it was important to know why I am there. You always learn a lot about the road ahead by looking back and seeing how other people have done it.

“It seemed like a good idea to do something that was a bit of fun to allow people to access some of that information.

“There are plenty of facts and information about the festivals online, but I’ve realised that you really have to dig deeper through books and press articles, and be forensic in research, to find the really good stories.

“The tour will be launched during this year’s festivals – they should definitely be the best testing ground for it – but if people respond well to it and find it interesting I’ll certainly consider running it year-in and year-out.”

The new tour will be launched in the wake of a simmering debate over the level of disruption caused by the August festivals, concerns over crowd congestion and fears about that it is becoming unaffordable for audiences and performers.

Allison added: “The process of creating work, alongside getting the work to Edinburgh in the first place, so it can enjoy a wider future life, is something that requires a great deal of resilience and risk that may at times be overshadowed.

“If you provide people with accessible information in a way which allows them to understand more about the history of the festivals, they are much more likely to be on a level and empathise with the artists that come to Edinburgh to perform.”