Banishing box-office blues turns the Fringe into 'glorious success'

THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe has made a dramatic recovery from its "annus horribilis" and the brink of bankruptcy, to make a profit after a record-breaking year at the box office.

Figures released by the festival revealed that it made a profit of 132,000 last year, 12 months on from losing almost 900,000.

An emergency bailout of 250,000 of public money was needed to stop the Fringe going under last winter after the box-office system was crippled for weeks in 2008.

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However, the Fringe's best ticket sales yet – up 9 per cent on its previous best – saw it rake in some 699,000 via its own box office towards its total income of 2.41 million.

Fringe director Kath Mainland, who was appointed only four months before last year's festival, said 2009 had turned out to be a "glorious success" in the wake of the previous year's box-office troubles and against the backdrop of fears over the impact of tramworks, the swine flu outbreak and the global recession.

The festival's annual report reveals it was still forced to spend more than half a million pounds of its own money installing a new box-office system for the 2009 event, and its grant funding of 255,000 last year was the biggest in its history.

The Fringe had already spent some 640,000 on its box-office systems and on hiring extra staff the previous summer, including 394,000 on the system that was to fail dramatically, plunging dozens of venues into chaos.

An independent investigation found that the process of appointing the original box-office supplier had been "fundamentally flawed" and that the firm, Pivotal, was given just 14 weeks to get its system ready.

Ticket sales generated by the Fringe ended up being some 130,000 lower than expected in 2008. The city council had to loan the Fringe 125,000 twice within nine months to resolve a cash-flow crisis, and it ended up making a loss of 882,000.

However, the latest accounts have revealed that the Fringe's financial crisis had been largely resolved after the festival, which boasted more shows than ever before in 2009, and recouped huge sums from performing companies and promoters.

Some 543,000 was generated in fees last year.

Ms Mainland said: "After last year's problems, it was no surprise that a lot of people were watching the Fringe box office very closely.

"It was vital that confidence in our ability to run an efficient operation was restored," she added. "Happily, it would seem that it was, and we sold a record-breaking 1,859,235 tickets.

"'Cautiously optimistic' were our watchwords, although it seemed as if many people were thinking that if swine flu didn't get us first, then the tramworks would grind the whole place to a shuddering halt and, of course, everyone was waiting to see what effect the recession would have.

"As it turned out, the 2009 Fringe was, perhaps against the odds, a glorious success."