Free Fringe boss hits back at ‘second-rate’ claims

Peter Buckley Hill, director of the PBH Free Fringe, pictured in 2011. Picture: Jane Barlow
Peter Buckley Hill, director of the PBH Free Fringe, pictured in 2011. Picture: Jane Barlow
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FREE Fringe founder Peter Buckley Hill has dismissed suggestions that there is no quality control over his shows and that the public were being let down by untried comics.

The veteran promoter, who started running free shows at the festival in 1996, is staging more than 450 this year - the majority of the ticketless events at the Fringe.

He denied his free shows were the “second division” of the Fringe and insisted there was no difference in the quality of entertainment on offer in “paid-for” shows.

Nica Burns, director of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, told The Scotsman earlier this week of concerns that many performers in free shows were “not ready” for the Fringe and did not have the material to sustain an hour-long show.

But Buckley Hill said: “If the Free Fringe put on shows put on inferior shows then that would be pointless and would lead to precisely the effects that Nica Burns fears. But that’s just not the case.

“Anybody with a vanity project can go to a pay-to-play venue, give them money and put it on. “Every show we have that’s not being staged by a well-known artist is auditioned and tested by one or more of a panel of experienced, working performers in the comedy genre.

“Quality control with us is absolute. If we just took everybody, the Free Fringe would exist as a second division, but we don’t and it doesn’t.

“We don’t go trawling for acts, we never have and they have to apply, and then we assess them if we don’t know them, either through live performance or on video.

“We would only put on act for an hour if they had an hour’s worth of material, most definitely so.

“If people apply beyond their current capabilities we counsel them away from a one-hour show towards a compilation show with three or four other acts so they can do their best 15 or 20 minutes.

“We also go one level below that with shows specifically aimed at new comedians.

“People’s natural reaction when they are given something is free is to think it is inferior. But the strange economics of the Fringe mean that is not the case.”