Fringe's arch-critic joins board of … Fringe

THE most vocal critic of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in recent years has won election to its board, just months after a major shake-up was approved by its members.

Veteran promoter Peter Buckley Hill, organiser of the "Free Fringe", is the only new board member to be elected in the first elections to be held, last month.

Mr Buckley Hill has led criticism of soaring ticket prices and growing costs for performers, accusing the Fringe of falling victim to a "general malaise".

His election "manifesto" complains that the rights and status of performers has been "eroded" over recent years, with the Festival now dominated by financial concerns.

Mr Buckley Hill, who launched his Free Fringe concept in 1996, has pledged to try to make the Fringe Society more democratic and to help create a more "level playing field" for performers appearing in less well-known venues.

He said performers were currently "at the bottom of the heap" compared to the likes of promoters and venue operators. He insisted he had "no problem" working in future with Fringe chief executive Kath Maitland, a regular target for his attacks since her appointment.

The shake-up of the Festival Fringe Society has guaranteed places on the board for people involved with shows and venues and lifted a cap on the number of members, which was previously set at 100.

The first new constitution for the Fringe in more than 40 years, which was approved by the society's members in November, will see board members regularly stand down to make way for other people, while some board members will be hired directly for their expertise.

Mr Buckley Hill told The Scotsman: "I hope that there will be more organisational democracy within the Fringe and that it becomes much more responsive to the needs of performers, who have ended up at the bottom of the heap in recent years.

"They are the most important thing. I've said before that there is a danger with institutions like the Fringe that they are a bit like trees - they can die from the heart outwards - and I do think the Fringe has lost a lot of its heart over the years.

"It's not about policies and promises from me at this stage, it's about the Fringe becoming more responsive to the needs of performers, it's not been reactive enough."

The shake-up, ordered after a catastrophic collapse of the Fringe's box office in 2008, will also see the creation of a council for artists, producers and performers. It began after the arrival of Ms Maitland in the spring of 2009.She declined to comment on Mr Buckley Hill's appointment to the board.

However, an existing board member, promoter Charlie Wood, who runs the Underbelly venues, said: "We are very pleased to have Peter on board and we're looking forward to working with him." A Fringe spokesman said five board members had stood down before the postal elections, which were held over the last few weeks. Another four are expected to step down in August.

Existing board members include Anthony Alderson, artistic director of the Pleasance, Judith Doherty, producer of the Grid Iron Theatre Company, writer and performer Simon Fanshawe, Tommy Sheppard, director of the Stand Comedy Club, and comic Kate Smurthwaite.

Peter Buckley Hill in quotes

"It was always difficult to become a member, now they've made it impossible"

- After the Fringe bans new members from joining up last year to vote on the shake-up of its constitution.

"The Fringe has assumed for years that there will be a never-ending supply of two things: visitors to the city, and performers willing to make a massive loss on their shows. Both these assumptions were proved wrong"

- After a box office failure triggers a huge slump in ticket sales in 2008.

"If we have absolutely no idea how many people attended our shows, how can any other body have any such idea?"

- After it emerges the Fringe used estimates of people attending another promoter's free shows to boost its box office figures.