As a myriad of performers descend on Festival Edinburgh, the PR regiment follows hot on their heels. Tom Lappin investigates the phenomenon.
Happening host Malcolm Harden.
our thousand gallons of crude Bulgarian red. nine hundred gallons of cheap champagne, 362,000 little cheese squares and countless numbers of those little biscuits with the fishy stuff will be consumed in Edinburgh during August, along with 400 square miles of Brazilian rainforest converted into wacky press releases. Well, OK, those figures might be slightly exaggerated, but they are nothing compared to
i the mountain of lies, hype and more damned lies F ﬂying around this Festival for a month. The PR i Festival might not have a programme, but it has
its fair share of performers, and involves more
' money than the rest ofthe Festivals put together.
During Festival time, the ongoing struggle
between the media and the publicity people ‘ becomes intensified. Each feeds off the other
(and the canape’s, of course) and the actual shows become a half-forgotten backdrop to deals, counterdeals. and hype. as agents push their acts to producers, producers push their shows to TV executives. and TV executives push their expense
accounts through the roof.
Independent producers Noel Gay Television
are at the Festival to produce the Up Yer Festival
show for BSB. and to look for new talent for future productions. This involves bringing 56 personnel to Edinburgh. As Executive producer Richard Hearsey explains, not every TV person is
equally enthusiastic about the Festival. ‘They’ll tell you they always come to Edinburgh to look
for talent.’ he says. ‘Once the TV Festival is under way though, my experience is that they tend to just sit around there and not see any ofthe Festival at all.’
Nbel Gay’s independent status puts them in a kind of middleman position whereby they have to find new talent. and at the same time think about
future outlets for their shows. Hearsey is as a consequence rather more receptive to PR people than other producers. ‘We’re always looking for new performers,’ he says, ‘and we do a lot of deals. We’ve got Three Blokes And Their Jokes doing one of the shows for BSB , and we’re already planning to bring them back from Australia in October, or thereabouts, to do some more things. Bob Downe is another tremendous talent. What we can do is give him some exposure so that more people will take notice. We get pestered by agents all the time, but it doesn’t worry me. None of us believe in the “talk to my secretary” rubbish.’
Spotting the talent is only one side ofthe coin however. Noel Gay have to do a bit of selling themselves. ‘We’re having a private party for the TV people,’ explains Hearsey, ‘so we can take the executives quietly aside and say ’look, we know about the franchises being in a difficult way, but what’s going on?’
On the other side of the fence from the TV producers are the promoters and agents. Carol Benjamin, who promotes the Comedy Room and the acclaimed Between A Laugh And A Hard Place American stand-ups at the Assembly Rooms, finds that some of her biggest problems can be caused by other promoters. ‘The well-established guys are fine, they’ve got professional ethics but there are some unscrupulous ones,’ she says. ‘You do all the graft, spend a fortune going to all the major cities for comedy in the States, sift through 20 or 30 acts a night to find something that’ll transfer, get all
the work permits, promote the show, get terrific reviews and all of a sudden you get these other promoters hustling in trying to get a slice of all the big stuff.’
The real foot-soldiers in the hype war are the Press Officers. If there were a Perrier Press Officer Award, the front-runner would have to be Judith Dimont at the Pleasance whose vocabulary includes a word not usually found in the world of PR. ‘1 try to be really honest about shows,’ she says. ‘I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing. but if some guy from the Daily Telegraph who’s only got three hours to see a show asks me about something, ifit’s not worth seeing I’ll tell him to go somewhere else.’ Her efficiency did manage to ensure that around 90 per cent of last week’s NB show seemed to concern Pleasance shows. ‘I set up everything for their crews before they can go anywhere else. TV is important like that. Last year Malcolm Hardee did very well out of his Edinburgh show, he ended up hosting The Happening for BSB and had a big say in the acts that went on there.’
In the final analysis,TV is definitely the buzzword in these circles. Carol Benjamin expects all her acts will have been seen on network TV by next spring. The attitude amongst many performers is that TV is the ultimate goal. ‘Definitely, definitely,’ says Judith Dimont. ‘They all want to be snapped up by TV, especially the comics. Edinburgh is just a showcase, and a bloody expensive one at that.’
It‘s a rather depressing thought that the Fringe has become a gigantic audition for the small screen. but perhaps it’s a comfort to know it keeps so many people in business.
Pass the cheese nibbles and see if there’s anything left in that bottle would you?
The List 2-1 — 30 August NW 15