Last August, Brian McMaster retired, with much fanfare, as director of the Edinburgh International Festival (See News, 22 Mar 2006). But little did we know then that the 2006 festival would also be the last for McMaster’s counterpart at the much larger and more chaotic Edinburgh Fringe. Paul Gudgin (pictured) announced today that, after eight years in the job, he is stepping down as director of the world’s largest festival, which takes over the streets of the Scottish capital every August.

Gudgin will remain until the launch of the 2007 Fringe programme on 7 June 2007, before leaving to produce a variety of festival and other event-related projects both in the UK and internationally. The vacancy for his post is due to be advertised in the coming weeks, with interviews taking place this spring.

Commenting on Gudgin’s departure today, Baroness Elizabeth Smith, chair of the Fringe Board of Directors, said: “I’m personally very sad that Paul is leaving the Fringe, but after eight years I recognise that he needs to explore other opportunities. Paul has contributed an extraordinary amount to the Fringe during his time in office. The growth in ticket sales, performing companies and new venues has been headline news for many years. It’ll be a huge loss for me personally, but I’m sure Paul will make a fantastic contribution to any organisation he works for. I wish him all the luck in the world.”

Gudgin added: “It’s been a great privilege to run the world’s largest arts festival for the past eight years, and I’m pleased that as an organisation we’ve passed some impressive milestones and seen such exponential growth. But it’s time for me to move on.” He continued: “While I’m leaving at a time of strength for the Fringe, there are still many challenges that my successor will face. But fortunately they’ll also be inheriting a wonderful job and the opportunity to work with a fantastic group of people from the Fringe staff and board to the venue managers, performers and other festivals.”

Prior to the Fringe, Gudgin held positions as manager of the Bury St Edmunds Festival and general manager of Edinburgh’s year-round concert venue, the Queen’s Hall. He was appointed director of the Edinburgh Fringe, succeeding Hilary Strong, in April 1999, when tensions were still running high following the Fringe’s decision to move its annual start date a week earlier than its parent event, the EIF.

During Gudgin’s directorship, significant milestones have included: the Fringe taking over the management of Edinburgh’s High Street during August, the launch of the Underbelly venue, the loss of the Gilded Balloon after the Old Town fire, the adoption of online ticketing (the first arts organisation in the UK to do so), the passing of the one million ticket mark, the renaming – after 25 years - of the Perrier comedy awards as the if.comeddies, and hit – often controversial - productions including Jerry Springer – The Opera, Messiah, Gagarin Way, Are You Dave Gorman?, XXX, Sex Addict, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Blackwatch.

Gudgin has also overseen tremendous growth of the Fringe during his eight years. Since 1999, the number of shows staged has increased by 545 to 1,927 at last summer’s event and the number of tickets sold to those productions has leapt by 671,249 to 1,531,606, more than doubling box office takings to £13,735,041. Overall, the Fringe achieves 75 percent market share of attendances at all of Edinburgh’s year-round festivals and generates an estimated £75 million per annum for the Edinburgh and Scottish economy.

However, despite its expansion, as Gudgin himself noted, the Fringe faces some big challenges in the years to come. At the 2006 event, the bosses of 20 leading venues - who fear that the festival’s profile is slipping – banded together to form a new organisation, the Association of Independent Venue Producers (AIVP), to voice their concerns and lobby for greater support (See News, 23 Aug 2006).

AIVP’s members include many of the Fringe’s biggest and best-known venues – not least the Assembly Rooms and the Pleasance – and between them account for 85 percent of ticket sales. They believe that perception of the Fringe outside Edinburgh, including critically in London, is not high, and point out that some 70 percent of Fringe ticket sales are now sold to Scots, signalling that what is meant to be an international event is in danger of becoming Edinburgh-centric. AIVP members are pushing for greater advertising and marketing support of the overall event across the UK and Europe, particularly in the face of increasing competition with other arts festivals. Currently, the total campaign budget for the Fringe as an entity is only £115,000.

Though commonly seen as one single event, the Edinburgh festival is in reality several different festivals - the main ones being the Edinburgh Fringe and its more austere parent, the original Edinburgh International Festival, as well as the Military Tattoo, the Jazz Festival, the Film Festival and the Book Festival - of which the Fringe is, by far, the largest. This year’s Fringe will run from 5 to 27 August 2007.

- by Terri Paddock