70 years of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival and takes place annually in Edinburgh in the month of August.  This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and 70 years of fringe as a worldwide movement with more than 200 sister fringes now established around the world.

Front cover of the Fringe ’82 Programme. Ref: STA Lq 6/1

The Fringe story began in 1947, when the Edinburgh International Festival was launched.  It was seen as a post-war initiative to re-unite Europe through culture. Eight theatre groups – mainly local amateur productions – turned up uninvited to add their artistic efforts to the first Edinburgh Festival.  They called themselves the Festival Adjuncts.  The following year the term ‘the Fringe’ was coined by playwright, Robert Kemp, in a preview article, dated 14 August 1948,  for the Edinburgh Festival entitled “More that is Fresh in Drama”


2017 prog

The term ‘the Fringe’ first appeared in a preview article dated 14 August 1948. Ref: STA Lq 7/8

In the early days during the late 40s and early 50s, the various Fringe groups, now attracting an increasing number of student theatre companies, from Oxford, Cambridge and London put on their own shows independently, in small performance spaces, including church halls, local community centres, the YMCA, and University buildings. By 1954 an enterprising printer suggested Fringe groups advertise in the first fringe programme. The same year representatives of Fringe groups met together at a conference with the aim of setting up a proper committee so that they could work together.

STA PC 61_4

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2000. Ref: STA PC 61/4

By 1954 a box office had been set up at the University’s Old College.  By 1959 the Fringe Society had been established to assist visiting companies with venues, accommodation, publicity, ticket sales, and to compile a fully comprehensive programme of events.The Society’s permanent location is at the Fringe Shop on the Royal Mile.

Experience all the colour of the Fringe. Ref: STA Lq 7/2


In 1960, a quartet of young performers, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller were invited to appear on the official festival, in their show, Beyond The Fringe.

In 2017 there are thousands of shows and hundreds of venues, with a mix of drama, dance, comedy, spoken word, circus and street performance.

The Scottish Theatre Archive holds brochures, correspondence, leaflets, presscuttings and programmes. For an overview of the collection see the Edinburgh Festival Fringe collections description page.

Categories: Archives and Special Collections

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1 reply


  1. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Wobbly Lines

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