I seem to have spent an awful amount of time today trying to spend money. More specifically, trying to buy tickets for Pip Upton’s show, Francis Bacon. at the Pleasance Courtyard. More difficult than telling the real Francis Bacon to stay off the champagne! So after three hours of trying, on my phone and laptop, on the Pleasance site AND the Fringe Box Office site, I still can’t buy a ticket. It’s not that I’m doing anything wrong, but the technologies seem not to be talking to each other. Although, cursing the hotel wi-fi and lack of decent 4G signal in Old Town (I think that’s where I am) I’m suddenly reminded of my first ever Fringe. I’d written and directed an adaptation of Shakesperear’s Henry V. It was called Henry V – Lion of England and I’d decided I could take Shaky’s story and make it more interesting! It’s not a comedy – although there is humour, folks! – but it is a one-man show and ends up with one man fighting the Battle of Agincourt for real. I was going to perform it myself until I realised the one actor I knew from AmDram was much better than me so Rob Stanson became the man! It used lots of special effects and has an original music score by Robbie Williams. We put it on for one night at the tiny Hexagon theatre at the Mac in Birmingham. At the end, everyone was running for the door, I thought, but it was in fact my first standing ovation! In the bar afterwards I was approached by John Starkey, who told us he and his partner Les Ward were Starward – they managed people like Jasper Carrott, Phil Cool and the Hank Wangford Band and would we like to go to the Edinburgh Festival?
“Yes, great. What’s the Edinburgh Festival,” I think was my response.
It was 1992 and it changed my life for reasons I won’t bore you with here. But I smile today as I remembered the headache of communications I had back then. Had I got enough 10 pence pieces for the phone? My press office back then was the red telephone box at the top of the Meadows. I used to cycle up there every day.
But today I thought, in search of Bacon, I’d try one last thing. I walked to the Fringe Shop on the High Street, because I remembered there used to be a ticket office there. Alas, no more… or at least not this year. There are no physical tickets in this covid age, even though, this very day, Monday 9th August, 2021, Scotland lifted most of its covid restrictions.
So I got the number and email address of the Fringe Media office from the very helpful girl in the Fringe Shop at the counter they’d erected to prohibit entry. And being a bit of an anorak and to salve myself, I bought a Fringe mug and Fringe umbrella! Yep, anorak is what I am! I have dozens of theatre branded pens, socks, t-shirts… Having said that, the weather is so bad the umbrella becomes an inspired purchase.
And then a weird thing happens. I put up the branded Fringe umbrella and start walking up the Royal Mile, just to have a look at things. There are crowds about and a couple of street performers although not many at this reduced Fringe and the crowds are huddled under umbrellas. About 20 yards ahead of me, I see three paparazzi types with expensive cameras and huge telephoto lenses. Suddenly, almost as one, they point their cameras toward me and start taking pictures. I can hear the ‘snick, snick, snick’ of their motor drives. One breaks left, the other right and one, a woman, moves in my direction.
Wow, I think. There must be someone REALLY famous! I turn round to look behind me.
“No,” shouts the woman, “It’s you.”
I look back at her.
“The weather… the rain.. I work for the Scotsman newspaper. These are freelancers. But you; the long hair, the hat and the Fringe umbrella – it’s a great image.”
Long hair? It’s not that long is it? Maybe I do need a haircut. Where’s Luli – Guys Masterson’s young daughter – see yesterdays entry – when you need her!
Blimey. My umbrella is going to be famous! I smile at them and Pap Number Three says, “Would you mind walking up there by the statue then turning round and walking back towards us?”
Always a performer, loves! So I laugh and agree and do my walk past them to the constant accompaniment of their snapping cameras, then turn and walk back.
“This way, look this way,” says Pap Number one and I do so.
Finally they are done and I smile and wave and walk off. As I do I hear a group of people to the left of me whispering, “Who is he then? I don’t recognise him…”
I, as any star would, dwalink, ignore them and resume my normal, non-pap life. But I can’t help but smile when I hear another bunch of people behind me.
“It is! It’s him! I saw him in the film..!
I’m tempted to turn back and ask what film and who was I? But then I notice a couple of kids in the group and they sound so excited, I don’t want to spoil things for them by telling them it’s just my Fringe umbrella the paps are impressed with. And I am just a nobody who can’t even buy a ticket to see Francis Bacon.