The hot weather in Kent has been notable by its absence until this week, then wham bang – super heat! Sweaty weather that meant out with the shorts and short sleeves and lots of mowing the lawn! Even the difficult bits round the pond!
The ducks have returned, despite the attentions of Eric the dog and the heron or herons – who knows, is it always the same one? – stealing the fish. They disappear out of the pond at a rate of knots and it is not a good feeling, to know that we are helping the survival of these heron chicks somewhere up there in the trees. We now await the kingfishers, that always appear on the days when the heron goes away – they are a bit more welcome I guess, because they are limited as to the size of fish they can kill. And of course they are stunning to watch. Tempting to go out and shoo them away, but we tend to leave them to do their worst.
The garden is just so absolutely magnificent at the moment that we gush over it – it is a constituent part of our current conversation, along with discussions about recent holidays, and various upcoming events like the student degree shows including the Royal College and then New Designers and One Year On followed by Origin, which is strangely early this year and then finally Goldsmiths Fair.
For us, the big event is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which has been part of our lives now for almost thirty years and in that time ,we have spent almost three years of it in Edinburgh itself mostly during August, but also enjoying various research trips.
In that time we have stayed in many different billets. Always in the New Town – we find ourselves frightened of venturing into the posh areas around South Edinburgh, which we know so little.
No, we tend to stick to Comely Bank or Goldenacre and always seem to be in or around the magical Botanical Gardens.
Handy for Leith and Cramond, where we hang out a lot and Trinity, where our best friends live.
In that time we have rented so many flats and houses and with Dazzle attracting designers and friends from all over uk to come and work on the exhibition, we have often had a house full of people, which has meant a lively time and sometimes even parties.
The very first Edinburgh Festival Dazzle at the Assembly Rooms in 1983 was a real shock to the system. We arrived not knowing what to expect. Our apartment in Hanover Street had just two bedrooms and we filled them with what seemed like about 15-20 people sleeping wherever they could find a space. The group was a mixed one – our theatre friends from Manchester Royal Exchange, designers from all over the country. In those days, we worked through the night to display the show. Three nights and three days before we were ready to open. The exhibition was held in what is now the press office at Assembly Theatre. Talk about a tight squeeze. The cloakroom was next door and the Music Hall bar within spitting distance. In those days the Music Hall was not soundproofed, so we had to creep around whispering to potential customers. Avoiding crashing the glass of the display cases as we went in and out of them. That first year, we were something of a talking point in what has always been the most popular venue on the Fringe – moreso even in those days.
Sales were pretty amazing, far more than we had ever dreamed of. The exhibition looked pretty awful – a real mess as we crammed in about eighty designers into the ten or so display cases. The selection was incredible and looking back at that selection, we can be very proud, as almost all the designers are now household names. Some customers were able to pick up amazing bargains. Pieces that would be hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds now, were going for ten to twenty. Jewellers you can now see in major public collections were on show together in the most incredible selection of work ever seen in one place.
We had been told, that if the Edinburgh public likes you, then you will have a loyal support for life. We had also been told that this same public was very fickle and notoriously difficult to please.
Well Dazzle was a massive success from the start and has continued to be so and grow and evolve and nearly thirty years on, we are now seeing and selling to the children and grandchildren of those original buyers.
What a first Dazzle experience that was for us, as we found Leith and Cramond, Tony’s Fish Bar, Bell’s Diner and the restaurants of Edinburgh – spending any profit we made on food and drink. After Dazzle closed at midnight, we would all meet up at the Edinburgh Bar at the top of Hanover Street and drink, till we got thrown out, in the not so early hours. Of course, that was huge fun as our companions tended to be, as often as not, the performers who were recovering after gigs elsewhere in the city. I can remember sitting chatting to Roger McGough all those years ago and him telling me that he had never missed a Festival since his first, years before. How many more was he to tick up?
It was the early days of Assembly and we were there while William Burdett Coutts
was struggling manfully to establish the venue and turn it into the phenomenon it was to become. What an amazing feat – of endurance as much as anything else. My now good friend, Michael Dale, was running the Fringe – ever so well – the Pleasance had just been taken over by another good friend Di Speirs (now a top BBC radio 4 producer) and her then boyfriend and we could see the early shoots of what was to become a massively successful venue but under different ownership.
It was a different atmosphere. Seats were cheap and people would rush out of shows before the end, in order to get to the next one. Often doing half a dozen or more in a day. Many shows were open till the very early hours and at that time, stand up comedy was in the minority.
Dazzle became a haven for performers to grab a seat and take a rest – I can remember in the early days chatting to a stunningly pretty Lorraine Kelly who was so excited because she had just taken a call from Sky – for her first major job in front of the camera.
She was off to celebrate. We were all impressed by what a lovely young thing she was – so fresh and clearly impressionable.
The television and film festival always came at the end and that was exciting for us, star spotting, because the Music Hall was the main venue and all major conferences and talks seemed to happen there and all the contributors would have to walk through our exhibition space. Year upon Year Melvyn Bragg would nod and smile at us sympathetically, no doubt wondering what on earth we were doing. David Steele would always ask us how we were getting on. John Smith the Labour leader would also chat to us most years.
I can remember shooing Richard Whiteley away from the Dazzle Desk because he was trying to interview someone – he had the audacity to sit on the desk for the interview and was not at all too pleased to be sent packing.
Rik Mayall, Paul Merton and Lenny Henry all bought pressies for their equally famous spouses.
William BC (mine host) was always wandering through the building with famous movie stars, politicians and comedy performers. Sneaking them into the back of the Music Hall, once the lights had gone out, so that they could see the shows incognito.
I won’t play second hand rose any more, by telling you of all the stars we spotted and talked to. These were heady days. All the press were beavering around looking for stories. Public would ask us what shows were hot and we would be able to add considerably to ticket sales of some of them.
In those days we would leaflet just like any other production and once I was interviewed by Clive Anderson for the BBC and he awarded me the “leafletter of the Fringe award” for that year. Emma Thompson was great fun to leaflet that year.
It was always such hard work and these days we just don’t bother.
I can remember making good friends of Circus Oz and Brass Band to the extent that we all went out drinking with them after their shows – taking a group of the the former to Cramond, where we had a farting competition at 3 in the morning!
So, now, nearly thirty years on we are at the Traverse, home of serious theatre. Next to our favourite Atrium and Blue restaurants and still seeing many of the same customers who came to see what we were about all those years ago.
Now my son Dom is in his 6th year working Front of House at the Assembly. For many of these years he has worked alongside Olly, son of William BC, who but for a few days would share the same birthday.
It has been a long tiring and highly entertaining journey.
Yes, it has been a hard life!