When Brighton had two Fringes

A recent Twitter exchange with the new Fringe Director @JulianCaddy, who by all accounts is a breath of fresh air, jogged my memory about the origins of the Fringe. Unlike Edinburgh's Fringe, which started the same time as the International Festival in 1947 and has since grown bigger than its posher rival, the current Brighton Fringe was created by Festival Director at the time Nick Dodds. Under Gavin Henderson, the Festival embraced all of May's cultural events, including also the Artists' Open Houses. Henderson was also responsible for using Brighton artists and makers to design the covers of the brochures. Under his successor, Christopher Barron, the miscellaneous events and artists houses were grouped at the back of the festival brochure under the heading of Umbrella. My collection only goes back to 1997, so earlier than that I don't know.

Dodds, however, wanted to split off the 'non-programmed' events (i.e. not taking place in the Dome complex) into an Edinburgh-like fringe. There were lots of heated meetings about it, main opposition coming from the AOHers. As a compromise, the 2002 festival brochure (the one with the jelly bean cover) included a bound-in supplement called Brighton Festival Open.

But also in 2002, some bright sparks - Helen Medland and Jeff Hemmings - started up the Brighton Fringe! This was described in their intro as the fifth ever Fringe 'after an enforced sabbatical last year'. This is where my memory fails me. I do remember seeing Fringe brochures from the 1960s in a small exhibition at North Star Studios once, but I think they related to the Open Studios that preceded the Open Houses.

In 2003 there was another Brighton Fringe ('the sixth real Brighton Fringe Festival'). But 2003 also saw the publication of a brochure by the new Brighton Festival Fringe, with the first 13 pages devoted to the Open Houses!

So for one year only, Brighton had two Fringes! What happened to Brighton Fringe you may ask? I don't know, but I believe pressure was put on them by the official festival. There was also the question of funding. The first 'official' Fringe was funded by the main festival, who were in turn funded by the Arts Council and Brighton Council. AOH stayed with the Fringe for a few years, before deciding to break off and produce a brochure of their own in 2005, but that's another story. And that's a cue for me to sort out my ephemera collection.

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