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Edinburgh Fringe Becomes Laughing Stock as Comedians and Critics Attack

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Last week, I wrote a Huffington Post article about this year's extraordinarily heavy-handed and draconian censoring of the £400 Edinburgh Fringe Programme entries. (Performers pay almost £400 to get a meagre 40 word listing in the Fringe Programme).

You might have thought, at £10 per word, you could print what you want within the law, especially at a cutting-edge, pushing-the-barriers event like the Edinburgh Fringe but, this year, the newly-idiotic Fringe Office appears to have taken leave of its senses.

In 2009, I staged a show titled Aaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It's Bollock Relief! - The Malcolm Hardee Award Show. I did wonder if there might be any objection to the testicular word but, no, there was no problem at all listing it in the Fringe Programme. The Fringe, after all, is an easy-going, laissez-faire, open-to-all beast; it is not run by Scotland's Wee Free Kirk.

Or is it?

Yesterday, the Chortle comedy website ran an article by Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge and highly-respected journalist Jay Richardson. It reported that the Fringe had refused to allow comedian and ITV1 Show Me The Funny contestant Stuart Goldsmith to list his new show as Stuart Goldsmith - Prick in the Programme. They insisted that he had to change the word Prick to Pr!ck.

Jay Richardson also reported that comedian Richard Herring's show Talking Cock (whose title was printed in full in the 2002 Fringe Programme) is being reprised this year but the title has been modified by the Fringe to Talking C*ck: The Second Coming.

When I read this, I asked Richard Herring what he thought about it. His reaction was a little surprising:

"Actually," he told me, "this is the first I've heard about the title being censored."

Just to recap here... Richard told me this yesterday - 8 May. The final Fringe deadline was 11 April after which no changes could be made. The Fringe Programme is published on 31 May. The Fringe Office had never even told Richard they had changed the 40-word listing for which they charge performers £400...!

I thought I had better check if the Fringe really had changed the word 'cock' to 'c*ck', so I contacted Martin Chester, Publications Manager at the Fringe. In a rather terse reply, he e-mailed:

"I can confirm that Cock will appear as C*ck in the 2012 Fringe Programme."

Richard Herring explained to me yesterday: "I was told I couldn't use the words 'dick' and 'fuckinghamshire' in the 40 words. I wasn't too surprised about the 'fuckinghamshire' ("honourable member for fuckinghamshire" was the line) even though that isn't a swear word and presumably means you have to censor 'Scunthorpe' too.

"But I thought 'dick' was a bit of an over reaction. Not only is it a very minor rude word, it's also a name." In fact, of course, it is Richard's own name. "Hopefully," Richard told me, "Dick Van Dyke won't come to the Fringe - they'll have to call him D*ck Van D*ke.

"I am annoyed to find out that the title has also been censored," Richard continued. "'Cock' itself is not a rude word and is used everyday in many non-offensive ways by farmers and their cocks (who only say cock-a-doodle-do) and cockneys (sorry c*ckneys) say Hello cock. For them to decide that the title of my show is not allowed to be printed in their programme is quite insulting in itself and not something that an Arts Festival should be condoning. Frankly I think they're being stupid c*nts."

Personally, I think it is more idiotic than that.

The word 'cock' in the phrase 'talking cock' is actually a shortened version of 'cock and bull', the dictionary definition of which is "to talk nonsense or engage in idle banter". That commonly-used English phrase comes from the name of two public houses in Stony Stratford - the Cock and the Bull.

The fact that the Fringe Office sees fit to censor this commonly-used phrase as supposedly offensive (without even telling the man who paid them almost £400 to have his listing printed) betrays a level of illiteracy (and financial dodginess) at the Fringe Office which is rather worrying at what is allegedly the biggest Arts festival in the world.

It also means that performers in future should beware of making any reference to any other pubs in their show titles. If the Fringe insists that a reference to the Cock Inn has to be censored, who knows what they would do with a far-worse reference to any King's Head or Prince Albert pub.

I asked Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers and also a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and Show Me The Funny judge, what she thought.

"I am lucky enough to remember the glory days of the Fringe," she told me yesterday, "when I was peripherally involved in a show called Whoops Vicar is That Your Dick? Sadly, this year, whoever is 'gate-keeping' the Fringe programme has completely lost their sense of ... well, simply their sense. Not only has the irreproachable Stu Goldsmith been censored, but a regular and highly thought-of event entitled ArtWank (on the PBH Free Fringe) has felt the heavy hand of the Idiot In Charge. They are now ArtW*nk. And even they are not alone. If the Fringe Society REALLY want to control that which is offensive in the Fringe Brochure - what about ticket prices? Pricks and wankers, the lot of 'em."

Comedian Sameena Zehra told me: "This is ridiculous. how pathetically coy can you be? 'Pr!ck'? Could it be that the Fringe is now becoming about money and advertising, instead of pushing the boundaries of performance and art? If the Fringe wants to be part of the establishment, it should join the official Festival and we should create an alternative Fringe that does what it says on the tin."

Mervyn Stutter has been presenting shows at the Fringe for 26 years, notably his annual Pick of The Fringe show (which presumably narrowly avoided the Fringe Office censors by one letter).

His e-mailed reaction to me yesterday was: 

"F**k me! (note my clever use of Fringe approved self censoring there) This is tragic."

I asked him if he remembered any favourite show titles printed in the Fringe Programme in the last 26 years. Like Kate Copstick, he, too, fondly remembers Whoops Vicar is That Your Dick?

"There was a wonderful Australian act," he told me, "called somebody-or-other and The Travelling Wankbrains. My memory fails me, but the first name was also filth!

"The Fringe back then was free for all and you could call it how you wanted to. No corporate money or images to maintain. No Mary Whitehouse sensibilities on the Fringe - only a woman on Edinburgh Council - the legendary Moira Knox. Her public objections to 'naughty' shows always guaranteed big Box Office."

Martin Soan, originator of the Greatest Show on Legs act, whose image the Fringe Office also censored this year, agreed yesterday. When I told him about the 'prick' hoo-hah, he responded: "Ah! Censorship... The alternative advertising!"

What gets up my own nose - because it shows a totally idiotic new mentality at the Fringe Office - is not so much any objection to supposedly 'dodgy' words or images, but that I was told by the Fringe Office (as mentioned in my previous blog) that Charlie Chuck's Fringe Programme entry (which I wrote) was "required" to be re-written because it was ungrammatical.

Among other ludicrous things, I was told that the phrase "with burlesque bits of French songs and lady assistant" had to be changed to "with burlesque bits of French songs and A lady assistant" (at £10 per word) to be acceptable because all entries in the Fringe Programme have to be "grammatically correct".

Yes, you can no longer, I was told, write in headliney telegramese. Your £400 40-word entry now has to have totally grammatically-correct sentences containing subject, verb and object. That is what I was told. Subject-verb-object. And apparently, if necessary, also the definite and indefinite articles. You have to use the word 'a' if it is grammatically necessary - at a cost of £10 minimum.

This is madness of a gargantuan order which almost demands a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award of its own for sheer inanity.

Mervyn Stutter says: "My advice to Stuart Goldsmith is to keep going public. Make as much noise about it as possible. It's what social networking is there for. He might also find useful the phrase Kick against the Pricks - 'To argue and fight against people in authority' (Cambridge Dictionary)"

It could, indeed, be a motto for dealing with the newly-narrow-minded Fringe Office people in general.

According to the Bible, Jesus said it to St Paul - "Kick against the Pricks" - It is quoted in Acts of the Apostles (9:5)

No doubt the Fringe Programme would today refuse to run the Biblical quote without replacing the i with an ! or an *

But, as the late Malcolm Hardee would have said: "Fuck 'em."