All the world’s a stage – 70 years of Edinburgh festivals

In 1947, Sir John Falconer, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, spoke of his ambition that the International Festival of Music and Drama should provide “a platform of the flowering of the human spirit”.

The first Edinburgh International Festival programme 1947

This year (2017) sees the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe. In 1947, eight uninvited theatre groups turned up at the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival. With the ‘official’ festival using the city’s major venues, these groups took advantage of the large assembled theatre crowds to showcase their own alternative theatre. Although at the time it was not recognised as such, this was the first Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Map of major venues 1947

The EIF has played host to many international stars over its 70 years. Maria Callas performed in the King’s Theatre in 1957 and Rudolf Nureyev first appeared at the festival in 1984 dancing in a production of ‘Swan Lake’ at the Playhouse Theatre. In 1965 Marlene Dietrich performed, singing a collection of late night cabaret songs at the Lyceum assisted by an orchestra conducted by Burt Bacharach.

Harmonium Project, opening the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival

Many of today’s well known faces have launched their careers at either the Festival or Fringe. Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller appeared in Beyond the Fringe in 1960. Billy Connolly appeared in The Great Northern Welly Boot Show in 1972. Rowan Atkinson took a break from his engineering degree in 1976 to perform alongside Richard Curtis for the Oxford Review. In 1981 Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were members of The Cambridge Footlights who won the first Perrier Award (now Edinburgh Comedy Award) and in 2001 Eddie Redmayne appeared as the MC in Cabaret.

Street performer at Parliament Square, 2015

If you want to get a real taste of what’s happening during the festivals, take a stroll – though it may take some time – down the High Street and to The Mound where you will be able to see Fringe groups, buskers and street performers. You might even be “persuaded” to join in!

Street performer on High Street, 2015

The Edinburgh Festivals continue to go from strength to strength. In 2016 the combined ticket sales of both the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival reached 2,915,143.

Find many more great pictures of our festival city on Capital Collections including our collection of Edinburgh International Festival programme covers.

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The Church Hill Theatre at 50

September 2015 saw the 50th anniversary of the Church Hill Theatre. Take a look at this vibrant community theatre in our latest exhibition on Capital Collections.

Students from J R Tucker High School of The American High School Theatre Festival in rehearsal.

Students from J R Tucker High School of The American High School Theatre Festival in rehearsal.

The Church Hill Theatre opened in 1965 with a performance of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. The event is commemorated within Kenny Munro’s sculptural pillars that stand in the venue’s driveway. Look closely next time you’re passing and you’ll see Miss Prism’s bag amongst the symbols and motifs.

Many of the photos in this exhibition were taken during August when we gained privileged access to The American High School Theatre Festival’s technical rehearsals and to the final swashbuckling performance of ‘Zorro – the Musical’.  The photos show the theatre in action and as a hotbed of fresh talent.

Zorro - the Musical, performed by Chadwick School, of The American High School Theatre Festival.

Zorro – the Musical, performed by Chadwick School, of The American High School Theatre Festival.

You can also see lovely pictures from The Church Hill Theatre’s past  (including that inaugural performance and the very first panto) on Edinburgh Collected, where they’re inviting memories of this unique civic space – why not add yours?

Many thanks again to The Church Hill Theatre and The American High School Theatre Festival for all their help and support with this project. In particular, thanks to George Ranch High School, Texas, Poly Prep School, New York, J R Tucker High School, Virginia and Chadwick School, California.

The Forth Road Bridge

As the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Forth Road Bridge approaches our latest exhibition on Capital Collections looks back at the construction of the original Forth Road Bridge.

A category ‘A’ listed structure and vital transport artery for the country, the bridge was one of the most ambitious civil engineering projects in Scottish history and has cemented itself as an iconic point on the skyline of the city.

Forth Road Bridge - south span seen from south tower

Construction began in September 1958  and it took 6 years to complete the structure which includes 39,000 tonnes of steel and 115,000 cubic metres of concrete. The bridge is 2,517 metres long, making it the longest suspension bridge outside of the US and fourth longest in the world at the time of its completion. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the bridge on 4th September 1964.

In its first year, the Forth Road Bridge carried 2.5 million vehicles and opened up a vital transport route between the capital and north-eastern Scotland. The number of vehicles and passengers using the bridge has grown year on year far beyond the projections of the engineers in the 50s. Corrosion to the major wires of the bridge was found in 2005 due to the increased number of vehicles using the route and the changes in regulations of modern haulage vehicles. Measures were taken to stall the decomposition of the steel including dehumidifying the cables and replacing steel beams under the bridge bed. After this discovery it was decided that a second road crossing, The Queensferry Crossing, would be built to accommodate trade and private traffic while the existing bridge will be used exclusively for public transport and buses. The new bridge is expected to open to traffic in 2016.

Browse the Capital Collections exhibition to see more amazing pictures from our archive of the Forth Road Bridge under construction.

You may also be interested in ‘The Forth Bridges Scrapbook‘, a new and growing website where you can explore and create ‘digital scrapbooks’ of material and memories of the bridges.