1947 - Edinburgh Festival founded

The First Edinburgh Festival

The Edinburgh International Festival was started in 1947 as an antidote to war-time austerity. Its founders wanted it to be a chance for people of all nationalities to come together in peace to celebrate the arts. The event was an enormous success, attracting attention from all over Britain. The Festival Society kept volumes of press cuttings in its archives. This report from the Manchester Evening News was typical of the good publicity, and also shows how the Festival had to battle with post-war rationing - flood-lighting the castle was banned as too wasteful!


Embarrassed looking tram-cars are bouncing round Edinburgh today with small Union Jacks trailing from their electric arms - for all the world like circus elephants with their tails in curl papers.

This is typical of the spirit of carnival which has descended almost overnight on this usually prim and proper Scottish capital. It's all in honour of the first International Festival of Music and Drama now being held in the city.


Even so it's still a very decorous sort of carnival. There may be baskets of geraniums hanging from every lamp-post along lovely, aristocratic Princes-street; there may be an island of flowers outside Central Station; the celebrated floral clock in Princes-street Gardens may now spell Tchaikovsky and Beethoven and tick away through forget-me-not borders of crochets and semi-breves. But the crowds move as orderly as ever between the Caledonian Hotel and Waverley Station. And every policeman has been issued with a new helmet and a clean pair of white gloves. Foreigners gathered here for this first Festival will go away thinking confusedly of a dowager duchess, her hat on one side, determinedly shying the first ball at the coconuts. And scoring a direct hit.


Visitors here have an obstinate habit of refusing the obvious. And although proud landmarks like Holyrood Palace and the Castle (though Mr Shinwell has imposed a last-minute ban on flood-lighting) and Princes-street itself look as though they have just come back from the laundry the crowds prefer to wander delightedly around the dingy, smelly closes and wynds of Canongate.

Said one Hungarian woman to me, summing it all up - the quiet Georgian squares with their gay window boxes, the lazy smoke haze, the incredibly theatrical backdrop of the Castle - 'It's a mixture of Rome and Manchester, seasoned with a drop of Paris and a dash of Budapest.'

Accommodating the thousands of visitors who have been pouring into the city all weekend has been a major problem. In many cases private householders have offered a spare bed or a sofa in the lounge. In my hotel, where booking opened in January, 21 guests were waiting patiently for one harrassed waiter to serve them breakfast this morning.


During the next three weeks five of the world's finest orchestras - among them the Hallé - will be providing the musical programme. The city's two largest theatres are housing the Old Vic Co., the Sadlers Wells Ballet, and the Glyndebourne Opera. But the festival doesn't end there.

It seems as if every Scottish cultural organisation - big and little, is running its own side-show. For those who can't afford a 25s stall for 'The Taming of the Shrew' the Glasgow Unity Theatre is offering a Scots version of Gorky's 'The Lower Depths'.

Each afternoon squads of kilted soldiers march down from the castle to dance reels. Even the cinemas are putting on miniature film festivals.


The festival made a happy start last night with a rousing symbol of the Entente Cordiale - L'Orchestre Colonne of Paris played the English [sic] National Anthem and then the Marseillaise. And there was a great response from the audience of nearly 3,000. In front I saw the Lord Provost, Sir John Falconer, Sir John Anderson, Lady Rosebery, and Walter Elliot, mp.

This world-famous orchestra conductor Paul Paray, gave a memorable concert of three symphonies - Haydn's 'Surprise', the Schumann No.4 and the Cesar Franck. M. Paray looks like a middle-aged businessman. His vitality is as remarkable as his swift changes of mood.

The first performance of the Cesar Franck, by the way, was given 58 years ago by this very orchestra - with different personnel, of course. L'Orchestre Colonne was established in 1873.


Last night's elegant audience - some in evening dress, a few in kilts and several in arty corduroys - were filled to the roof of the fine two-tier Usher Hall. At the end of the concert they forgot their elegance and applauded for about five minutes with stamping of feet and cries for more.

Their enthusiasm was understandable. The final crescendos of the Cesar Franck was some of the most inspiring moments I can recall in any concert hall.

The only woman in this orchestra of nearly 100 was Madame Chambaret, the harpist. She told me - in French, that she has a husband and a grown-up son in Paris. She leaves them frequently to tour the world with the orchestra. Another woman who is a very useful member of the organisation is Madame Paray, the charming wife of the conductor - she acts as his interpreter.

This orchestra gets about quite a lot although this is its first visit to Scotland. They flew to Paris from Rio de Janeiro only five days ago.

Manchester Evening News, 25 August 1947. Reproduced by permission of the Manchester Evening News.

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