Brian Ferguson: Boyle the business at TV festival

IT WAS trailed wonderfully in advance and lived up to its billing. Frankie Boyle had predicted that his appearance at the Edinburgh International TV Festival would be a “suicide vest” of a performance.
Frankie Boyle's appearance was a bit of a masterstroke for the event. Picture: Robert PerryFrankie Boyle's appearance was a bit of a masterstroke for the event. Picture: Robert Perry
Frankie Boyle's appearance was a bit of a masterstroke for the event. Picture: Robert Perry

And he didn’t let down the hundreds of weary industry delegates as the festival’s final session went out with a bang, rather than the usual sparsely-attended affair.

I can’t have been the only one think the TV festival’s organisers had lost their minds in inviting the controversial Boyle to give a “state of the TV nation” address.

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He certainly didn’t disappoint, railing against the state of the current schedules, how edgy and challenging comedy was being banished from mainstream television, the decline of Channel 4, the number of “hopeless” people in senior management at the BBC and the need to have a 50-50 quota system to ensure female comics are properly represented.

Then there was his refusal to apologise for jokes about swimmer Rebecca Adlington and Katie Price’s disabled son, attacks on Rupert Murdoch and Jeremy Clarkson, and views on how Scotland will reject independence because of the level of media bias he believes is obvious to anyone who can Google.

Rounding off the festival with an appearance from Boyle was a bit of a masterstroke for the event. The delegates certainly had plenty to think about by the time Boyle had finished with them.

What struck me as refreshing was that Boyle, much more affable than his on-stage persona would suggest, simply spoke his mind and in this regard, he may have something in common with the new director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Fergus Linehan.

Gone are the days, it seems, when the city council would instigate an annual public debate on the state of Edinburgh’s festivals, but there has been a glaring absence of real discussion and debate during the festivals this summer, despite the looming independence referendum and the many financial challenges performers, producers and venues are facing.

Consultants have just been hired to plot out a long-term vision for the city’s festivals, and will spend months number-crunching, meeting key festival figures and their “stakeholders” and looking at the challenges from around the world.

But Mr Linehan is clearly looking much closer to his new home with what appears to be a mini-revolution by the time next year’s festival rolls around. Having already moved the dates of his event, he posed a series of challenging questions at a major industry gathering last week, the ripples of which are already being felt.

Chief among those are shaking up the image of the festival’s key venues, to attract an audience which actually represents a “cross-section of people walking down the street” and giving a much bigger platform to Scottish theatre.

I doubt it’s going to be quiet on his watch.