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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 June 2006, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Perrier runs dry after 25 years
By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The Perrier Award, which is to be renamed this year after the Nestle subsidiary withdrew its sponsorship, has been Edinburgh's foremost comedy prize for a quarter of a century.

Frank Skinner
Skinner beat Jack Dee and Eddie Izzard to win the 1991 prize
Its inauguration in 1981 coincided with the birth of alternative comedy and the rapid growth of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Many of its recipients have gone on to enjoy successful careers in radio and television, as have a sizeable number of unsuccessful nominees.

In recent years, however, its predominance has been challenged by other initiatives, notably the So You Think You're Funny? competition that runs concurrently.

The Cambridge Footlights troupe that won the first Perrier contained such future luminaries as Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie.

The reward for their efforts was a modest cheque and a week-long run at the New End, a tiny fringe venue in Hampstead, north London.

Strong candidates

In 1984, however, producer Nica Burns boosted the award's profile by persuading Perrier to up its financial backing and guaranteeing both winners and nominees a showcase in London's West End.

The League of Gentlemen
The League of Gentlemen were popular winners in 1997
The following year's winners, Theatre De Complicite, undoubtedly benefited from that exposure and are now one of the theatre world's most respected and innovative ensembles.

News Quiz regular Jeremy Hardy, an unsuccessful nominee in 1987, returned to triumph 12 months later.

In 1991, meanwhile, Frank Skinner took home the prize beating such formidable candidates as Eddie Izzard, Jack Dee and Lily Savage - better known now as chat show host Paul O'Grady.

The eclectic nature of the Perrier panel, which traditionally included seven professionals and three members of the public, guaranteed the occasional upset.

In 1994, for example, who would have tipped little-known Australian duo Lano and Woodley to best bookies' favourite Alan Davies?

Other recognised names who have gone home empty-handed include Graham Norton, Bill Bailey, Johnny Vegas and Mark Thomas.

Talent-spotter

Al Murray, meanwhile, was shortlisted four times before finally winning in 1999.

His rise to prominence in the interim led some to question the value of giving the prize to established acts.

Lee Evans
Lee Evans was 29 when he won the Perrier in 1993
Jenny Eclair, for example - one of only two female winners, the other being last year's victor Laura Solon - was if anything nearing the end of her stand-up career when she won in 1995.

The institution of a best newcomer gong in 1992 restored some of the awards' reputation as a talent-spotter.

It is fair to say, however, that with the exception of first recipient Harry Hill, few of these up-and-comers have enjoyed widespread acclaim.

Indeed, in name recognition terms, the respective holders of the Perrier and the newcomer prize in recent years have been much of a muchness.

Take 2004, for example. Would any but the most ardent fringe-goer know that it was Will Adamsdale who won the main award and Wil Hodgson its companion?

The awards' rebranding as the if.comeddies - a name inspired by new sponsor, the Scottish banking firm Intelligent Finance - means it will continue to recognise and celebrate Edinburgh fringe comedy.

Time will tell, however, if they will ever hold the same sway as they did in their mid-90s heyday.


SEE ALSO
Perrier ends Edinburgh comedy tie
14 Jun 06 |  Entertainment
Female comic wins Perrier award
28 Aug 05 |  Entertainment
Perrier winner and nominees profiled
27 Aug 05 |  Entertainment

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