Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 15:49 UK

Comedy awards hope to regain sparkle

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland news

Posters at the PLeasance
There are more than 400 shows eligible for the comedy awards

The Edinburgh Fringe enjoyed a massive boom in the 1980s.

A significant proportion of its growth was down to the new breed of funny people who were lumped under the title "alternative comedy".

In 1981 there were only about 30 shows eligible for the first ever Perrier award.

But the start of venues such as the Assembly Rooms, The Pleasance and the Gilded Balloon led to a explosion of comedy talent.

This year there are about 400 shows eligible for what is now known as the Edinburgh Comedy Awards - or the Eddies.

A group of young jokers from the Cambridge Footlights won the first award, 28 years ago.

So far so traditional.

The reputation of the Fringe had been established by such Oxbridge figures as Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in Beyond the Fringe.

The 1981 footlights line-up included Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery and Emma Thompson - all future comedy stars.

But it was not until later in the decade that the Perrier earned its sparkling reputation for unearthing the comedy greats of the future.

Tough competition

Jeremy Hardy took the prize in 1988, Simon Fanshawe the year after and Sean Hughes in 1990.

The following year must go down as one of the best.

Frank Skinner took the accolade beating tough competition from Eddie Izzard, Jack Dee and Paul O'Grady as Lily Savage.

Steve Coogan won the Perrier the following year and Lee Evans took the award in 1993.

All these winners and many of the runners-up quickly went on to establish themselves as TV favourites.

In 1994, Harry Hill, Alan Davies and Jeff Green - all now top comedy names - lost out to the comedy of Lano and Woodley.

Jenny Eclair became the first woman since Emma Thompson to get her hands on the prize, when she won in 1995.

And there has only been one female winner since - Laura Solon in 2005.

Nica Burns has paid out of her own pocket to keep the wards going
Nica Burns has paid out of her own pocket to keep the awards going

Dylan Moran's win in 1996 was followed the following year by a victory for the League of Gentlemen.

Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan took the prize in 1998, beating Peter Kay and Ed Byrne.

Al Murray, the pub landlord finally laid his hands on the prize when he was nominated for the fourth time in 1999.

The winners since the beginning of the millennium have not quite become household names in the way that those from the previous decade managed.

Daniel Kitson, Brendan Burns, Phil Nichol and last year's winner David O'Doherty are fine performers but they do not seem to have enjoyed the same catapult to fame as former winners.

Though runners-up in the noughties Jason Manford, Pappy's Fun Club, Chris Addison have all faired pretty well.

In 2006, Intelligent Finance took over the sponsorship but that came to an end this year.

The Edinburgh Comedy Awards are without a sponsor for the first time in their history.

Veteran Producer Nica Burns has paid out £120,000 from her own pocket to keep the awards alive.

She says she cannot afford to do that again next year.

A new comedy genius is definitely needed right now.



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