The Edinburgh Free Fringe (also known as PBH's Free Fringe, after its founder, Peter Buckley Hill) is an organisation that promotes free shows parallel to the Edinburgh Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, jointly the world's largest arts festival, held every August for a full four weeks. The nature of the Free Festival is that all events are free to enter, and events are usually held in spaces off bars, clubs and restaurants (hoping to receive a spin-off effect in bar sales). Several promoters are involved, inevitably (as with the entire Festival and Fringe) in competition with one another. Other promoters of the free events include Laughing Horse, Just the Tonic and Heroes. The Free Fringe is dominated by comedy events, but also includes spoken word, music, theatre, cabaret, science and magic. A general avant-garde atmosphere prevails, and it reflects much of the atmosphere originally found in the main Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Unlike most event promoters at the Fringe, the Free Fringe does not charge performers for use of performance spaces, on the condition that they do not charge an entry fee into their shows. Audience members are, however, asked to make a donation at the end of a show.
It is part of the Free Fringe ethos that no performer should pay anything towards the running of the organisation. The only cost to the performers is the charge made to be in the printed programme of events. Most of the operating costs for the Free Fringe are covered through advertising in the Free Fringe brochure.
The Free Fringe was started in 1996 by comedian Peter Buckley Hill with the show "Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians". Buckley Hill had lost £4,000 as a performer at the 1994 Fringe. The venues used by the Free Fringe have increased since 1996 from the original Footlights and Firkin venue to (in 2015) 529 free shows on 59 stages - over 9,260 performances.
From 2004, Buckley Hill worked with the team behind comedy promoters Laughing Horse on promoting Free Fringe shows. However, the partnership ended in 2006. After the split, the two parties operated separate programmes under the "free" banner - Buckley Hill continuing to bill his programme the "Free Fringe", with the Laughing Horse adopting the name the Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
By 2009, PBH's Free Fringe had 176 shows at 19 venues, a growth of 50% in a year.
Since 1996 the Free Fringe has won several awards including...
- Tap Water Awards: Spirit of the Fringe 2006
- Chortle Award for Innovation 2007
- Chortle Award for Best Off—Stage Contribution 2007
- Three Weeks: Editor's Choice Award
Additionally, in 2009, Peter Buckley Hill won the Edinburgh Comedy Awards  Panel Prize, in recognition of his work on the Free Fringe. He was also nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality in 2008 and in the "Most Likely To Make A Million Quid" category at the 2014 Malcolm Hardee Awards, where organisers said he would have won the "Least Likely To Win A Million Quid" Award
In 2015, a dispute between PBH Free Festival and rival promoters Freestival over the Cowgatehead venue led to one of the largest disputes in recent Fringe history. Freestival believed they had secured the lease for the building and booked a full programme of over 120 events. After the Fringe brochure deadline, by which time most acts had already paid to register their show, PBH Free Fringe announced that they had secured the building and would be booking a programme of their own. Peter Buckley-Hill stated that he would consider applications from Freestival acts if they agreed to the Free Festival Ethos & Conditions, which forbids working with any other organiser of Free Shows. The majority of shows were eventually rehoused in venues organised by Just the Tonic and Laughing Horse.
Later in 2015, Stephen Carlin was ejected from the Free Fringe and not allowed to continue his run at The Canon's Gait when the Free Fringe organisers realised that he had been performing at a Laughing Horse show.
- Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Free Festival
- Brown, Angie (13 Aug 2009). "Thank the crunch 'it's all free'". BBC. Retrieved 20 Mar 2016.
- PBH Free Fringe programme 2015
- "Fringe 'Tap Water Award winners".
- "Chortle Award winners".
- "Comedy Panel Award winners".
- "Free Fringe row puts shows at Cowgatehead venue at risk of cancellation". Retrieved 2016-07-29.
- Solutions, Powder Blue Internet Business. "The Cowgatehead refugees : Features 2015 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide". www.chortle.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-07-29.
- Solutions, Powder Blue Internet Business. "Free Fringe comic thrown out of his venue : News 2015 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide". www.chortle.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-07-29.
- Solutions, Powder Blue Internet Business. "Free Fringe flyer fight : News 2016 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide". www.chortle.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-07-29.