Ian Fox – Cockgate and my part in it

I’ll assume you’re already familiar with the story of Cockgate being as there was some great pieces in the media and it was all over twitter (just search #cockgate).

If not this piece basically explains it.

Firstly just for the record I am the one who coined the term “ghost cock”. The fact that term was appearing in various publications does give me a warm fuzzy feeling.

I also started the #cockgate tag on twitter. The term cockgate was as far as I’m aware coined by Bob Slayer.

Now last year in the Meadow Bar after I congratulated Kunt on winning the “Ian Fox Award” for best poster in the Free Festival – prize was a Kunt and the Gang CD – Kunt did say to me next year he was thinking about just using the image of a spunking cock as his fringe thumbnail and I did say I thought it was a funny idea. In fairness I do still think it’s a funny idea.

Well we found out and unfortunately not everyone agreed.

The two venues in question were apparently the Three Sisters and Edinburgh Football club. Both venues main customers seem to be people who are quite keen on swearing at each other. Exactly why they were expecting complaints I’m not sure. Both venues are over 18s only and none of the posters were visible from outside.

Not that it put off Kunt from putting the second part of his idea into action. Notice how I’m not using the plan. The word plan implies that it was all cunningly thought out ahead of time. It wasn’t. Kunt just thought putting some cock stickers on other shows posters would be funny, and he handed them out at the end of his early shows for fans to enjoy themselves with.

What happened next boarded on ridiculous.

I was aware that Alex Petty had recovered phone calls from some of the other venues and that he’d very diplomatically dealt with them. Then the council were called in by the Underbelly and wardens from Edinburgh Council turned up at Kunt’s show to make sure he wasn’t handing out any more stickers. The line about “we’ve spent the day pulling off over a hundred cocks” was genuine.

My main part in it was the photos. Once they started appearing around town I just naturally found myself snapping them on my phone and sending them to twitter. A gallery page didn’t actually occur to me until the editor of a well-known comedy website suggested I should put them in one place so as they could link to it from the story they were writing. Convinced there might be some traffic in it I stayed up until about 04:30 working on it. Putting up the shots that was easy enough but making a rolling advert for my show took time. If the page was going to get hits I was going to make sure my show got some advertising out of it.

What I didn’t realise was that my website wasn’t going to be able to take the strain of what happened next. From publishing the site at around 4:30AM I started getting emails around 1pm saying I’d used up my months bandwidth for images, so hastily after my shows on 18th August sat in Bar 50 with Dave Turquoise and Ashley Frieze I cobbled together the gallery page and published it around 7ish. By midnight it had received over 500 hits and then by 10am when I woke up it was around 2500.

At present the cockgate gallery has been looked out over 11,000 times. The link that I put for my show on the fringe site was clicked twice. Ashley Frieze reckons he was one of those clicks.

I missed the photo call at the Stand with all the cockgate supporters – I was doing two shows and Bob forgot which times I told him I was on – Alex Petty took most of the images of the cockgate supporters.

About the cockgate images.

A good part of them were ones I found in the wild. Some others I faked with blue tack and some others I recreated with blue tack after the stickers had been removed and the ghost cocks had been altered.


I was aware that an invoice had been passed on to Kunt from a comedy promoter for damaged posters. The contents of business emails are subject to copyright laws so I’m not going to reproduce any part of it. It was widely acknowledged that the email did say it should be paid “quickly and discreetly or they would rally the other promoters against” Kunt. The identity of the promoter in question was dealt with discreetly and no one publicly named them until later on in the festival. During the Malcolm Hardee Awards show Kate Copstick publically stated on stage which company had sent in the invoice.

What I didn’t understand about the invoice was that of the ones mentioned as being affected, I personally hadn’t seen any of them damaged and there wasn’t any photographic evidence to back up the claims.

Firstly the Craig Hill posters. Now as an openly gay man Craig’s posters are unfortunately the target of homophobic graffiti every year. This year was no exception and stuff written on his posters was clearly nothing to do with Kunt and the Gang.

Secondly the Jimeoin posters. These posters copied the style of the world’s most famous graffiti artist Banksy, so it does seem a bit hypocritical to get touchy about people putting graffiti on them. In any case the posters were cock sticker proof I know I tried to fake one with a blue tack for ages.

Thirdly Daniel Sloss posters. I saw loads of them with “Boy with the Tape on his face” stickers on them only saw one that might have been damaged by a cock sticker.

Other stuff.

I have to say that was the first time I’d heard anything like that being mentioned.

My thoughts and opinions.

I have two main problems with the way some of the companies and comedians behaved. The question I asked a few people was this.

Do the comics and companies that put posters up on the street for the entire month seriously think no one is going to graffiti their posters?

Justin Moorhouse poster with graffiti 2010

Apparently the answer is yes. Which surprises me because every year I’ve been in Edinburgh I’ve seen people graffiti posters and add their own adverts over the top of them. So why no one is expecting this seems rather unrealistic. In other years when I’ve seen shows add their own stickers over the top of other shows adverts outside of fringe central if anything it’s made me think that’s a show I’m not going to bother with. I’ve never understood why people do it.

Guerilla marketing for fringe shows is not a new practice so why the big promoters seemed so unprepared for it is a mystery. I think the main problem with that the companies involved choose to print their posters on the lowest quality paper available. Outside the Udderbelly the posters were printed on weather proof plastic boards. Why the other promoters don’t do this is a mystery. It’s Scotland rain is inevitable. Two weeks of being out in the elements and the posters are an eye sore for everyone. A few quid on each print out would save a lot of aggravation. The Kai Humpries image in the cockgate gallery was on one of these boards and was simply peeled off by staff at the Udderbelly without causing any lasting damage.

Why don’t the bigger promoters use weather proof posters?

I suspect it’s because of the higher print cost. One year at the fringe I stood on the corner of Nicholson Street. I watched a council worker cut down posters from the railings. I then went into Tesco and came out 10 minutes later to see a man in an unmarked white van replacing the posters that had just been cut down. Which implies that a lot of the poster sites used are not up legally.  If you’re not putting up posters legally how can you complain them getting damaged?

Some of the behaviour from comedians was ridiculous. I’ll not name the three that I heard people having arguments with over them. The gist of their comments was “these stickers are out-of-order, we’ve spent all this money on these posters and some c*** is hijacking them, it’s not on”. Incidentally the three that I heard these complaints from directly and indirectly were all doing their first full runs at the festival. I can’t help but think as these comments came in the last week that they’d realised at that point they had spent too much money promoting their shows and they knew it wasn’t coming back. I imagine that feeling can lead to a sense of humour failure.

A lot of acts have an unrealistic idea of what a run at the fringe can achieve and a lot of companies are happy to exploit this. Quite what comics think they can do in three weeks in Edinburgh that they can’t manage the rest of the year is beyond me, but every year there’s a number of acts who are “going to go for it this year” by spending everything they’ve earned the rest of the year on promoting a show. Let’s be clear about this a lot of the companies they’re choosing to work with don’t have that great a business the rest of the year. Edinburgh is a big earner for some companies and they’ll happily take money from a lot of clients without giving them anything of value in return. Cockgate highlighted that.

Finally the last word on the subject from an Edinburgh resident.

The precious posters damaged during the festival are left up once the festival is over. I’ve been in Edinburgh in other times of the year and been surprised to see that they haven’t been removed. If the council do cut down on these poster sites in future years this will be the reason why not the cock stickers.

Oh if you’re designing posters for shows take a marker pen to one of your posters and see if it passes the cock test before you send 5000 copies to print.

9 thoughts on “Ian Fox – Cockgate and my part in it

  1. I thought the cockgate campaign was totally in the spirit of the Fringe but this article is ludicrous..the promoters who complained are guilty of a humour bypass but you cannot possibly blame everything on people buying advertising space…even more shocking is the suggestion that this reflects on their talent or success throughout the year.

    • I don’t believe I do blame everything on people buying advertising space or imply anything about people’s success throughout the year. Obviously people need to advertise shows. The problem becomes when their advertising spend exceeds the amount they can feasibly make on ticket sales.

      Poster campaigns are very expensive and don’t always yield sales. One heavily promoted show with a lot of posters around town had at least one show with only 5 ticket sales.

      Some people think that the posters aren’t always about advertising the show as they are about advertising the producer’s brand name. Hence posters up for shows that have nearly sold out or shows that aren’t even appearing in the fringe.

  2. I have to agree with John, the article seems to lay the blame at the feet of the people who were the victim of the stickers. To dismiss them as having a sense of humour failure suggests that they have no right to feel aggrieved about what happened. In fact it is little more than adding insult to injury. I f*** up your poster then call you a c**t for complaining?

    As for them realising they’ve spent too much on posters, how is that a justification for defacing them? My neighbour has just bought a new Audi, he could have got a Nissan cheaper so I’m justified in keying it? The fact that they could spend a little extra and have sticker proof posters is a red herring, if someone wasn’t defacing their posters then they wouldn’t need to spend more.

  3. In 8 years of going to the fringe I’ve seen posters defaced every year. This wasn’t the first time something like this happened – as mentioned in the article. If you put posters up in public places unless you’re leaving them guarded it’s unrealistic not to think they’re going to get defaced. Not necessarily by other shows just by people who like to graffiti things. Having a plastic coating that you can remove ink from just by using white spirit on a rag seems like a good idea.

    A sticker on a poster does not stop people from buying tickets to a show.

    I don’t believe I do say in the article it’s justified to damage peoples posters because they’ve spent too much money on them. What I said was in the last week acts whose posters were damaged realised they’d spent too much money on promotion. Which is a common mistake of people doing fringe shows. They need to sell an unrealistic number of tickets each day to pay for the overheads of their show. Other acts decide not to purchase fringe programme adverts or pay for bigger campaigns simply because when they look at it on paper they realise that even if they sell out they’re not going to make a profit.

  4. Roger is correct – it is not anyone’s place to tell someone that they should have bought a Nissan Micra instead of a Audi – however there is nothing wrong in pointing out that the person that sold them the car is a self serving money pit and you should be careful of them in future!

    What I think was interesting about the Cock Stickers is that it kicked off a wider debate about what was behind these large poster sites – and even the Fringe model itself… The Fringe industry has evolved to become the biggest pay to pay scam possible and yet the whole industry turn a blind eye because they are all taking a little bit from it.

    Kunt’s stickers were very very naughty – however they showed that there is an alternative to spending £3000 to £12000 to make a show at Edinburgh successful – if you are creative then you can get shit loads of press and industry attention with a few quid. This is not saying everyone should deface posters – that would be missing the point – many people have tried that before and it only worked for Kunt because it was appropriate, funny and it seemed to touch a nerve.

    The real point is that next year when your agent suggests that you risk putting yourself £3000 to £12000 in debt why don’t you ask them – why are you suggesting that I do the same as everyone else – advertising to the industry in a way that is as hack as Jongleurs on a Friday night? Couldn’t we spend the money in a more creative and fun way? What would Andy Kaufman do?

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