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The 2011 Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual series of Military tattoos performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International military bands and display teams on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. The event takes place annually throughout August, as part of the wider Edinburgh Festival (a collective name for many independent festivals and events held in Edinburgh during August).

History and etymology

The word "Tattoo," is derived from "Doe den tap toe", or just "tap toe" ("toe" is pronounced "too"), the Dutch for "Last orders". Translated literally, it means: "close the (beer) tap". The term "Tap-toe" was first encountered by the British Army when stationed in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession. The British adopted the practice and it became a signal, played by a regiment's Corps of Drums or Pipes and Drums each night to tavern owners to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their billeted lodgings at a reasonable hour. With the establishment of modern barracks and full Military bands later in the 18th century, the term Tattoo was used to describe not only the last duty call of the day, but also a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by Military musicians.[1]

Although the first Tattoo in Edinburgh, entitled "Something About a Soldier", took place at the Ross Bandstand at Princes Street Gardens in 1949, the first official Edinburgh Military Tattoo began in 1950 with just eight items in the programme. It drew some 6000 spectators seated in simple bench and scaffold structures around the north, south and east sides of the Edinburgh Castle esplanade. In 1952, the capacity of the stands was increased to accommodate a nightly audience of 7700, allowing 160,000 to watch live performances each year.


Now, on average, just over 217,000 people see the Tattoo live on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle each year, and it has sold out in advance for the last decade. 30% of the audience are from Scotland and 35% from the rest of the United Kingdom. The remaining 35% of the audience consists of 70,000 visitors from overseas. Only the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a bigger part of the Edinburgh Festival, although that consists of over 2000 productions staged across 247 venues.

The new stands in place for the Tattoo of 2012

The temporary Grandstands on the castle esplanade used between 1975 and 2010 and had a capacity of 8600.[2] New £16 million spectator stands and corporate hospitality boxes were in place for 2011. The new temporary stands reduced the time taken to erect and dismantle them the original two months to one month, allowing the esplanade to host events at other times of the year.[3]

The Tattoo is performed every weekday evening and twice on Saturdays throughout August and has never been cancelled due to inclement weather. The second Saturday night performance includes a Fireworks display, although each performance uses Pyrotechnics and since 2005 has also incorporated a Son et lumière element projected onto the façade of the Castle. Since 2004, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo has also held free abridged performances at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, entitled "Taste of the Tattoo",[4] and as of 2008 also in George Square in Glasgow.[5] The Edinburgh Military Tattoo has also toured overseas, visiting New Zealand in 2000 as part of the Tattoo's 50th anniversary celebrations. It also visited Australia in 2005 and returned to the Sydney Football Stadium in February 2010 as part of the Tattoo's 60th anniversary celebrations.[6]

The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie being performed at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2007

The Tattoo is televised in 30 countries and a further 100 million people see the event on television worldwide. In Britain the event is broadcast annually by the BBC, with commentary in 2009 and 2010 provided by BBC Radio Scotland presenter Iain Anderson. From 2011, commentary is now provided by Bill Paterson but before 2009, the late Tom Fleming previously commentated, not missing a year between 1966 and 2008. In Australia the Tattoo is traditionally telecast by ABC on the evening of New Year's Eve, although in a break with tradition, the 2006 Tattoo was broadcast two days earlier on 30 December, the 2007 Tattoo was broadcast even earlier on Christmas Eve, and the 2009 Tattoo was broadcast two days after New Year's Eve on 2 January 2010.

The Tattoo is run for charitable causes and over the years has given over £5 million to military and civilian charities and organisations, such as the Army Benevolent Fund. However, the greater benefit has been that it, by independent count, generates an additional £88 million in revenue for Edinburgh's economy annually. The official magazine of the Edinburgh Military tattoo is called Salute and is distributed free to sponsors, Friends of the Tattoo, and visiting performers.

The Princess Royal is the current Patron of the event, with the main corporate sponsor being the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In 2010 the event became the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo after HM Queen Elizabeth awarded the Royal title in celebration of its six decades of existence.


The 2005 Edinburgh Military Tattoo celebrated Trafalgar 200

International military regiments and even African tribes have performed at the Tattoo over the years. The first regiment from outside the UK to take part was the Band of the Royal Netherlands Grenadiers in 1952. So far, over 30 countries from nearly all continents have been represented at the Tattoo. Popular visiting performers include the Swiss Top Secret Drum Corps, who performed at the 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012 Tattoos and were the first non-military drum corps to participate. The Band and Drill team of His Majesty The King's Guard of the Norwegian Army has also performed at the Tattoo on eight previous occasions since 1961, adopting Nils Olav, a penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, as their regimental mascot in 1972. In recent years, performances have included cultural dances and items from different countries.

Each year has a 'lead' service from the British Armed Forces, alternating between the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. Although each year also celebrates or commemorates a particular organisation, anniversary, theme or event. The highlight of every Tattoo however continues to be the massed pipes and drums, provided by regiments of the British Army and visiting civilian and military pipes and drums from around the world, although primarily from Commonwealth nations with Scottish connections. Each evening traditionally concludes with the massed pipes and drums marching on to join the massed military bands. This is then followed by a rendition of the National Anthem and Auld Lang Syne. There is then a flag-lowering ceremony (see Beating Retreat), with the bugles either sounding the Last Post, or the "Sunset" bugle call of the Royal Marines, and ends with a floodlit lone piper playing a Lament from high on the ramparts of the Half Moon Battery. The performers then march off the esplanade and down the Royal Mile to a series of rousing tunes including Scotland the Brave.

The 2005 Tattoo saw one of the largest gathering of pipes and drums in the event's history, with 13 bands on parade, including the pipes and drums of all six regular infantry regiments of the Scottish Division. This was the last time all six appeared at the Tattoo prior to the formation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland:

In addition, there were also the pipes and drums of the Scots Guards, Irish Guards, Royal Gurkha Rifles, Scottish Officers Training Corps, South African Irish Regiment, the Rats of Tobruk and the City of Wellington pipe band. The largest ever gathering of massed pipes and drums was for the 50th anniversary tattoo in 2000 when there were 15 bands on parade, including 7 of the eight Scottish regiments. Throughout the period of the Tattoo, the performers are accommodated at the city's Redford Cavalry Barracks, with the parade square used for rehearsals.


Producers of the Edinburgh Tattoo have included:

  • Lt Col George Malcolm of Poltalloch – Produced a pageant on the Castle Esplanade in 1947 entitled "The King's Men" and produced the first Edinburgh Tattoo in 1950.
  • Captain Forbes Taylor - Produced the 1952 Tattoo. As a professional film director, Captain Forbes Taylor provided the experience upon which the format for subsequent Tattoos were set and included the first overseas performers.
  • Brigadier Alistair MacLean of Pennycross – Director of the Tattoo from 1950, he took over as the Producer in 1953.
  • Lt Col Duncan Carter-Campbell of Possil - Served with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and took over in 1960.
  • Brigadier Jack Sanderson – Former Scots Guards officer, he took over in 1968.
  • Lt Col Leslie Dow – Served with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and became producer in 1976.
  • Major Michael Parker – Producer of the Royal Tournament (1974–99), the Berlin Tattoo as well as the VE & VJ Day commemorations in 1995. Producer of the Tattoo from 1992-4
  • Brigadier Melville Jameson – Served with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and former commander of the Highland Brigade. Producer of the Tattoo from 1994-2006.
  • Major-General Euan Loudon - Served with the Royal Highland Fusiliers and former GOC 2nd Division and Governor of Edinburgh Castle. Took over the producer's post in 2007.
  • Brigadier David Allfrey MBE - Served with The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Current producer after taking over Maj-Gen Louden in 2011

Source: Roddy Martine – Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2001

See also


External links