“I thought it was a hoax” says Bedfringe founder on news of his MBE


The founder of Bedford’s annual fringe festival has been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List – but thought he’d been pranked when he first received the official email.

James Pharaoh, director of the Quarry Theatre at Bedford School, set up Bedfringe in 2007 with the aim of bringing the experience of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to his hometown.

15 years later, he has been recognised for his contribution to the performing arts and to the Bedford community.

“No one was more surprised than me when I received the email from the Cabinet Office in early December,” James told the Bedford Independent.

“While it is traditional to get a letter on headed notepaper, because of the postal strikes this year nominees were being contacted by email. I honestly thought it was a hoax, so much so that I asked the IT department at Bedford School to verify the email address before contacting the cabinet office myself.”

The New Year Honours List 2023 marks the public service of individuals from across the UK and recipients have been awarded for their outstanding contributions across areas including sustained public service, youth engagement and community work.

James said the announcement was particularly poignant, as it marks 20 years since he began working for the Harpur Trust at Bedford School.

Quarry Theatre
James is the director of The Quarry Theatre at St. Luke’s

“My job has allowed me to bring so many fantastic shows to the town, largely found during my 15 visits to the Edinburgh Fringe, a place where I have found so many outstanding pieces of theatre, dance and comedy as well as making a number of professional contacts and friends.”

James said his highlights include Alvin Sputnik Deep Sea Explorer and Peepolykus: Let The Donkey Go, of which he says, “you may have to Google these!”

After visiting the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005 and 2006, James hatched a plan to bring a bit of the Fringe experience to Bedford.

With his good friend, Richard Mann and alongside Sandra Dudley of Art’icle magazine, they launched the first Bedfringe in 2007 and the rest is history.

Each July, James and the Bedfringe team bring some of the best acts to venues in Bedford and audience numbers have continued to grow.

Fi Fowler and James Pharaoh

“Obviously something like Bedfringe does not continue to run annually on its own so thanks need to go to my great friend and work colleague Fi Fowler and Lily Hannant who is the social media voice of the festival. They also need money and services so thanks also go out to sponsors old and new,” said James.

“Theatre has always been my passion and as a Bedfordian through and through I am honoured to bring the thing that I love to the people of my town. Many thanks to those who nominated me and I look forward to visiting St James’s Palace in early 2023 to receive this incredible honour.”

Other recipients from Bedford include Betsey Lau-Robinson of University College London Hospital Trust for services to patient safeguarding, and Dr Ramesh Mehta OBE, President of the British Association of Physicans of Indian Origin. He receives a CBE for services to equality, diversity and inclusion.