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Edinburgh TV fest diary: Mel, Sue and Gary Neville too

Jason Stone, editor of David Reviews and The Drum's televison expert, reports from behind the scenes at this year's Edinburgh International TV Festival.

"Is the bar open?" asked a Scottish journalist in the queue in front of me as I waited to pick up my credentials for the 2013 TV Festival.

The new Miranda Hart: Gary Neville

His female colleague laughed.

"No, really," he added in his best 'I'm not fucking kidding' voice.

"Oh," she said, taken aback, "I expect so."

It was a quarter past noon. The tone for Edinburgh 2013 had been set.

The TV festival traditionally gets underway with a bit of fun and - in theory - this was provided by a special edition of the Great British Bake-Off with TV executives competing against one another.

As I slipped into the Pentland Suite - the largest of the rooms available at Edinburgh's International Conference Centre - to join those watching the session, I heard either Sue Perkins or Mel Giedroyc announce: "What this demonstrates is the value of editing."

It raised a knowing laugh from an audience drawn from the television industry... but it wasn't really a joke. She - and whichever of Mel & Sue she wasn't - tried gamely to wrench some crumbs of comedy from a mirthless situation as the four contestants set out to prove they know their way around a baking tin. But without an editor to excise the lengthy periods of inaction, the fare was as dry as a long-forgotten sponge cake.

Luckily the audience was straining to laugh at anything it could and the poverty of the entertainment went largely unnoticed.

The highlight came when Mel or Sue spotted an audience member in the front row who had fallen asleep... drawing attention to this was a good deal more entertaining than the antics that had provoked the slumber.

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry were met with a huge roar of approval as they stepped into the breach to judge the TV executives' efforts - possibly because it signified that the end was nigh - and were pleased to announce a home win: the woman representing the BBC won the contest. Three cheers for Gryffindor.

When the festival programme was published a few months ago, one seminar stood out like a sturdily built, six-foot woman with her skirt inadvertently tucked in her knickers - Miranda Hart would be revealing the secret of her success. But arriving yesterday, I discovered that fans of galumphing comediennes were facing disappointment... she wasn't coming after all.

So who had the festival organisers invited instead? Football pundit Gary Neville... obviously.

Surprisingly, Neville's inside track of life under the watchful eye of Alex Ferguson during his lengthy career at Old Trafford proved to be the highlight of the day... for 10-year-old Manchester United fans.

Luckily for Neville and the fawning colleague who interviewed him, the room was full of 10 year old Manchester United fans. Admittedly, they were disguised as media professionals complete with unkempt facial hair partially covering the wan complexion of those for whom the laptop screen has replaced the sun as the main source of radiation... but when faced with one of the heroes of their youth, they were transformed into 10-year-old Manchester United fans.

After 45 minutes of listening to Neville's attempt on the world record for words spoken in an undeviating monotone, the adoring fans were offered the chance to put questions to him. These can be summarised thus (for authenticity, imagine a voice with the first creakings of puberty): "I think you're really great and I just wanted to say that I think you're really great... what's it like to be really great?"

(to be continued)

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