Stars including Alan Bennett and Courtney Pine help Holt Festival smash ticket sales record

Ticket sales records were smashed as audiences lapped up a town festival that is fast becoming a fixture in events diaries.

The director of Holt Festival reported a 50pc increase, fuelled by hunger to see a mixture of headline acts and eclectic entertainers.

Delaval Astley said he was 'really pleased' with how the week-long event had gone, and said he was 'already thinking about' next year's festival - which will be the fifth.

He said: 'It has grown again substantially from last year. We did 80pc ticket sales, which means audiences totalling 6,740, plus 1,500 watching the street entertainment and I don't know how many in the tent.'

The festival began with the show Dickens' Women, from much-loved TV and film actress Miriam Margolyes, setting the tone for a week that combined a wide range of arts and activities for all ages and all tastes.

Other highlights included the celebrated writer Alan Bennett, the punk poet John Cooper Clarke and the musician Beth Jeans Houghton.

Innovations for this year were the Foolhardy Circus Big Top, featuring demonstrations of spectacular circus skills, and the surrounding festival field, the site for much of the festival's free entertainment.

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The field played host to talent including Rob Roy Collins, escapologist extraordinaire and contortionist Lisa Lottie alongside the more traditional entertainment of Maynard Flip Flap and Razz and Pearl.

The inaugural Holt Festival Art Prize was presented to Katherine Hamilton by film legend John Hurt for her beautiful painting A Temple in Southern Burma.

The week was rounded off with a concert by British jazz star Courtney Pine, who performed at the farewell concert in the Theatre in the Woods on Saturday.

Mr Astley said: 'The festival has certainly become a fixture now. It is wonderful to see the way that everybody has embraced it and got involved with it.

'More and more people each year want to be part of it and volunteer to help with the festival.'

He added: 'The outstanding thing this year was that it was an incredibly diverse programme and everything was of the highest standard.

'A particular performance might not have been to someone's taste, but they could not say that it was anything other than excellent.'