Covid: UK town crier championships to be held in silence

By Ben Moore
BBC South

Published
image copyrightThe Loyal Company of Town Criers
image captionThe British Championships usually take place in public in a host town with up to 100 criers taking part

For the first time in its history, this year's British Town Crier Championships is being held in complete silence.

As the country starts to exit lockdown, the UK's top professional shouters will be judged on their written cries alone.

The Loyal Company of Town Criers, which hosts the competition, has received hundreds of entries from across the country.

Organiser and Bishops Stortford crier Carole Williams said it was "a return to the bare bones of crying".

"It's a real skill to write a cry that sticks to the theme, that enlightens people, and doesn't bore the audience. And it all has to be done in 140 words," she said.

Organisers decided to judge the 2021 competition without sound because not everyone is able to record a good-quality video, she added.

image copyrightThe Loyal Company of Town Criers
image captionCarole Williams is a member of the Loyal Company of Town Criers

The championships were cancelled last year due to the pandemic, and were last held in public in Darlington in 2019.

Ms Williams said judges usually looked at three distinct parts of a cry, sustained volume and clarity, diction and inflection, and content.

This year, the competition will only look at content, which must not deviate from the chosen theme of "nature and the environment".

Dorchester's crier, Alistair Chisholm, is a 10-time and current national champion who describes crying as "an extreme sport".

He said the quality of the written cries was important, but the competition would not be the same without sound.

"When you write a cry you write it for you," he said. "You put in your own expression onto the page for your voice alone."

He added that he tried crying in a face mask during lockdown, but "they make it come out all muffly".

image copyrightThe Loyal Company of Town Criers
image captionCriers Alistair Chisholm (left) and Elizabeth Anderson-Watson will be taking part in this year's competition

Judges for the 2021 championships include a former Royal pageant master, an English teacher, and acclaimed poet Ian McMillan, known as the Bard of Barnsley.

They will be looking for adherence to the theme, clarity and whether the text moves them emotionally.

What are town criers?

  • The role dates back to the Norman invasion: two bellmen appear in the Bayeux Tapestry
  • Their job was to tell townspeople the latest news, proclamations and bylaws, while ringing a large handbell
  • They were protected by law, as they spoke in the name of the monarch
  • Their traditional cry is "Oyez!", which comes from the French to listen and means "Hear ye"
  • Their cry always ends "God save the Queen!"

Source: The Loyal Company of Town Criers

Elizabeth Anderson-Watson is the crier for Barnoldswick in Lancashire, as well as the current Ancient and Honourable Guild European Champion, and thinks this year's unusual format could shake up the competition.

She said: "Usually those criers who are not naturally as loud or as experienced tend to miss out on winning, but this year there's a feeling it's a real level field - it might the year of an outsider."

Ms Anderson-Watson said the UK's town criers hoped to return to normal as soon as they can. "We are loud, proud and we are still here," she added.

"Lockdown has been a very weird time for criers who are used to spending time on the road. People are really missing each other on the town crier circuit."

This year's championships are in aid of mental health charity Shout, which allows people at risk of abuse to seek help via text message.

The winner will be announced during Mental Health Awareness week in May.

image copyrightThe Loyal Company of Town Criers
image captionThe traditional profession traces its origins to the 11th Century

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