United Kingdom

Town Crier Championships will be held in complete SILENCE this year for the first time in history

In a contest involving the nation's finest town criers, you would normally expect an ear-shattering shouting match. And a fair bit of bell-ringing, too.

But for the first time in its history, the British Town Crier Championships will be held in complete silence this year and judged on written submissions only.

The Loyal Company of Town Criers, which hosts the contest, has received hundreds of entries but the competitors cannot gather due to social distancing measures.

It was initially hoped they could submit their cries on video. But members experienced difficulties submitting recordings up to the necessary standard so organisers have decided to rely on written entries only.

For the first time in its history, the British Town Crier Championships (pictured) will be held in complete silence this year and judged on written submissions only

Organiser Carole Williams, a crier from Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, said it was 'a return to the bare bones of crying'. She added: '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.'

The championships were cancelled last year due to the pandemic. They were last held in Darlington in 2019. 

Judges usually look at three distinct parts of a cry – sustained volume and clarity, diction and inflection, and content. But this year they will focus only on the content, which must not deviate from the chosen theme of nature and the environment.

Alistair Chisholm, the crier for Dorchester, Dorset, and a ten-time and current national champion, described crying as 'an extreme sport'. He told the BBC the quality of the written cries was important but the contest would not be the same without sound.

The Loyal Company of Town Criers, which hosts the contest, has received hundreds of entries but the competitors cannot gather due to social distancing measures

'When you write a cry you write it for you,' he said. 'You put in your own expression on to 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'.

Judges for the championships include a former royal pageant master, an English teacher and poet Ian McMillan, known as the Bard of Barnsley. They will look for adherence to the theme, clarity and whether the text moves them emotionally.

Eliza Watson, the crier for Barnoldswick in Lancashire, said this year's format could shake up the competition. She explained that those 'who are not naturally as loud or as experienced tend to miss out on winning' but it 'might be the year of an outsider'.

The contest is in aid of the mental health charity Shout. Entries have closed and a winner will be announced next month. 

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 told the BBC 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'.

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.

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

She told the BBC: '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 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.

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