Obsessions: Beadle's about: The UK's mightiest mouths will gather in Lincolnshire on Easter Monday. Siobhan Dolan previews the crying game

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The Independent Culture
Crowd control, diction, inflection, sustained volume and clarity are some of the qualities being scrutinised at the Town Criers' Championship in Alford, Lincolnshire on Easter Monday.

The premiere event on the circuit features competitors, resplendent in traditional garb and bearing scroll and bell, in a gruelling test of confidence.

Ted Davy, local town crier, toastmaster and beadle, is hosting the event and will ensure that each competitor performs the compulsory cries. 'It's broken down into four sections,' he explains. 'You do your own town cry, so that you can promote your area. Then you do a sponsored cry. After that you do requests. If you get through to the finals you do a themed cry about the town you're in.'

The proclamations must start with 'Oh Yea' (derived from the Flemish word meaning 'Shut up and listen') and conclude with 'God save the Queen'. Correct use of your bell is crucial. 'You have to carry a scroll,' Davy says, 'because the judges want to see how you hold and ring the bell, open a scroll, make the proclamation, put the scroll away and make a dignified exit.'

The thrill of performing is at the root of Davy's enthusiasm. 'I was a professional wrestler and was in showbusiness,' he says. 'Town crying conjures up the smell of the greasepaint. You're walking the boards again.'

Davy has become a local celebrity and, together with his wife Mary as escort, has generated considerable publicity. 'I remember, a few years ago, one of the town councillors in Alford said to me, 'In years to come, with all these photos of you, Mr Davy, people will think you're Lord Alford.' I said, 'Ma'am, when I've got this rig-out on, I am'.'

A career in town crying has not always been the preserve of retired gentlefolk. Davy points to the career's notoriety in bygone days. 'Originally a town crier's job was a hated occupation, because he was a steward for the lord of the manor. He'd collect rents and evict tenants. He was paid two guineas a year to administer floggings.'

Even now there is a town crier in Germany who is still a tax gatherer. When he goes out, he is accompanied by two armed escorts. 'When he came to the world championships they let him land in England,' remembers Davy, 'but his escorts were sent back because they had weapons with them.'

There will be no guns at this year's event although Davy admits 'there's a lot of needle'. One of his functions is to ensure that the rivalry remains under control. 'You'll get criers who won't talk to anybody. They'll sit in a corner gargling with soluble aspirin, spraying their throats and pulling faces at the other criers when they're on.'

He admits that he has dabbled in light-hearted gamesmanship himself. 'I like to make faces at Mr Booth from Scarborough because he has a deep, dark voice and perfect diction. He always wins and I usually come third.'

The highlight of this year's contest promises to be a duel at noon between 'Mighty Mouth' Alan Myatt of Gloucester and 'Roaring' Roger Merrett from Lincoln: both claim to have the loudest cry. A decibel meter is on stand-by.

As well as overseeing the competition, Davy will also conduct wedding blessings, supervise ale- tastings and make a proclamation on Saturday to mark the reopening of a watermill.

But for how much longer will he pull on his 1750s coachman's outfit, grab his bell and brave the hecklers at Skegness on bank holidays. 'I shall carry on doing it until I realise I'm a silly old man who can't make himself heard any more. '

Town Criers' Championship, Easter Monday from 10am around Alford, Lincs (0507 466063)

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