Election Section

Town criers belt out their best in competition

By Catherine Lucey, The Associated Press
Saturday July 06, 2002

PHILADELPHIA — Bellowing out “Oyez! Oyez!” and “hear ye, hear ye,” town criers from the United States and Canada unfurled their ornate scrolls Friday in the North American Town Criers Competition. 

“Come one, come all, come hear my call. My message’s clear, for every year,” boomed Bruce Bedell, of London, Canada. 

Dressed in Revolutionary War-era garb — brocade waistcoats, knee-britches and velvet jackets with lace frills at the neck and wrists — about 20 criers clanged their bells through three rounds of competition. 

The first call was a greeting, a rhyming cry of no more than 125 words delivered in rolling, singsong voice. The middle cry was a response to the Declaration of Independence and the last a thank you. 

“The biggest thing is you want people to remember what you said and they remember it if it’s humorous,” said defending 2000 champion Chris Whyman, 41, of Kingston, Ontario. 

A panel of six judges ranked criers on sustained volume, deportment, content and the use of the attention-getting devices, like bells. 

First-place honors went to John Webster of Markham, Ontario, who has previously won three world trophies in the Bermuda International Competition. 

Criers say the job dates back to ancient Greece, but Friday’s display was closer to 1700s criers who delivered news to townspeople, many of whom were illiterate. 

“Town criers are basically what newscasters are today,” said host Rich LaLena, 45, wearing a gold waistcoat and dark, three-cornered hat. “The only difference is we don’t do that editorializing.”