Oyez, Oyez, Oyez: Town crier hangs up his hat after 35 years.
PUBLISHED: 16:48 24 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:08 24 March 2019
When aptly-named Cromer town crier Jason Bell first stepped into the role 35 years ago, he expected to be called on once a year to support the town’s summer carnival.
But his appearance was such a success that the town council decided to make the position official and now, three-and-a-half decades and thousands of appearances later, he has decided to hang up his feathered hat and bell for the final time.
Born in Beccles, Suffolk, Mr Bell moved to Norwich as a youngster and, after leaving Paston Grammar School, joined Barclays Bank as a security clerk.
He moved with the bank to Cromer in 1969 and quickly threw himself into community life, joining Cromer Chamber of Trade, helping found the town’s Christmas lights committee and joining the newly-revived Cromer Carnival Association within a few months of settling in the town.
After organisers decided to hold a competition to find a town crier for the annual event in 1982, Mr Bell entered “for a bit of fun” and won.
“It was intended just to be for carnival week, but I offered to stay and went on to perform my first official function – opening Cromer Country Club – in 1985,” he remembered.
Requests for appearances soon followed, with Mr Bell ‘crying’ at events ranging from football matches and fun runs, to festivals, shop openings and council celebrations almost every week.
He entered his first town crier competition in Hastings in 1987 – when he was up against 67 other criers – and went on to take part in more than 100 similar events all over the country, winning numerous trophies, reaching the semi-finals of the World Town Crier Championships in 1991 and, with his wife Ann, winning several ‘best-dressed’ town crier prizes.
A former town councillor and a keen singer and actor, Mr Bell is also a past president of the now defunct Sheringham Savoyards and has appeared in productions at Sheringham Little Theatre, and on Cromer Pier with Cromer and Sheringham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.
He will be carrying out his final town crier duties during carnival fortnight in August and said that although he would miss the role, he was looking forward to having more free time.
“I’ve always been incredibly proud to represent Cromer, but I felt that, after 35 years, the time was right for someone else to take over,” he added.
Town crier qualities: “Confidence, a loud voice and a commitment to the town.”
Mr Bell will be helping choose a new town crier at a competition due to take place as part of the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers championships, which will be held at Cromer on May 18.
Qualities his successor will need are confidence, a clear, distinct and loud voice and a commitment to the town.
“You need to be prepared to appear outside whatever the weather and you have to be quite extrovert and be happy to perform in front of others, no matter what reaction you might get – from dogs, to people worse the wear for drink,” Mr Bell said.
Anyone interested in entering the competition to become Cromer’s next town crier can phone the town council on 01263 512254 or email email@example.com
Interviews will be held in April, with shortlisted applicants invited to demonstrate their crying skills in front of a panel of judges during the Guild championships in May.
Town criers in history: facts and figures
David Squire, who has clocked up 60 years as town crier of Poole, in Dorset, is the longest-serving town crier in the world.
Gloucester town crier Alan Myatt set two Guinness World Records. He was named the world’s loudest town crier after hitting 112.8 decibels – louder than a Boeing 707 aircraft or a helicopter. He also set the record for vocal endurance after issuing a 100-word proclamation every 15 minutes for 48 hours.
The traditional shout of “Oyez” comes from the Anglo-Norman word for listen and is a call for silence meaning “hear ye”.
In medieval times, the town crier, or bellman, was the equivalent of the local newspaper - telling people about bylaws, tax increases, public hangings and royal proclamations, and even advertising the wares of local traders.
After reading out a notice, the town crier would attach it to the post of a local inn. This tradition is why many newspapers are called The Post and probably gave rise to the term Facebook or blog ‘post’.
A group of town criers is known as a ‘bellow’ of criers