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Oyez! So who's the big mouth, then?

PUBLISHED: 07:02 26 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:05 22 October 2010

Defending champion Robert Needham, of Colchester.

Defending champion Robert Needham, of Colchester.

RICHARD BATSON

Voices boomed, bells clanged, and feather-trimmed hats fluttered in the seaside breeze as town criers battled to be the best in Europe.

Voices boomed, bells clanged, and feather-trimmed hats fluttered in the seaside breeze as town criers battled to be the best in Europe.

Visitors to Cromer did a double take as they found 50 men and women, dressed in their traditional finery, shouting their heads off by a seafront boating lake.

Competitors from all corners of the country, as well as Belgium and Holland, took the stand three times for a variety of cries, under the gaze of judges looking for loud clear voices with good diction and expression.

Some were portly, bewhiskered men beyond their middle years in military-style red tunics and tri-corn hats.

But there were other shapes and sizes, along with foreign criers using gongs and wooden clappers instead of a bell, and wearing costumes more akin to peasants and policemen.

The European crown was taken by Belgian lock-keeper Hans Van Laethen from Ninove, adding it to his world champion title.

His wife Betty, who runs a pub called the Belleman - the local name for a town crier - took the best dressed escort award.

Defending European title holder Robert Needham, from Colchester, who is a council CCTV manager by day, felt enthusiasm and humour were important. With half an eye on another international showdown happening in Germany, he pulled on his lucky England underpants over his breeches as the results were announced just after 4pm yesterday afternoon.

Among the half-dozen women contenders was Ros Charlton Chard, from Hatherleigh in Devon, who was measured to have the loudest female voice at last year's world championships at 98.3 decibels - slightly higher than a pneumatic drill's 95.

"I was asked to do the job by the local lord of the manor, because I have always had a good set of bellows" said Ros, who has a faithful sidekick, Millie the terrier, with a matching uniform.

At 32, Liz Woolnough from Barnoldswick in Lancashire, was one of the youngest criers, having started when she was 29.

The weekend began with an official welcome from host crier Jason Bell.

During the weekend the contestants did three cries - about their home town, the lifeboats of Cromer and another "freestyle" one of their choice.

Runner-up was Ken Brightwell of Cheltenham, with Kevin Griffiths from Skipton in Yorkshire third, and Klaus Koper from Zandvoort in the Netherlands fourth. In the "best-dressed" section the top crier was Trevor Heeks, from Trowbridge, with Willy and Anita van Putte from Gent in Belgium the best couple.


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