A town or city having its own town cryer is an ancient British tradition which goes back centuries and is loved by millions of peope - so no doubt the EU will soon try to ban this "outdated" custom, with anyone caught working as a town cryer jailed for 6 months and fined 12,000.

In Medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the people of the town since many could not read or write. Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier throughout the centuries.

Criers often dress elaborately, by a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold robe, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat.

Today, though, the duties of the town cryer are mostly ceremonial - and people love them. After being on the decline for a while, today the number of town cryers in Britain is increasing again.

The town of Hastings, East Sussex, has just held the National Town Cryer Championships....

Town criers compete to be best in Britain

Standing before a throng of busy shoppers, John Bartholomew, the town crier of Hastings, adjusted the angle of his tricorne hat, cleared his throat and almost cleared the streets.

By William Langley in Hastings
19 Oct 2008
The Telegraph

Competitors rehearse their lines one last time in Hastings, East Sussex Photo: DAVID ROSE

The noise generated by an accomplished crier can reach 120 decibels – roughly what you hear when a fighter jet takes off, or from the front row of a Twisted Sister concert.

And this was merely the introduction to the National Town Crier Championship, held in the East Sussex town. In what we like to think of the communications age, the crier might seem like a relic of the past, but for the boys in buckles and knee breeches, business is – literally – booming.

Peter Moore, the Town Crier to The Mayor of London, The City of Westminster, and London Boroughs, and also Freeman and Liveryman of The City of London.

Unfortunately, it isn't enough only to be loud. Contestants are also judged on their diction, clarity, inflection, and standard of dress. "You have to be understood as well as heard," said Mr Bartholomew, a former serviceman who gets 600-a year for his efforts. "You have to know how to seize people's attention. It's the whole package."

Hundreds of towns throughout Britain have retained their criers for ceremonial reasons, but the criers' numbers are growing again, and with the revival has come an upsurge in competition. Most of the country's top performers were out in Hastings yesterday.

A valid, competition-grade cry must begin with the traditional "Oyez, oyez, oyez!" – thought to be a corruption of the French ecoutez (listen) – and end with the National Anthem. Most criers further preface their announcements with a peal on a hand bell, although horns, trumpets and even rattles are permitted.

Loud? Lampposts bent and children fled in terror as Michael Wood, 54, a mustachioed three-time world champion from East Yorkshire, resplendent in a Dick Turpinesque outfit of emerald velvet, opened up with a message of greetings from his home region. It was so deafening you wondered why he needed to make the trip. "It's a good life," he said. "I get a firkin of ale a year from the council, and you're always first in the buffet queue. I do it pretty much full time – ceremonies, functions, TV work."

Criers strive to develop a distinct style of delivery. Frankly, it doesn't always work. Hoarse-voiced Iain Mitchell, from Ferndale, Dorset, struck me as a trier rather than a crier, while John Papworth, of Kelvedon, Essex, clearly short on puff, was more of a town sigher.

Welcome relief came in the striking form of 75-year-old Doris Eastwood, a former Fleet Street landlady, whose long, thankless years of yelling at hard-drinking newspapermen to go home, gave her a taste for making public proclamations.

"I thought I'd be good at it," she said, "so when I left the pub, I applied for this job in Weymouth, and it's been a wonderful life. You meet all kinds of people, and all the history is fascinating."

In medieval Britain, criers were the nation's newscasters. Dispatches from foreign wars, by-laws, judicial rulings, important proclamations, even advertisements, were issued forth by men whose status was soon indicated by the fine livery they wore, and, the unique royal protection they enjoyed.

It was a part of the crier's job to deliver bad news such as tax rises, and the closing of bawdy houses, and to this day it remains an offence to "hinder or heckle" a town crier as he goes about his business.

"It's not all ceremonial," Mr Bartholomew said. "When the Queen Mother died, I went out on the streets and announced it. People were coming home from work, and they hadn't heard, and it seemed a rather nice and appropriate way of letting them know."

The criers say they aren't surprised that more people are taking up the ancient trade.

"There are no ranks and hierarchies," Mr Bartholomew said.

Perhaps because everyone's a big noise.