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Town crier auditions: It's an Oyez for Phil from me! - with videos

By Mark Andrews | Oswestry | News | Published:

Oyez, oyez, oyez. We bring you news from the ancient market town from Oswestry, so lend us your ears.

Challengers: Shropshire Star reporter Mark Andrews, left, and Phil Brown

The town council is looking for a new town crier – and there are two main candidates in the frame.

Hot favourite is Phil Brown. A member of two choirs in Oswestry, as well as something of an am-dram veteran, the 70-year-old retired medical rep is a natural-born performer.

And his rival? Shropshire Star reporter Mark Andrews.

Oswestry hosts town crier auditions

The new post is being created by Oswestry Town Council to promote what the town has to offer.

And this week the council held an X Factor style audition for the role, with the two main candidates first being interviewed by a panel of councillors and officials, before later being asked to perform a cry in front of shoppers and visitors.

Watch our man Mark Andrew's audition:

Oswestry town crier interviews: Applicant, Mark Andrews, auditions for role

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Now watch Phil Brown give it his all:

Oswestry town crier interviews: Applicant, Phil Brown, auditions for role

The council's markets and events manager David Clough said the role would be a very public ambassador for Oswestry.

“Not only would events and information be publicised but a town crier has the ability to improve the visitor experience to the town,” said Mr Clough, adding that Oswestry had not had a town crier since the 1980s.

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Phil said he decided to apply for the role after being encouraged by his fellow choir members, who said he had the personality and loud voice to perform the role.

"I am a member of the Orthopaedic Male Voice Choir, and also a choir called Os Rocks," he revealed while sat in the Guildhall foyer awaiting his interview.

"In the Os Rocks choir we did Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody, and just as a bit of fun I shouted 'It's Christmas!' like Noddy Holder during one of the rehearsals.

"They said 'you've got to leave that in', so I did it in all of our performances.

"Somebody said 'they're looking for a town crier, why don't you put in for it?'."

Their fate awaits – Phil Brown and Mark Andrews make their way from the Guildhall to deliver their cries

He said his 40 years working as a rep in the medical industry had given him a good grounding in interacting with people, and he has also been involved with amateur dramatics and appeared in pantomime.

"I love making up a character and bringing it to life, and creating something original. I'm a bit of a show-off really."

Mark, 45, is from the Black Country but considers himself an adopted Salopian after moving to the Shropshire Star.

He used his audition to tell the people of Oswestry how important the town was, with a rich history and vibrant economy.

Mark said: "It was a little frightening and plenty of people stopped to watch. My cry was rounded off by a round of applause, which was nice, although I'm not sure if people were congratulating me or just feeling sorry for me."

The professional – Bridgnorth town crier John James shows Mark and Phil how it should be done

Lending his support to the candidates was Bridgnorth town crier John James, who introduced the candidates to the assembled crowds as they delivered their cry.

The retired teacher has been in his post for the past 22 years, and said the thing he enjoyed most was meeting different people.

What are his tips on the attributes a good town crier needs?

"You need a loud voice, a personality, and be good at getting on with people," he said.

Like Phil, he is no stranger to the limelight, having performed with Bridgnorth Operatic Society.

"I have been on the stage all my life," he said. "I like showing off and meeting people, I love doing that."

The cry’s the limit for our man Mark

The mayor fixes me in a steely gaze, writes Mark Andrews. “Is this the strangest thing you have done to get a story?” she asks, looking slightly curious.

Hmm. Not sure. Probably best not to mention the gurning contest, running through a speed camera to see if I could set it off, or morris dancing on Sedgley Beacon at four in the morning.

According to the job description, the role of Oswestry town crier is to be a good ambassador the town.

“You are required to be clean, smart, sober, polite and jovial,” I am advised.

He's a natural ­– Mark Andrews auditions to be Oswestry town crier

Well, I haven’t had a drink since last night, and I’ve just driven from our office in Telford. So I think I qualify for at least one of the criteria.

Sat in front of a judging panel made up of mayor Sandy Best, her two predecessors, the town clerk and the town centre manager, I now know how the contestants on X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent feel, as I nervously deliver a long rambling monologue .

“I think I am a good communicator,” I tell the panel, not as convincingly as I would have liked. “I think I am friendly and approachable.”

Some people say I have a bit of a Black Country accent, but I cor see it meself.

It doesn’t help that my opponent is so good. Phil Brown is an experienced choir member, amateur thespian, pantomime performer, and he shouted “It’s Christmas!” like Noddy Holder while performing a Slade song. On the other hand, I used to be president of Wolverhampton Speakers’ Club. Eighteen years ago.

Phil Brown delivers his cry to the people of Oswestry

As part of his research, Phil tells me he watched videos of other town criers on YouTube, and met up with Chester’s town crier David Mitchell for advice. Pulling a torn piece of paper out of my pocket, I concede my preparations haven’t been quite so fastidious.

And its off to the lion’s den. Like a Roman gladiatorial procession, we make our way through the town from the guildhall to The Cross. But while I might be a little nervous about the prospect of making a fool of myself, it is hard not to be touched by the warm reception from people wishing us well. I could get used to this.

First to be summoned to the podium by master of ceremonies, Bridgnorth town crier John James, I rattle my bell with relish.

“Oyez, oyez, oyez!” I bellow as loud as I possibly can, before momentarily losing my voice.

Delivering my ode to all that is great about Oswestry, its rich history, its vibrant market, its excellent brewery – don’t forget the brewery – I am amazed how well it goes. The town grinds to a standstill, people seem to be hanging on my every word.

Until it’s Phil’s turn. Theatrically he paces around the square, flamboyantly ringing the bell before climbing up the steps.

Imperiously, he hands the bell to John, who looks to have been caught off guard. This guy’s got presence.

The crowd is mesmerised as he shouts his carefully prepared rhyme to the skies. He sings God Save The Queen at the end of his speech. He’s left nothing on the pitch, as a football commentator might say.

The applause is rapturous, and I realise I am among those leading the applause.

Oh, well, better get back to the day job and write it up.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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