THE five finalists for the role of town crier for Chester-le-Street faced the acid test last Friday, when they stood before a crowd of shoppers in full town crier regalia to shout a five minute proclamation.

The competitors battled to hold the attention of the crowd which had gathered next to the town's market in the rain, and read from a script handed to them an hour earlier.

One of the judges, Alex Nelson, from the town traders' association which set up the contest, said they were not just looking for someone who could shout loudly.

He said: "The ability to do the crying is much more important than previous job history so we have presented them in front of the public. And it's not just about a loud voice. If you're just shouting people don't react. They need an arresting voice to get people to stop whatever they're doing."

Marjorie Dodds, who was picked for the post, is a retired school teacher from Newcastle. She said: "It's good to have someone promote thing sand there's a lot of tradition involved, so I thought, 'why not?'"

The other finalists were;

James Henry Race, 79, from Houghton-le-Spring. A keen amateur dramatics fan, he lists his skills as hypnotism, stand-up comedy, "psychological magic" and playing the banjo. James, a retired manager of a store in Team Valley, Gateshead, said he applied because: "All the world's a stage and the people are all the players - and this might be the last part I audition for."

Lawrence Jones, from Durham City, has spent 45 years in amateur dramatics and 10 years performing in character at the medieval banquets at Lumley Castle, near Chester-le-Street. Mr Jones currently works as a maths lecturer at New College in Durham, but will be retiring at Christmas. He said:"It was my wife who saw this advertised in the paper and thought this was the job for me."

Jim Chambers, 58, from Rickleton, Washington, was given expert tuition by one of his friend's Joe David, the Queen's personal town crier and Yeoman of the Guard at the Tower of London. Mr Chambers, a charity worker who formerly worked for the RAC, said: "You can't practice this, because people would think you were a nutcase if you just started shouting."

William Martin, from Newcastle, took a break from his working day as a marketing officer for Chester-le-Street District Council to enter the contest. Mr Martin has had practice for the role, having worked as a market trader. He said: "I worked on the market for 33 years shouting my wares, so I have no difficulty at all in using my voice.