IF Peter Stemmer has one complaint about his adopted home town, it’s that it doesn’t shout about itself enough.

Well, that’s all about to change when Darlington stages the Loyal Company of Town Criers British Championships.

Fifteen of the UK’s best Town Criers (a bellows is the official collective noun) will go into battle this Saturday, with Peter – Darlington’s Town Crier for the past 11 years – acting as master of ceremonies.

“It’s a great chance to showcase Darlington,” says the genial grandad and father-of-two. “We have a town to be proud of, but we just don’t shout about it enough.”

He recalls visiting Banbury and being impressed by the way the Oxfordshire town capitalises on its own claim to fame: “Banbury gave the world a nursery rhyme and it has cock horses all over the place,” he points out. “Darlington gave the world the railways but there’s not enough to show for it.”

He didn’t know it at the time, but Peter had the perfect training to be a town crier when he spent 22 years in the Army, rising to Sergeant Major in the Royal Corps of Signals.

“As a young Sergeant Major, I was told that delivering a powerful message comes from the stomach – you’ve got to inflate the diaphragm – and that advice has stood me in good stead,” he says.

When he left the Army, he had a 25-year career in retail, including being an area manager for Bells Stores, and ending up running Mowden Post Office in Darlington.

He saw an advert in The Northern Echo, seeking candidates for the voluntary role of Town Crier, and he went for an audition in front of a panel of nine, including the Mayor of Darlington, Ian Hazeldine, and the Town Crier of Chester-le-Street, Marjorie Dodds.

Darlington hadn’t had a Town Crier since John Donnison died in office in 1891, and Peter thought he was in with a good shout when he saw the reaction to his trial run.

“The audition was in the Queen Street shopping centre so the acoustics were great and the sound was bouncing off the walls,” he recalls. “They gave me a bell and, as soon as I started with my loudest “Oyez”, people were coming out of shops to watch.”

Peter, who grew up near Warrington, got the job and his first public duty was to announce the Markets Spectacular event on the morning after the devastating fire at the King’s Head Hotel on August 15, 2008.

“I woke up at 6am to hear the news on the radio. The fire brigade were still damping down but the event went ahead despite the disruption,” he says. “Since then, it’s been 11 years of great fun. I’ve visited great places and met some wonderful people.”

Wife Marilyn has also entered into the spirit, dressing up in Victorian costume and accompanying Peter on his travels. Sometimes, children mistake him for a pirate, and he was once heckled by a dog during a contest in Blackpool, but he insists it’s “the best job in the world”.

As the host Town Crier, he’s not allowed to compete in Saturday’s championships, but he’ll cast a critical eye over the contestants.

“They’ll be judged on their ability to hold an audience, their diction and inflection,” he explains. “It’s not just about being the loudest, it’s about being the clearest, as well as being friendly and approachable.”

In 2014, Peter was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to the Post Office and the community of Darlington, and at 68, he has no plans to hang up his bell.

“As long as people think I can add value and bring a sense of occasion, I’ll be there.”  

The British Town Crier Championships  – the ultimate shouting match – take place at 11am by the Market Cross and 2pm by the Joseph Pease statue.

Oyez they do…

THE remarkable Joyce Dowding is someone else who is well worth shouting about.

At 97, Joyce was guest of honour at Redcar Races’ 1940’s Revival Day in recognition of her dedicated service in the NAAFI and becoming one of the first women to land on the Normandy beaches after D-Day.

Her lesser known claim to fame goes way back to the time she was working as a nanny at Harlsey Hall, near Northallerton.

Joyce was looking for someone to perform at a children’s party, so she asked around her home town of Redcar and was told about a young fella working in the council’s treasury department who did magic tricks.

Joyce got in touch and that’s how Paul Daniels landed his first job as a professional magician.

“He was quite good but I think he got a lot better,” she smiles.