Volume 94, Issue 77

Thursday, February 8, 2001


The town crier speaks

The town crier speaks

By Heather Buchan
Gazette Staff

You've probably seen him. That big bearded fella' in the funny looking outfit topped by a colorful plume.

Or perhaps you've heard his bellowing voice accompanied by the giant bell he carries with him everywhere. This giant in the London community is the one and only town crier, a role he fulfills with pride and joy.

What a strange job, you may think. Who would ever want such a position? Bill Paul of course, the man with an unbelievable roster of achievements and an unparalled love for his home town.

For Paul, town crying is his day job but making people smile is his life. Actually, he has been singing telegrams to Londoners for 15 years now. Town crying is a field of work unlike most, in that it requires only one employee, and Paul, who has been involved in London community theatre his entire life, was the perfect candidate for the position.

His background in theatre led to television work for Rogers for 21 years which led to radio. "I was interviewing on my radio program one day a guy from a local singing telegram company, and he said he needed someone to do singing telegrams for him," Paul explained. So, in 1980 Paul began singing telegrams as an amateur. Then, 15 years ago, when the Downtown London Business Association was looking for a town crier, they sought out Paul who, had made a name for himself in the London Community as being a great projectionist.

Clara Leung/Gazette

Born in Toronto and raised in London, where his father was a professor at Western, Paul became quite independent at a young age. Not only is he one of the five co-founders of the Ontario Secondary School Student Association, but Paul is also the founder of the Laff Guards, a group he started with the help of 20 friends while he was a philosophy and journalism student at Western. Since then, the Laff Guards have grown to include over 500 members.

During his teens and early 20s, Paul travelled around North America for fun, going to a variety of conventions including science fiction and comic book conventions. "We'd hop in a car and go off somewhere. We'd get jobs at the conventions doing security, taking tickets, or whatever they needed. You get known on the convention circuit. It's a very tight knit group internationally."

After going to all of these conventions I decided London should have a convention of its own. So I decided to take everything I'd learned at these other conventions and put them together into one. I rented the whole University Community Centre with 20 friends in August 1976 and sold memberships to the convention."

It was while deciding on a name for Paul's security team that the Laff Guards were born; otherwise known as the London Annual FantasyMedia Festival Guards. Today the Laff Guards are a group of actors who put on game shows, murder mysteries, medieval feasts, casino nights and many other events throughout London and the surrounding area.

Paul says he loves his jobs because of the people. "I love meeting people. I love finding out what makes them tick. Everything I do tends to filter towards that. Being an actor, being a children's entertainer and being an adult entertainer helps me to find out about people, not just at certain times of their life, but all through their life. I've known people when they were born, when they were teenagers, when they were adults. I get to experience their life with them."

As London's town crier, Paul gets to do what he loves most. "I march in all the major parades in London. I do town cries at openings, at festivals, most of the summer festivals. I just finished Snow Fest, and I co-MC at Fun Fest each year. It's my favorite festival of the whole year. I also do weddings and birthdays. I do a lot of official events when they want to add a little extra pomp and circumstance or a little extra comedy. I don't take myself too seriously and like to mix comedy and circumstance."

As fun as being the town crier is, Paul has a deep understanding and respect for the age-old tradition of town crying.

"Before there were newspapers, before there were radios, before there was television, there were town criers," he notes. "They were very useful for portraying the news from the King or from official government sources to the populous. They advertised what social events were coming up as well as political events and I still do that for Western."

Every year Paul does the elections on campus at both Western and Fanshawe College. "They call me each year to help bring out the voters. When I started town crying for elections, the voter turnout went up 11 per cent.

"Town crying was and still is a very useful communications job. It was sort of the Internet of their time. Then over the years other media took over and there wasn't the need for town criers in the communications sense. I brought over the British tradition."

Paul described town crying as communication on a different level. "You reach people on a more personal level. There's nothing more personal than town crying. Usually I'll be town crying about something [people] know about or about something that directly relates to [people]. I usually try to do it in a warm and whimsical fashion that ends with a punch line so that they get a chuckle out of it. The best way to reach people is with humour. That's why I think more people get their news from David Letterman and Conan O'Brien than from Peter Mansbridge," he remarks.

"I'm present at the most important days of many people's lives here in London – be it their birth, their special birthdays, their weddings and even a few funerals. When you are at these special events, you become a part of their family. I'm an only child and my parents are long gone. Only children tend to adopt the world around them. So I find that not only is it fun to do, but it becomes part of family for me. For many families in London, I've done four or five events."

In his spare time, Paul calls 12 to 13 people a day from his birthday phone book containing the names of 4,000 people that he has met throughout all his adventures.

"I write at least one singing telegram a day, but I always make it a habit of not only writing for other people, but also writing for myself. Be it a thought for the day, or a poem or a song, or maybe just a memory or a journal entry. I figure when I want to take a little rest, I'll go through all that material and that should be a couple of volumes at least of memoirs."

Even though Paul will cry for you, it's clear there's no need to cry for him. He's made a niche for himself that anybody in town would envy.

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