Tears and laughter at funeral of Alnwick's town crier John Stevens

John's town crier hat in the hearse.
John's town crier hat in the hearse.
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Alnwick cried 'Farewell' to its famous bellman John Stevens today at a funeral service that was full of tears and laughter.

Hundreds of mourners gathered at St Michael's Church, Alnwick, to pay their final respects to John, who died on the Monday before Easter after battling prostate cancer for seven years.

Darlington Town Crier Peter Stemmer BEM, Otley Bellman Terry Ford and Wivenhoe Town Crier Steve Godwin at the funeral of Alnwick Town Crier John Stevens.

Darlington Town Crier Peter Stemmer BEM, Otley Bellman Terry Ford and Wivenhoe Town Crier Steve Godwin at the funeral of Alnwick Town Crier John Stevens.

During and after the service a special cry was delivered by Peter Stemmer BEM, the Darlington Town Crier, one of three bellmen to attend the funeral dressed in their official regalia.

The congregation heard the curate of St Michael’s, Rev Julia Myles, describe John as a raging extrovert who was gifted with joy and laughter.

She read out a tribute from Alnwick Mayor Bill Grisdale, which summed up the man who became Alnwick's first official bellman since 1878 when he returned to the town he loved in 2002.

"John's passing is a sad loss to all of us in Alnwick," wrote Bill. "He was a welcome presence at every event he attended and always fulfilled his role with dignity, enthusiasm and aplomb.

Mourners at the funeral of Alnwick Town Crier John Stevens.

Mourners at the funeral of Alnwick Town Crier John Stevens.

"As Town Crier, or Bellman to the Common Council of the Burgess of Alnwick, to give him his full title, he had no peer. What a character and what a voice. A wonderful representative of our town, he will truly be missed."

Rev Myles quoted from John's own website Here to be Heard and a self-penned two-part life story, written for the town criers' Scroll magazine.

She said: "John was born on August 2, 1945, in Newcastle General Hospital. He was glad to be the son of a sweetshop owner.

"He went to what he called Acky Road Tech, which became the John Marley Technical Grammar School. As to GCEs, John describes himself as 'graduating with none whatsoever' and he said 'I had a sure and certain belief that I was totally unemployable'."

John Stevens performing at the Alnwick International Music Festival.

John Stevens performing at the Alnwick International Music Festival.

John wrote that he walked into Fenwick's department store and asked for a job and became a window un-dresser. He wrote: "That job certainly taught me a lot about the female anatomy. Pity they were all made of plaster!"

Rev Myles went on to describe John's career in the Royal Air Force, "in 1966 being posted to RAF Swinderby and then to Shawbury, near Shrewsbury, which was the school for air traffic control".

She said he met Joyce at a roller-skating rink in Leeds and they were married on September 6, 1969. The couple had son Simon in 1973 and two years later, John was posted to RAF Boulmer after training at the college of air traffic control in Bournemouth.

It was in Alnwick where John started town-crying by accident when, in 1983, he was persuaded to enter and won a competition for Alnwick Fair Common Bellman. After a spell working at Heathrow, John retired to Alnwick in 2002, when the Freemen of the town appointed him as official Town Bellman.

Rev Myles said: "One of his proudest moments was in September 2014 when he won the Loyal Company of Town Criers British Championship at Banbury, saying: 'I was astounded, amazed and totally chuffed to bits'. He also won the Best Content of Cries and he and Joyce won Best Dressed Couple.

"John was proud to be a fully accredited member of Equity. He had several walk-on parts, including Vera and Geordie Shore. He was in King Arthur and the Spaceman, filmed at Alnwick Castle in 1979."

Having read from Matthew, Chapter 28, Rev Myles concluded the eulogy: "And I also wonder, when Christ meets John, will he say 'greetings' or perhaps he may say 'Oyez, oyez, oyez'!"

The congregation sang two of John's favourite hymns, All Things Bright and Beautiful and God is Our Strength and Refuge (the Dambusters hymn).

Joyce and Simon also asked for John's cry, written for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012, to be read out:

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez

It started back in fifty three
Coronation parties, lots of cake and tea
So much has happened in sixty years
Remember the laughter, forget the tears.

How proud I was in sixty nine
When my wife said she'd be mine.

Christmas time in seventy three
Beside a tinsel Christmas tree
My face so wet, with tears of joy
Me a Dad! To our new baby boy!

Heavens how the years have flown!
Our son into a man has grown
And amidst the cries and thymes
We've moved home, seventeen times!

Through our lives we've wanted for nowt
What diamond years these all have been
So once again, it's my honour to shout

To Her Majesty,
God Save The Queen!

By John Stevens, 1945-2016