A tribute to Richard Fox MBE by Philip Evans
A BIG man in every sense of the word. Big in stature and big in character.
Lyme Regis was saddened by the recent death in Portugal of Richard Fox MBE, former publican, shop owner, antique dealer, and world champion town crier. Aged 78, Richard died in a hospital in Faro.
Richard and his wife Marilyn made an immediate impact on the community when they arrived in Lyme Regis in the 1970s to take over the Cobb Arms after running a pub in the Yeovil area.
He was instrumental in the founding of Lyme Regis Lifeboat Week, which went on to become one of the biggest events of its kind along the south coast, raising tens of thousands of pounds for the RNLI every year.
But Richard made his real mark when he took over from George Norman as town crier. His imposing frame, bushy beard and stentorian voice made him an ideal candidate for the role and he went on to win numerous regional and national contests, culminating in becoming World Champion town crier.
With Marilyn’s needlework skills ensuring that Richard’s costume added to his presence, the couple won numerous best dressed accolades at nearly every contest they entered.
After claiming the world title, Richard was engaged by British Airways to publicise Great Britain, bringing a huge amount of publicity to Lyme Regis worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
After winning the title, Richard appeared on breakfast television and I well remember the media scrum on the end of The Cobb to catch that iconic shot of Richard, bell aloft, making a cry with Golden Cap in the background – images that were screened around the world.
Richard’s travels allowed him to mix with high-flyers all around the globe and when he staged the World Championship in Lyme, a colourful and unique occasion, he arranged for the criers from many countries to travel to London, where they were able to make a cry at the Privy Purse Door at Buckingham Palace and visit the Palace of Westminster, where lunch was served on the terrace running alongside the River Thames, and the Mansion House in London, the home of the Lord Mayor.
A that time – 1984 – I was Mayor of Lyme Regis and was privileged to accompany the town criers on this trip. It was one of the highlights of my year in office.
When I walked into greeting room at the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor walked towards me with her hand outstretched, saying: “You don’t have to tell me anything about Lyme Regis, Mr Mayor, my husband and I spent our honeymoon in Uplyme.”
The town criers could not believe they were able to make a cry at Buckingham Palace and they were all anxious to have their photos taken on the Victoria Memorial with the palace in the background. I know of no one else who could have arranged such a trip than Richard.
On the way back to Lyme we stopped at Richard’s old pub near Yeovil for a game of skittles before getting back to the Volunteer Inn in Lyme, which he was then running, for a riotous night.
Richard and Marilyn also ran the sweet shop in Broad Street for some years and the antique centre on Marine Parade before retirement and a subsequent move to Portugal.
Perhaps Richard’s biggest legacy will be Lyme’s twinning connection with St George’s in Bermuda, colonised by Admiral Sir George Somers, a former Mayor of Lyme Regis. Admiral Somers’ ship, the Sea Venture, was shipwrecked off Bermuda on its way to Jamestown, Virginia, in the 1600s with food for the starving settlers, a story said to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.
Admiral Somers rebuilt two new ships in Bermuda and completed his mission to Jamestown before returning for more supplies in Bermuda, where he died. His heart was buried in St George’s and his body preserved in a barrel and returned to the Cobb for burial at his home in Whitchurch Canonicorum.
It was Richard who perpetuated this story, leading to the formation of an official twinning link between Lyme Regis and St George’s in 1996, which continues to this day with reciprocal visits between the two communities. A statue of Admiral Somers has also recently been erected in Langmoor Gardens.
The story has provided Lyme Regis with countless column inches in the travel press over the years.
Richard was remembered by the Lyme Regis/St George’s Twinning Association, an organisation he chaired for many years, at their meeting this week when it was decided to send a message of condolence to his family.
A tribute has also been made by the Mayor, Cllr Michaela Ellis.
She said: “Richard was one of Lyme’s biggest characters from the time he came to the town and did a huge amount to promote and publicise our town. He represented the town with great dignity at all times and was a popular figure among locals and visitors alike.”
Richard was awarded the MBE for his services to tourism and it is unlikely that Lyme will see the likes of him again. We will remember him not just for his booming voice and jolly disposition, but for his love of his adopted home town and his energy in promoting all things Lyme Regis.
Richard is survived by two sons, Julian and Jason, as well as his wife Marilyn. His funeral took place in Portugal yesterday (Wednesday).