Every year in November, for thousands of years, the Bridge Inn on Santon Bridge has held a distinguished competition. Well, for dozens of years, really; and not particularly distinguished. It is a competition, however, and it is held in November. It’s the World’s Biggest Liar competition, held in memory of a 19th century pub keeper, Will Ritson.
From the Bridge Inn website:
The valley was already well-known for having England’s deepest lake (Wastwater), the highest mountain (Scafell Pike), the smallest Church (Wasdale Head Church) and Will Ritson achieved its fourth superlative when he became – “THE WORLD’S BIGGEST LIAR”
Of course, Will was a very sincere and genuine man, who insisted that all his tales were true. Perhaps the visitors simply didn’t have the level of perception with which Will was bestowed. Will claimed that the turnips in Wasdale were so big that after the dalesfolk had “quarried” into them for their Sunday lunch, they could be used as sheds for the Herdwick Sheep from the fells.
Ritson’s memory has been kept alive following his 1890 death by the annual competition. There are a few simple rules: Every contestant is given five minutes only to spin their tale. No props are allowed. Scripts are forbidden. Jokes are unwelcome. It is a competition of tall tales, whoppers, and outright lies.
Of course, in the vein of such a competition, cheating is rampant. But cheating can also get a contestant dinged by the judges… although the judges are often drunk, so they might not care.
The competitors are supposed to be locals, but foreign people like Londoners are encouraged to come to watch the festivities (and drink some of the large quantity of alcoholic beverages available.) The most celebrated storyteller of modern history is John Graham, known throughout the area as Johnny Liar, who won the award three years in a row and seven times through 2008. It’s possible that a politician or a lawyer might be able to top his record, but unfortunately anyone who is a member of either category is disqualified from entering because it is judged that they are “professional” liars.
Here’s an eight and a half minute film on the subject. You’ll have to get used to the accents, though:
For those of you who cannot understand what the heck these people are saying (it’s difficult, unless you’ve watched far too many BBC programs) here are some of the conceits behind winning tales:
Sue Perkins, 2006: A tale about people riding camels to work as a result of climate change. (Yahoo)
John Graham, 2008: A tale of a journey that saw him ride the depths of the ocean on his horse, Daisy and fly back by utilising a giant Skate. (Westmorland Gazette)
Glen Boylan, 2011: A tale about crossing a whippet with a mink, including a part involving betting on a snail race with Prince Charles (who advised him to remove the shell to make it more aerodynamic) and losing because his opponents cheated with battery-operated snails.. (BBC) (Daily Mirror)
And last year, Mike Naylor won for the fifth time. From Times and Star:
Mike, 61, who lives in Keekle, entertained a sold-out crowd and a panel of judges with a funny story about his visit to the moon on his uncle – and fell-running legend – Joss Naylor’s rocket.
He told the crowd about the Wasdale Space Race which including him bumping into the Queen, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on the moon… and revealed he was the lovechild of the Biggest Liar’s founder Will Ritson and writer Beatrix Potter.
We’ll see who wins this year, in November. If it weren’t for the restricted people, I’d lay some bets…
Question for the night: How are you at spinning tall tales? (Demonstrate, if so inclined.)