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Ian Cannell

We spoke with the voice of Tynwald Day, Ian Cannell, who's hillside commentary has spanned half a century.

If you have ever attended the Tynwald Day ceremony, then Ian Cannell's voice will be familiar to you.

It is the calm, authoritative tones of Mr Cannell that can be heard commentating from the public address system.

Last year, he celebrated 50 years of commentating on the Manx national day and he is still full of enthusiasm for the job.

This year, as the traditional Tynwald Day (July 5) falls on a Saturday, the ceremony at St John's takes place on Monday, July 7.

But Mr Cannell's preparation work begins long before that to ensure he has information on the assembled guests and dignitaries, who can include senior politicians from around the globe and royalty.

In fact, it has been known that some members of the Royal Family, who preside over Tynwald if they attend, have been apprehensive they may do something at the wrong time, or miss the moment when they are due to act.

One Lieutenant Governor's advice was to pay attention to Mr Cannell's commentary: 'He will tell you when to speak!'

Mr Cannell, from Peel, first found himself commentating on the Tynwald Ceremony as a result as his work as a TT commentator via the public address system in the days before live radio coverage.

Ian Cannell

For the St John's ceremony, he sits in a commentary box adjoining the one housing the Manx Radio commentator. His experience and expertise means he is often in demand from the world's media to explain Tynwald Day.

One of the biggest changes he has seen over the years has been the development of the Tynwald fair behind the processional pathway.

'It has to be said a lot of people come for the fair, the social side. Yes, they like the entertainment in the afternoon, but they are looking to go to the stalls. It is very much a social occasion.'

One development that Mr Cannell welcomes is the advent of a big screen to relay events at the ceremony. This, he said, gives the public a view of some of the previously hidden parts of the day, including the captioning of the acts of Tynwald - ensuring the legislation does not lapse - which takes place inside the Royal Chapel.

'The big screen is a distinct step forward,' he said. 'It means the spectators - and I - can see, for instance, what is going on inside the church.'

Nowadays, he is also allowed to mention the participants by name. It was not always the case, there was a time when he could only refer to their office and, when once he did give out a name, he received a stern letter!

Mr Cannell is diplomatic about various controversies that sometimes occur at the ceremony, particular during the presentation of petitions for redress of grievance - the ancient 'last resort' right for the public to have their grievance considered by Tynwald. Sometimes it is the subject matter that can provoke strong feelings, sometimes the manner in which the petitioner presents their submission.

 He said: 'I don't speak on the content of the petition system. At the appropriate time, I can say the number of petitioners who are making their way along the pathway.

'That is all I say. I leave the rest to the press, who are always interested in the content.'

In a little under two weeks' time, Mr Cannell will once more guide the public through the Tynwald Day process.

He said: 'I consider it a privilege to do this. It is right at the centre of the Isle of Man's identity and what the Isle of Man is. To have a fairly prominent role in it, without having any political connotation, is quite a privilege.'

This article first appeared in the Manx Advertiser.