History is replete with great liars - or people who have been unjustly remembered as liars - from all parts of the globe. A special place in the annals of untruths, however, is held by a small Scottish village called Daltry, about thirty miles to the east of Loch Invar in the Eastern Highlands.
Since 1923, the Thistle public house in Daltry has been home to the Annual Liars' Contest, where participants compete in exaggeration, misinformation and inveiglement.
Very few, basically. Even the voting process is somewhat arbitrary, being decided largely by audience reaction and announced by the pub landlord, currently a Mr William Connor. There is no time limit, but the spectators tend to be intolerant of lengthy tales. Likewise, nowhere is it written that the lies have to be outrageous, but there is an unspoken agreement that the entertainment value of a lie is in inverse proportion to its credibility.
The Greatest Liar of All Time
By common acclaim (or rather, by his own claim), the title of 'Greatest Liar in the World' was bestowed upon Fraser Patrick McInnon, who won eight consecutive titles in the first eight years of the contest. He announced his retirement (and simultaneously secured his eighth title) in 1930 with the now-legendary words 'I regret I cannot enter the contest this year, as I cannot tell a lie.'
The contest was cancelled in 1936 and also postponed during the Second World War, resuming again in 1949, so the 2000 contest was the 68th. Naturally, given the nature of the event, 2000 was chosen as the centenary year, which also enables the Liars' Contest to claim with a modicum of honesty to have reached its centenary year faster than any other event.
Now something of a local legend, The Thistle public house, where the Annual Liars' Contest is held, is a surprisingly small building. Its two bars are connected by a miniature warren of corridors (and toilets), and it is the larger of the two which holds the contest. For the remainder of the year, it acts as a spacious restaurant section, serving the usual range of steaks, pies and breakfasts that British pubs seem to specialise in.
Unfortunately, little of the original décor remains, and the walls have fairly bland wood panelling and yellow paint. There are the usual collection of gambling machines and assorted 'quaint' books, bottles and farming equipment, along with, for some reason, lots of pictures of horse racing. Behind the bar is a display of postcards and banknotes from around the world.
A Selection of the Greatest Lies
Often cited as the greatest lie ever told was Gregory Taylor's moving account of the trans-Saharan expedition during which, among a series of other disasters, he was rendered mute by a sandstorm. The whopper, which he delivered in a clearly audible voice, won the prize in 1932.
Several contestants have won the prize with stories of their own deaths, but the 1996 contestant who officially entered as 'The Scottish Weather Reporting Service'1 was the only winner to have reported on the destruction of the pub as a whole. This news is said to have sent terrified spectators and patrons running to the bar in search of something to stiffen their spirits.
One personal favourite of this Researcher was the 1984 claim to have received divine orders to accept a free drink from each member of the audience. This was unaccountably unpopular with the assembly, and failed to win, being beaten by the only female victor in the contest's history, Louise Fergus, who, although in her early 70s, regaled the audience with the story of her single-handed capture of Argentine positions during the Falklands War.
To date, all winners have been Scottish, despite the increase over the last few years in non-Scottish entrants (primarily English, which does not impress all the locals).
Eight men have compèred the contest through the years. The first was William Renthall, then Patrick Roughnott and Jon Ewan. Thomas Stuart was the longest-serving host, and also presided over the best-attended year. James McDavis came next, then Colin Stuart, who stayed for only 2 years. Steven McCoy retired recently, and Paul McGreggor has taken over the running of the event.
Steven McCoy claims to be the longest-serving host, with blatant disregard for the number of years that Thomas Stuart served for.
The contest is held on the second Sunday after Easter. Although it has traditionally been attended only by a few locals, in recent years it has become something of a tourist attraction, prompting much speculation that the venue might have to be changed to accommodate larger audiences. As might be expected, this proposal has been strongly opposed by William Connor, the landlord of the Thistle, who at one point was threatening legal action over the rights to the contest.
Although this was settled out of court in late 2000, the nearby Royal Stag Hotel has announced plans to run a rival contest on 1 April each year.