The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Brummie rebel

Thursday, 5 March 2009


When the present looks awful we seek refuge in the past. We fix on a time when we would have been safe. Is that why, when someone dies, we look for an undertaker who still dresses as he did in 1873?

Maybe.

There’s a lot of call for it. And Brits have a weakness for uniforms. From beefeaters to barristers they like to strut their stuff looking well marinaded in history. And, let’s be uncharacteristically ungenerous, a uniform bigs up a little person. A great many undertakers dress like that because it makes them feel important. There aren’t many jobs that can make a stupid person feel important, but undertaking is one of them.

It also makes them powerful. They deal every day with people whose expectations of a funeral are zero. This makes it all the easier softly, solemnly to invoke tradition and sell them the same funeral they sell to everybody else. You’d think it would bore them to death. It certainly makes for an uncomplicated life.

Anything which deviates from a ‘traditional’ funeral, the standard fare, is labelled alternative, and not in a nice way. In the land of the living we celebrate choice, it’s what drives consumerism. The deathmongers take the contrary view. Even more regrettable is that those undertakers who come out of a big chain and bravely start up on their own, brimming with best intentions, lapse, so many of them, under the influence of the uniform, into same old sameness. THS, John Hall calls it. I’m coming to him.

Up here in Birmingham we have, possibly, the most backward looking undertakers in Britain. THS holds them in its thrall. You see them at the crem resembling nothing so much as hapless extras in a Hammer Horror film. So nothing lifted my spirits more today than going to visit a brave new Solihull-based start-up, Colour My Funeral.

It takes some brass neck to call your business Colour My Funeral. It takes some chutzpah to take potshots at your competitors and say in your brochure: “It seems the days are passing when people are happy to allow a funeral director to take charge of their family funeral and conduct it more in a fashion the funeral director wants than how the family or deceased would have liked” and go on to say: “We also thought it strange that, although we now live in the 21st century, it seems that, when we die, we go back to the 19th for our funeral.”

No one could say that John Hall, who heads up Colour My Funeral, suffers from THS. He doesn’t clad himself in shudder-making clothes, neither does he clad his walls in framed certificates, photos of sepia ancestors and pictures of horse-drawn hearses. There’s no hush and awe here, nor yet dignified gloom. All is light and colour. There’s an LCD screen in the waiting area telling you what your choices are and another in the front window facing out onto the pavement. The steel shutters that come down at night are painted with a woodland burial scene. John offers his clients everything from the cheapest funeral in town, the Forget-Me-Not at £950, to the most expensive in the country at £32,000. He’s advertised in an eyebrow-raising way on Smooth Radio.

True humility is the product of self-assurance and a deep respect for other people. That’s John. He’s not a theorist, he’s a practical person. He’s emotionally intelligent, one of life’s lovely guys. He likes to explore with people what they want, and give it to them. He’s also a detail person. He loves to give a funeral as many personal touches as he can think of. He’s very, very good, the real deal. Ask his clients. His market is not just those looking for something different, it is everybody from Solihull to the wider community of nearby Birmingham.

But this is a very tough business to get started in, where one undertaker looks like all the rest. Well, John certainly hasn’t made that mistake. His is a brave all-or-nothing, high-risk approach and this is a laudably THS-free enterprise.

He deserves to do well.

Sorry? What’s THS stand for, you ask? Top Hat Syndrome.

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