Blog Archives: September 2012

A date for your diary

Sunday, 30 September 2012


The Natural Death Centre Charity proudly presents

The NDC Death Café

2.30pm – 5.30pm

Sunday, 4th November

London NW2 6AA

(Willesden Green underground station)

A fundraising event celebrating the 21st birthday

of the Natural Death Centre

This Death Café will be held at the former office of the Natural Death

Centre and home of its founders, the late Nicholas Albery and Josefine

Speyer. It will be hosted by Josefine, along with Jon Underwood who

started Death Café in the UK in 2011, inspired by the ideas of Swiss

sociologist Bernard Crettaz.

Come and join us for a free flowing conversation around the topic of

death. Whilst sitting comfortably in a relaxed setting, drink tea and eat

delicious cake or sandwiches and enjoy an open, respectful and

confidential space for discussion, free of discrimination where people can

express their views safely.

To participate, please email a note to: with

your name and phone number, how you heard about the event and any

special dietary requirements. She’ll send you an email to confirm your

place. Thanks!

The Natural Death Centre charity relies entirely

on donations and book sales. Your donation will go

towards paying for the free helpline and the day-today

running of the charity. Copies of the new edition

of the Natural Death Handbook will be on sale.

A syphilitic blister on the face of funeral service

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Dear Mr Greenfield,

This has been a horrible week for you. 

Or has it? 

You will have by now appraised your reputational vulnerability, conducted a jeopardy assessment and learned how many people watched The British Way of Death.  Taking heart from the recovery of Co-operative Funeralcare, you may be reckoning your best move is to lie low and wait for the storm to pass. 

You could get lucky. 

Judging by your combative response to the film, you are not a man to roll over easily. Your clear-eyed intellect and tenacity may have calmed your investors, and this may well have been your priority. But how’s your conscience? Do you feel shamed and dishonoured? You displayed no compassion towards those bereaved people who must live with what has been done to them. Your repeated apology, offered without reservation (whatever that means), lacked (I feel) the heartfelt sincerity with which an apology must necessarily be invested. 

You did not give the impression of a man suffering from either remorse or a trashed reputation. I can only put that down to a diminished sense of jeopardy. 

The film’s revelations call into question your competence to run a business. That must hurt. You repose much of your defence in company policies designed to prevent the conduct we witnessed. A policy, Mr Greenfield, is so much hot air, wishful thinking and bumf in a boxfile if it is not supported by a regime of compliance. 

I was unable to watch the film until two days after it was broadcast so I expected, having heard the views of others, to be angered by the behaviour of the staff at Gillman’s. I wasn’t, but I concede that mine is a minority opinion. I was saddened. I witnessed the behaviour of people whose personal standards had been, in my view, corrupted by the culture of their workplace – they had lost touch with decency and right conduct. I am inclined to suppose that a much better version of these same people might have been apparent had they been working for a firm whose vision, values and working conditions they bought into and were proud of, and whose insistence on high standards was reinforced by a rapid-response disciplinary framework. That you should have reckoned Merv Moyes a fit person to be general manager is beyond baffling. You’ve got some great people working for you. Don’t you know the difference? 

Can you tell us, Mr Greenfield, why you opted for brand invisibility? You know perfectly well that the FPL/FSP brand has virtually zero public recognition. The funeral industry is ripe and ready for a great brand to roll out a great service. As we like to say here, if John Lewis did funerals… 

An unexpected upside to the sullying of the good name of Roger Gillman is that any undertaker presently contemplating selling up would have to be mad to include their own name in the sale. So here’s a backhanded compliment: you have played an important part in the cause of transparency of ownership. 

I’ll finish with some reflections by Rory Sutherland on the price of a good reputation. This is extracted from something he wrote in the Spectator on 21 July 2012. Mr Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

Reputation acts as a kind of cashless deposit in human dealings. As any mafioso or game theorist knows, you can only trust people who have something to lose.

Look at where capitalism works best and you’ll find a business sensitive to shame. 

I recently arranged for my family to fly to the US. What struck me when I clicked ‘buy’ on the BA website is that I now feel less anxious when paying an airline a few thousand quid to hurtle my family across Arctic wastelands in a tin tube than I do when handing £2,000 to a financial institution. Why does the aviation industry make very little money doing something immensely complicated astoundingly well, while the finance sector makes a fortune doing a simple thing badly?

There are a few game-theoretic reasons to explain this. Reputation is one. When even a minor aviation incident occurs, it makes headlines. There is also a healthy sharing of risk. Unlike banks, airlines make the pilot sit at the front of the plane.

Intensifying consumer scrutiny, together with exposés like Undercover Undertaker and The British Way of Death, are contributing incrementally to enhancing the reputational vulnerability of undertakers, especially those stealth consolidators whose brand dares not speak its name.

Whereabouts are you sitting on your plane, Mr Greenfield? Yes, and you Mr Tinning? And you, Mr McCollum? And you, Ms Kemp?



How do I love me? Let me count the ways

Friday, 28 September 2012


WARNING: Readers of a snorting disposition should position themselves beside a supply of industrial strength tissues before watching. 

Hat-tip to Andrew Plume

Thoughts of a funeral-goer

Friday, 28 September 2012


Just over a week ago Daisy asked me to go with her to visit her neighbour John so we could help with the arrangements for his wife’s funeral.

Barely had we stepped across the threshold when Daisy disappeared down the hall with a cheery, ‘I’ll make us a nice cup of tea shall I?’

I followed John into the sitting room.  I pretended not to notice the hospital bed along one side.  With its dark blue pressure-relieving air mattress.

 ‘They’ll be collecting that soon.  In the next three days they said.  I’ll be so pleased when it’s gone.’ 

I nodded.  Why was Daisy taking so long? 

As if he could read my thoughts, he continued, ‘Daisy’s amazing isn’t she?  Popped in every day for a chat with Sandra.’

I nodded.  But my mind was elsewhere.  In my eagerness to help arrange a funeral, I hadn’t thought to ask Daisy about the circumstances of Sandra’s death.  I had assumed she’d been in hospital – but now it seemed that John had looked after her.

 ‘John, I hope you don’t mind me asking but where is Sandra?’

Glancing at the ceiling he replied, ‘In a better place I hope!  Or at least she will be when the funeral’s over.’

‘What I meant was…’

‘I know!  Just my little joke.  They came to take her away – ha ha!  Do you remember that song?  Sorry, I really think I might be losing the plot.’

 ‘So Sandra’s at a funeral home?  And they’re taking care of the funeral?’

 ‘Oh yes.  They’re just round the corner.  Perfect.  Couldn’t be doing with all that shopping around Daisy’s been going on about.  It just delays the inevitable.  I’m doing all the paperwork in the morning – if you and Daisy want to come with me, hold my hand, that sort of thing…’

In the blink of an eye we’d been demoted from funeral consultants to hand-holders.  Which was quite a relief, even though I agreed with Daisy about the need to shop around.  And snoop around too. 

I was just about to say, ‘It’s your funeral…’ when Daisy appeared with a pot of tea and a packet of HobNobs.

‘John was telling me he’s keen to finalise all the arrangements as soon as possible – we’re seeing the funeral director in the morning. ’ 

Fortunately, the funeral arranger was excellent so John needed hardly any advice from Daisy and me.  However, before John signed anything, I did insist on a tour of the premises.  Although, by then, unless he’d seen naked corpses piled up in the back yard, I don’t think anything would have put him off.  I also suggested that we make a separate visit to the florist rather than choose an arrangement from the catalogue.  The florist’s was only round the corner so John agreed.

The funeral took place on Wednesday at our local crematorium.

Yes, I was a little disappointed that John hadn’t taken his time.  But after the most traumatic and distressing six weeks of his life, that was the last thing he wanted.  And it really was a beautiful service.  The flowers, of course, looked stunning.  Even the retired minister (who came highly recommended) was wonderful.  Like John he was a down-to-earth Yorkshireman with a passion for cricket.  And, like John, he knew how it felt to hold hands with someone who was cherished and loved, whilst she was dying.


Statement from Phillip Greenfield Funeral Partners

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Phillip Greenfield, Chief Executive of Funeral Partners and owners of Gillman’s Funeral Directors who featured in last night’s Exposure programme of ‘The British Way of Death’ has made a video statement of the company’s response to the revelations.

The full text of what he says can be found on the Funeral Partners website here.

Two exposures of bad practice in the funeral industry in three months. The deeply shocking and utterly despicable behaviour of Gillman’s staff present a very specific issue, but we believe the two programmes expose the failure of two different versions of the corporatised funeral business, where the balance between service and profit has been lost.

When Funeralcare was exposed we made an offer to George Tinning to talk to and work with the Co-op to help them look again at customer service in their business and publicise their planned improvements.

We repeat the offer here to Funeral Partners: a great many people visit this website, this blog in particular. Doubtless you will, in the coming weeks and months, wish to get messages out to consumers which will restore their faith in Funeral Partners. We should be very happy to publicise these for you.

Is it fair to portray our funeral industry in this way?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Producer-director Ben Anderson (the first undercover undertaker, back in the day) says this:

“That Funeral Director on your local High Street that looks like a trustworthy and caring family run business probably isn’t…this is an unregulated world in desperate need of reform.”

Fair comment?

You can read the ITV news account of the programme here

All responses welcome — we practise no censorship here. Please do not make a statement that might be libellous; the GFG will be sued for publishing it. 


Rum do in the valleys

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The chapel where it happened


A burglar is engaged in his work of ransacking a chapel wherein lies a dead person awaiting their funeral. He is disturbed, mid-rampage, by the arrival of the undertaker coming to get everything ready for the service. The burglar, panicked, attempts to climb into the coffin…

What happens next? Read the unlikely, unsavoury and true story over at Wales Online


Know your foe

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Green, eco, alternative funeral directors


Overheard at the Joy of Death convention: “I wish all these conventional funeral directors weren’t here, I think this event should only be for progressives.” My heart sank. We don’t need another postcode gang in Funeralworld. It’s beginning to feel like Peckham.

Name-calling, in-fighting, backstabbing. Somebody ought to do something about it.

And scapegoating. There are those who are wondering who exactly it was who set ITV onto the scent of Funeral Partners and, specifically, Gillman’s. Fingers have been pointed at the ‘greens’.

We have itched to feature one of these treacherous, alternative green undertakers who unaccountably know better than investigative journalists where to look for plague and pestilence in the industry.

Every time we receive a report of a sighting we set out like eager twitchers to pin down the exotic renegade and put the searing questions:  “How do you know so much? What’s your beef?”

When we get there we find a decent, modest person who meets bereaved people where they are and accompanies them to where they want to go. If anything distinguishes them it is not their militancy but their emotional intelligence. Most anti-climactic of all, they do lots of ‘traditional’ funerals — but don’t think of them that way. Try as you may, the only label you can pin on them is ‘good’

So the little slideshow at the top is a figment of our imagination. Sorry about that. Best we could do.

As to this evening’s documentary (ITV1, 10.35), if you’re wondering who the stool pigeons are, don’t. Put yourself in the researchers’ shoes. You want to get an undercover guy into a little independent? “Sorry mate, no jobs here.”

So you target the businesses with staff turnover. 




Noah And The Whale – Give A Little Love

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Poppy Mardall thinks this would make a good funeral song. 

Well I know my death will not come
‘Til I breathe all the air out my lungs
‘Til my final tune is sung
That all is fleeting
Yeah, but all is good
And my love is my whole being
And I’ve shared what I could
But if you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own
Don’t break his heart
Yeah if you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own
Don’t break his heart

Well my heart is bigger than the earth
And though life is what gave it love first
Life is not all that it’s worth
‘Cause life is fleeting
Yeah, but I love you
And my love surrounds you like an ether
In everything that you do
But if you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own
Don’t break his heart
Yeah if you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own
Don’t break his heart
Yeah if you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own
Don’t break his heart
Yeah if you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own
Don’t break his heart

Well if you are (what you love)
And you do (what you love)
I will always be the sun and moon to you
And if you share (with your heart)
Yeah, you give (with your heart)
What you share with the world is what it keeps of you



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