The information revolution has done huge damage to the funeral industry. Recent TV exposés of goings on behind the scenes in a Co-operative Funeralcare and a Funeral Services Partnership mortuary went viral when they aired and endure in the public memory. That the NAFD did not, in the aftermath, suspend or expel FSP called into question its claim to discipline its members when they breach its Code of Practice, a matter it is currently addressing with an urgency that might be lacking if people were not watching.
The information revolution has also done the funerals business an enormous amount of good. Sky’s documentary in the Great Little Britons series profiled some of the great people who work in the business and showed them to be the kindest and most dedicated human beings anyone could hope to meet anywhere, ever.
Latterly, the Coronation Street plotline around Hayley’s suicide and subsequent funeral has got people talking and thinking in all sorts of positive ways.
And when people start talking and thinking about stuff these days, they tweet, they facebook, they text and email; above all, they google. In the wake of Hayley’s funeral the GFG has been awash with people looking for, and exchanging, information — especially about coffins they can buy online, of course. And celebrants. The BHA website will also have enjoyed a great deal of traffic.
Funeral people are understandably protective of the image and the good name of their industry. They worry about being brought into disrepute — as you might expect when any scoundrel can call themselves an undertaker and open a shop.
At last year’s Good Funeral Awards, an event which prides itself on celebrating diversity and bringing funeral people of all sorts together in a spirit of fellowship, some ‘respectable’ FDs, people for whom the GFG has a high regard, were disturbed by the presence of what they felt to be one or two gothy exotics letting the side down, giving a poor impression. They had misgivings about how the event might have been portrayed by the media with the help of mischievous edits and selective quotes. We hadn’t expected that, Brian and I. It it caused us some amazement and heartsearching.
We reflected that we’ve had a media presence, including TV cameras, at both awards events. We court the media, dammit, we work hard to publicise the best in the business; that’s the whole point. We reflected that media portrayal of funeral people at the event has never been other than 100% positive. The event reflects the diversity of British society. There are all sorts of undertakers out there catering for all sorts of people. Where’s the shock horror in that?
The story of last year’s Awards, if you want to remind yourself, was in the Spectator magazine. Sheer class.
Funeral people worry about things getting out. Reputation management used to be all about blind eyes and cover-ups, of fudges and dissembling, of closing ranks and putting up a front. Not any more it ain’t. In this new, floodlit age, everything can be known and everyone is accountable.
So you want to protect people’s feelings? So you think there are things it’s kinder not to tell them? Well sorry, it doesn’t work like that any more. They’re not children. In any case, that was always a patronising way to treat people.
If you want to suture the mouths of your dead, fine, just be sure to have an answer when you’re asked about it. If you want to embalm, be ready for the trocar question.
There’s no hiding place any more. The genie ain’t going back in the bottle. Don’t blame the sunlight. Everyone has the right to make informed choices. Deal with it.