The Good Funeral Guide Blog

MuchLoved launches multi-charity fundraising in memory

Thursday, 22 May 2014


Example of a MuchLoved online charity giving page


We’re always happy to promote the work of top people we really like. One of them is Jonathan Davies and his team at MuchLoved.

MuchLoved is the pioneer of online charity fundraising at funerals. Enhancements to the website’s functionality means it’s now possible to fundraise for any number of charities.

“This in part reflects the fact that many more people now have pre-existing relationships with charities as a consequence of participating in fundraising events such as charity runs and walks. Therefore when it comes to arranging a funeral, family members often decide to nominate more than one charity, a request that can multiply the administrative work for the Funeral Director in dealing with the associated cash and cheque burden!”

You can check out how it works by taking a look at this example here.

A survey by the GFG of online fundraising websites is available here: Fundraising in memory

Why undertakers don’t post their prices

Wednesday, 21 May 2014



The following is by Charles Manby Smith writing in London Life magazine in 1853.

Messrs. Moan and Groan know well enough, that when the heart is burdened with sorrow, considerations of economy are likely to be banished from the mind as out of place, and disrespectful to the memory of the departed; and, therefore, they do not affront their sorrowing patrons with the sublunary details of pounds, shillings, and pence. … For such benefactors to womankind – the dears – of course no reward can be too great; and, therefore, Messrs. Moan and Groan, strong in their modest sense of merit, make no parade of prices. They offer you all that in circumstances of mourning you can possibly want; they scorn to do you the disgrace of imagining that you would drive a bargain on the very brink of the grave; and you are of course obliged to them for the delicacy of their reserve on so commonplace a subject, and you pay their bill in decorous disregard of the amount. It is true, that certain envious rivals have compared them to birds of prey, scenting mortality from afar, and hovering like vultures on the trail of death, in order to profit by his dart; but such “caparisons,” as Mrs. Malaprop says, “are odorous,” and we will have nothing to do with them.


Less is more

Tuesday, 20 May 2014


Dying Matters event, Brighton


ED’s WARNING: Very long, boring post today. 

Dig down into the history of any profession and you quickly hit dirt. Medicine, for example. Go back a couple of hundred years and your spade clunks up against a deplorable assortment of scoundrelly self-taught barber-surgeons, apothecaries, midwives and drug peddlers wreaking all manner of unscientific havoc on their patients. Or take dentists — tooth-drawers. When do you think dentistry was regulated? Some time in the 1800s? Wrong. 1921.

The way in which a disreputable occupation achieves social respectability is through a process of professionalisation. To achieve that, practitioners must show that they possess a body of specialist knowledge in which they have been examined; that they are motivated by altruism and public service; that they are members of a professional association which polices them; and that they are bound by a code of conduct. By these means they set themselves apart from the scoundrels and charlatans, the amateurs and the unqualified.

Image problem solved.

No surprise, then, that this is exactly how undertakers have sought to manage their own image problem. We’re starting from a pretty low base here. Here’s how they were seen by The Leisure Hour – A Family Journal of Instruction and Recreation in 1862:

“In numberless instances the interment of the dead is in the hands of miscreants, whom it is almost flattery to compare to the vulture, or the foulest carrion bird.”

While this judgement looks a tad harsh today, it remains at least partially true. For ‘numberless’ substitute ‘some’. Because the professionalisation of undertaking has been a limited success. For example, undertakers have not one but two professional associations, the NAFD and Saif, reflecting deep internal conflict between the interests of independents and corporates. Education courses aren’t externally accredited. And undertakers have no means of excluding the unqualified and the scoundrels because there is no statutory regulation of the activity known as funeral directing.

So they’re not quite up there with the lawyers and doctors yet. Or, more relevantly, pathologists.

It’s worth comparing the professionalisation of undertakers in this country with those in the States, who succeeded, for the time being at any rate, in promoting themselves from blue-collar to white-collar. The way they did it influenced undertakers in Britain and other countries.

The first thing they did was mark out an area of specialist knowledge, essential to any profession. Given the mostly straightforward nature of the process of arranging a funeral this called for ingenuity. The element they picked on was the care of the dead body.

This had heretofore not been a specialised occupation. It still isn’t. It only becomes so if you can demonstrate a need to embalm a dead body. And embalming isn’t the sort of thing anyone can do at home, is it?

So how do you justify needing to embalm a corpse?

You justify it by claiming that that the primary role of the of the undertaker is therapeutic.


Yes, that viewing the dead body is the most healing thing an undertaker has to offer to grieving people; spending time with the corpse is central to the grief process, the only way they’ll be able to get their heads around the fact that the person it once was is dead, the only way they’ll be able to reconcile themselves with that ineluctable fact. There is indispensable therapeutic value, the claim goes, in the contemplation of, first, a well turned-out corpse and then, enduringly, a beautiful memory picture that only embalming can achieve. The primary claim of the undertaker to be regarded as a professional resides in this therapeutic role.

The public bought it. American undertakers were thereby able to promote the therapeutic display of the body as a social event — the visitation — and sell all sorts of merchandise to accessorise it. They started banking, by Brit standards, good money. They moved up the social scale.

A good many British undertakers sincerely believe in the primacy of the therapeutic value of a good viewing experience where the dead person, as the result of a cosmetic process including the manipulation of the features, appears quite content to be dead. But embalming only gained a partial hold in Britain, and public viewing none to speak of. In the US now it is beginning to look dated as bereaved people turn their backs on it. Diehard conservative ritualists like Thomas Lynch in the US are fighting a feisty rearguard action, but they’re beginning to look as if they are yelling at the tide. It is no coincidence that Thomas Lynch and ‘our’ Barry Albin-Dyer are both Roman Catholics.

The implications of this downgrading of the value of viewing for the social and professional standing of undertakers appear, on the face of it, daunting for, in the words of Strub and Frederick“There can be no question that embalming is the very foundation of modern mortuary service … Without embalming there would be little demand for beautiful caskets and protective vaults and little need for mortuary service as we know it today.” 

Some British undertakers have sought to fortify their therapeutic role by offering a bereavement aftercare service of some sort, many of them in partnership with Bill Webster. Others view this as a distraction from their primary activity or an entirely different specialism. At least one academic study (in Canada) has shown that aftercare is the activity where undertakers receive their lowest evaluation. And then there’s the problem that bereavement groups breed dependency.

To cut a long story short, for a range of reasons British undertakers have not succeeded in deflecting stigma and achieving social status through professionalisation. Some of them fret about this because they yearn to be regarded as professionals and wince at the word trade.

They’re missing the point. In recent years the distinction between a trade and a profession has blurred to the point of irrelevance. What matters to people is whether their surgeon or their plumber is any good. Quality assurance is measured not by letters after your name but by client reviews.

Client reviews measure what matters to clients and it’s really very little surprise to learn that what matters most to them, where funerals are concerned, is the quality of their interaction with the undertaker.

Yes, it really is that simple. As Poppy Mardall expresses it, “a good funeral director will support a family to have the funeral that’s right for them.” It’s about EI (emotional intelligence) rather than Dip FD, and the court of public opinion facilitated by the internet.

In their attempts to big themselves up undertakers have erected a rampart between them and their clients. The shudder-making black suits, the big cars, the ancient lineage, the jargon, the refusal to post prices online — none of these answer a bereaved person’s overriding desire, which is to find a fellow human being who is kind. They intimidate and alienate more than they impress. People want an Us person, not a Them person. No one wants to be overawed and the last person they want is someone who looks like a bloody undertaker.

Which is why the incursion of ‘middle-class’ undertakers has been so successful as well as refreshing — The Green Funeral Company, Family Tree, Poppy’s, Evelyn’s. They don’t angst about status issues so they don’t bother with uniforms and stuff. They keep it simple, they sit down and level with people, and it’s working very well for all parties.

I was reminded of this last week when I went to Brighton for a Dying Matters event organised by Arka Original Funerals, among others. Arka are very much Us undertakers — artisan undertakers. Here’s how they describe themselves:

We are people first and funeral directors second – so you will find us relaxed and approachable and wearing everyday clothes, not the usual sombre black attire of other funeral directors.

We are there to support you through a time of grief and help you to make the choices and decisions you want. We won’t try to shoehorn you into arrangements that you don’t want, or wouldn’t feel comfortable with. We won’t rush you into decisions and we won’t mislead you about our services or prices.

Brilliant. “We are people first.” Perfect. 

Naturally, exhibitors at the event were all nice guys. I met John Turvill for the first time and his characterful Citroen H-Van hearse. He keeps it in showroom condition and it’s beautifully fitted out. It’s lovely and snug inside and affords a dead person some privacy on the way to their funeral. But what seemed most important was the discovery that John is a truly lovely man. 

I don’t want to keep you, but I’ve just got to tell you about the brilliant lawyer who was there, Chris Thomas. He really cares about people and disapproves of the way so many solicitors cherry-pick their clients. Chris likes to work with people who aren’t worth all that much and he goes out of his way to visit people too frail to get to his office. When the show was over, off he went to see a 94 year-old and get her affairs in order. 

There are lots and lots of nice guys in the funerals business, far more than people suppose. More’s the pity if they feel they have to impress in order to reassure. Speak human, guys, be authentic, and your self-regard will take care of itself. 

Tell them where to go

Friday, 16 May 2014



The number of funerals the average person is called upon to arrange in the course of a lifetime is just 2. (Mummy & Daddy)

For some, though, Reaper G’s scythe lays waste to vast swathes of their nearest and dearest. For these unlucky souls, arranging and attending funerals can be pretty much a full time job.

The writer of the testimonial above is a heartbreaking example. She (she reads like a she, doesn’t she?) has arranged funerals all over Britain for her brothers, of whom she seems to have an inexhaustible supply.

She knows what she’s doing by now, so she uses the excellent website, a comprehensive source of advice and guidance that, frankly, makes the GFG look like the scribblings of an idiot. “Our funeral home finder tool,” they say, “only lists high quality, trained and experienced funeral directors.” 

Our serially-bereaved testimonial writer has used WM Gilchrist in Aberdeen. And McKenzie and Millar in Edinburgh. She’s used A & E Leese in Stoke-on-Trent. And John Fairest in Sheffield. Her brother in London was laid to rest by the excellent Francis & C Walters. He brother in Brockenhurst was taken into care by R Hallum. And that’s not the end, not by any means.

Thank goodness mylocalfuneraldirector is there for her for when the next bro takes his final breath.

(Hat-tip to DM)

Dignity makes a difference

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Dignity figures

Capital expenditure at foot of page


And today’s difference is that between Dignity plc’s capital expenditure in the 52 week period ending 27 Dec 2013 – £12.4 million

and capital expenditure in the 52 week period ending 27 Dec 2013 – £1.4 million

This saving of £11 million is huge in the context of declared quarterly profits of £25.4 million. Had Dignity maintained capital expenditure at 2013 levels, profits would be down by… 40 per cent?

You can read the full document here.

Your interpretation of the figures would be very welcome.


Click the pic to bring it up to full size



Thursday, 15 May 2014

Medi Call


Dedicated followers of Richard Sage will know that he is operating out of the Mayer Funeral Home.

Invoices issued by the Mayer Funeral Home show that it is owned by Medi Call Southern Ltd, incorporated by Companies House on 07-11-2012. M-Call is – no surprises – an air ambulance business. Its SIC is given as ‘Funeral and related activities’.

Medi Call Southern operates out of a private house: 4 Bramfield Road East, Rayleigh, SS6 8RG.

Its director is named as Mr Sharon Parker. 






New charity to help pay for funerals of babies and children

Thursday, 15 May 2014



A new charity which will help bereaved parents with the cost of a baby or child’s funeral is being officially launched on Wednesday, July 23, with a special one-day seminar and exhibition at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Child Funeral Charity (CFC), whose patron is well-known author and national newspaper advice columnist Bel Mooney, has been set up by a team of child and funeral industry professionals. It is being headed by experienced educationalist Roger Gale as chief executive officer, while Mary and Kevin Tomes at Colourful Coffins and Anne Barber from Civil Ceremonies, are charity trustees.

Full details of the charity will be announced to the funeral trade, and other professionals who work with bereaved parents at the seminar, which is entitled Time to Talk – a focus on Baby and Child Bereavement.

Roger Gale explains: “This event provides the perfect opportunity to create awareness of the new Child Funeral Charity and to call on everyone who works within the industry for their support.

“Although many funeral directors, clergy and celebrants don’t charge for children’s funerals, there are other expenses such as a coffin, a vehicle, flowers and service sheets for the ceremony that all add up. Whether a family has lost a baby through a pre-term loss or stillbirth; a child through a life limiting illness or something more sudden such as an accident; the last thing they want to worry about is how to pay for the funeral. That’s where CFC can step in, but in order to do so, we need the support of funeral industry professionals to work with us as preferred suppliers and to help with fundraising. This is a very emotional time for families and I am sure many in the trade will agree that anything we can do to help alleviate the financial burden will be very much appreciated.”

Delegates are expected to be drawn from a range of bereavement-related professionals, including funeral directors, hospice staff, registrars, hospital bereavement officers and/or midwives, bereavement counsellors, other charities, celebrants, faith representatives and others.

As well as providing financial support, if required, CFC can also put families in touch with other appropriate bereavement charities.

If you’d like to go along and support this new charity, and find out more about it, event details and booking form are on this link or you can download them here: CFC Seminar Flyer — CFC Booking form

or call 01480 276088


Why are men killing themselves?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014



In an article in a recent Spectator magazine, Elizabeth Hardman reflects on the problems that beset males today:

The idea of women having a rotten deal has become so firmly entrenched in British public life that we have become blind to the problem emerging for the boys.

Hardman gives evidence, including the suicide rate:

This year the Office for National Statistics reported that young men are no longer the group most likely to kill themselves. That is because men in their early forties have taken over as the most vulnerable group. Men in general account for 77 per cent of all suicides in the United Kingdom, up from 63 per cent in the 1980s. The suicide rate for men in their forties is the highest it has ever been. The overall suicide rate is down, but that’s driven mainly by a decrease in women taking their lives — the rate for female suicides has halved since 1981. The male suicide rate has fallen by just 8 per cent since then.

Hardman concludes:

But while our political debate quite comfortably lumps certain problems together as ‘women’s issues’, there is a noticeable reluctance to do the same for men, or to worry about our sons. Last month, opposition MPs and journalists kicked up a stink about the new women’s minister, Nicky Morgan, not being senior enough. Perhaps on the basis of the trends we’re seeing today, we also need a minister for men.

Let’s hear it for the killer anecdote

Tuesday, 13 May 2014



From The Times obituary for Walter Walsh:

Walter Walsh killed people for a living. He was exceptionally good at it. But unlike many in his line of work, he never shot anyone who didn’t need shooting. Both as an FBI agent in the 1930s and as a marine officer during the Second World War, he comported himself with unfailing courage, steely determination and, in spite of all, a modest, unassuming humanity.

On October 12, 1937, the Brady Gang, a murderous band of armed robbers led by the notorious Al Brady, were tracked down to Bangor, Maine, where they had negotiated the purchase of a quantity of automatic weapons. Unknown to the gang, the owner of the store had contacted the FBI, whose men were waiting.

Agents, led by Walsh, arrested James Dalhover, a three-time killer, the moment he entered the premises but a second man, Clarence Shafer, was close behind, gun in hand. He opened fire immediately. Walsh, standing just feet away on the inside of the glass door, took a bullet in his chest and another — a lucky shot — to his right-hand, rendering his Colt 45 useless. Without missing a beat, the FBI man returned fire with the .357 Magnum in his left hand, killing Shaffer instantly. Bleeding from his wounds, he then ran out into the street, where Brady was exchanging fire with other FBI agents, to deliver the coup de grâce.

Russell “Rusty” Gibson. Gibson was not a man to be crossed. Wearing a crudely-made bullet-proof vest and armed with a Browning automatic rifle, classified as a light machinegun, he was determined that he would not be taken alive. Walsh granted him his wish. When the two met in a narrow alleyway, they each opened fire. “He shot high,” Walsh recalled. “I didn’t.”

Walter Walsh, marksman, was born on May 4, 1907. He died on April 29, 2014, aged 106

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