Who needs ’em?

Charles 6 Comments

In their new book, Final Rights (they gave me a sneak preview), Joshua Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, and Lisa Carlson, Executive Director of the Funeral Ethics Organisation, will publish state by state tables demonstrating how many excess funeral directors there are in the US. They base their calculation on the head of population it takes to keep an undertaker busy. Too many undertakers means too few funerals. The consequent cost of wages plus maintenance of premises and vehicles drives the cost of funerals up. Two a week’s not enough.

It’s an interesting exercise, and I was for a while tempted to suppose that the same ratio applies in this country. We have too many undertakers, that’s for sure. How many fewer ought there to be?

And then I reflected that we have three sorts of undertaker in Britain: the old school dinosaurs, businesses which have moved with the times; and the bright young things – the new start-ups. We are in the middle of an important and dynamic evolutionary phase. We don’t need to kill any off, there’s going to be a Darwinian dying off, and my money’s on the up-to-date and the bright young things surviving: those who are genuinely fresh or renewed in their outlook – the idealistic ones – and most certainly not the replica dinosaurs who are inspired by vanity merely (and there are a few of those).

Today I went to visit a new start-up, Bespoke Funerals. I always enjoy calling in at this poignant phase of business development and drinking in the heady mixture of excitement and terror. They’re ready to go – but the phone hasn’t rung yet. WILL IT??!! It’s a desperately slow and uncertain business, getting off the ground.

The business belongs to Maggie Brinklow, sometime guest poster on this blog. She is working in conjunction with Mark Elliott, who will be using her premises and recruiting clients further north. Together, they make a great team – independent of each other and also collaborative.

Both, of course, have had experiences in the funeral industry which make them determined to do things differently, as they think they ought to be done. They are part of an emerging orthodoxy of gloom-free premises, a front window you can see through, an open-ended arrangements meeting and the creation of, well, as they themselves put it, bespoke funerals.

I think they’re going to be great. They come to it with experience as well as idealism. Mark is a wonderfully gifted embalmer; Maggie is a civil celebrant. Above all, they are incredibly nice people. The only anxiety which declared itself, as we chatted, was what people would think if they looked into an undertaker’s window and saw people laughing. They do it all the time.

Do we need yet another undertaker? No! Do we need these undertakers? YES! It’s up to them to create an awareness of that need – that’s business – and I very much hope they will. Good luck!


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Jon Underwood
12 years ago

Dear Charles,

Thank you. Your writing makes me feel so positive about the future. I also believe we’re in the middle of an important and dynamic evolutionary phase. I feel very privileged to be part of it in some small way.

Best of luck Bespoke Funerals. Your website is lovely and its good that you’re so transparent about pricing, with really nice low budget options. I’m sure you’ll be brilliant.


12 years ago

Thank you, Charles, for your kind words – and a big thank you to everyone who has wished us luck. Maggie xx

12 years ago

Although I’ve said it to you personally Maggie, here’s the official, in writing version of very best wishes to you and Mark on your exciting new venture. The phone WILL ring, honestly!!

12 years ago

Got to dash so can’t look properly at your website yet, Maggie and Mark; but can I just point out a feature you could change on the painted coffin? You may find them more popular if you don’t describe them as painted in any coulour from the Dulux ‘pain’ range!!

Congratulations for sticking out your necks into the wind of change,

More later,



Janice Hutton
12 years ago

Hi Maggie, Well done and congratulations on starting your own business. I started mine 18 months ago( after working for someone else for eight years) and – yes – it is hard, but one day the phone will ring, and you will think, it WAS worth it. I have looked at your website and have just two comments – 1) You need to add 24 hours on – looks like no one can contact you on a Monday/Sunday – only if they have an appointment – Funeral Directors have to be available 24 hours a day. – and my second… Read more »

12 years ago

Hi everyone, thanks for your comments. Jonathon – thanks for pointing that out, though it did make us chuckle. Janice – thanks, I will add ’24 hours. Keep laughing everyone. Mags x