The Dabbler

Charles 37 Comments

Extract from the blurb for The Fixer, BBC2, Tuesday 26 Feb, 8pm-9pm: 

David Holmes runs a family business that’s one of the few industries to buck the current economic trend. Yet Holmes and Sons in Fleet, Hampshire, is almost dead and buried. If you haven’t guessed, they’re funeral directors. David’s young sons Olly and Toby are bored to death; David’s a soft touch (his nickname is Giveaway Dave), while colleague Sheena is sulkily and stubbornly resistant to change.

We give you advance notice of this with a heavy heart. The GFG gave hours of unpaid advice to the makers of the programme. We parted company when they rejected that advice and went trotting gaily down the well-worn path of formulaic tellytosh. The next sentence of the blurb tells you precisely why: 

The meeting with a wedding planner to get ideas how to organise an event is nearly the final nail in the coffin for [Sheena].

As it was for us. We had gone out of our way to explain that a funeral business is like no other; that generic solutions don’t apply; that a cosmetic makeover wouldn’t do the trick; you can’t turn a funeral into a good funeral by accessorising it with gewgaws. 

What we should have done next was withdraw permission for any footage of us to be shown. We didn’t — because we didn’t think it would be used. That was a very grave mistake and it calls for an apology. We had agreed a before-and-after format whereby we identified a problem… and then returned to rejoice in how wonderfully well it had been rectified. We got as far as filming the ‘before’ stuff and, regrettably, it looks as if it may be shown alone, wholly unbalanced by the praise and congratulation we looked forward to heaping on David and his crew at the end. 

Sorry Toby, sorry Olly. Our intention was good. 


  1. Charles

    BBC2, and Ms Polizzi, should be bloody well ashamed of themselves. The blurb sounds like the puff for a witless soap. Many of us will remember when BBC2 was a channel to respect, a model, in fact.

    The documentary crew are surely a well-known curse, just ask any school that’s been visited. Years ago, down South-West of you Charles, a TV crew visited a school. Story was about underage drinking. Journo arranged to meet the kids in a pub. “Would you like a drink?” says journo to underage young woman. “I don’t drink alcohol,” says she. Then realised the camera operator was trying to film the conversation between her and her friends using a camera angle over the top of some empty glasses left by previous customers.

    Scumbags. They control our versions of reality and distort it to suit themselves.

    Sympathies to all concerned.

  2. Charles

    almost dead and buried, bored to death, final nail in the coffin…

    Why do we always, always get the same, unfunny self-conscious jokes every time funerals are mentioned, as if they were some kind of soft porn?

  3. Charles

    Many months ago we had a call from the BBC asking us if we would like to be the subject of a programme fitting this description – naturally we declined. One reason being that we don’t need ‘fixing’, but mainly because you never look good in these type of programmes. The programme makers will ensure you either appear to be totally inept as a business owner or, if you refuse the advice given by the ‘expert’ you will be made to look arrogant and foolish. Sadly, from the short piece of film that I have seen, the makers felt that Mr Holmes should fall into the latter category.

    1. Charles

      I’ve only just cottoned on that this isn’t drama but mockumentary – that’s how real it looks. BBC 2, I want my (licence) money back.

  4. Charles

    Surely it’s wrong to cast aspersions until the programme has been aired?

    Whilst I can see that desperation could have been a reason to agree to feature on this programme, Maggie’s reasons above are enough to say ‘beware’ in the strongest possible way.

    Competitors will absolutely love someone being portrayed as arrogant, and will rejoice in knowing that the business is struggling.

    Why, oh why, can’t funeral directors find positive ways of bettering their profiles?

  5. Charles

    Mockumentary is just about spot-on.

    We were not entirely ‘desperate’ – but thought the programme might help raise our profile in the local area and attract more clients. The title ‘Fixer’ does of course give the game away. Your business needs to be ‘broken’ before the fix can take place – we shamelessly played along with it.

    Charles is right – it quickly became obvious that they had arrived with a set formula – very ‘Hotel Inspector’ by another name. All they wanted to do was stick to their formula, expose any family division or minor disagreement, ridicule the obviously inexperienced young, the boss and woeful business strategy. They offered dubious advice about how business could be improved -the list goes on.

    I have seen a 4 minute clip, – it’s on the BBC website. We were not allowed to see the finished programme. Of course we knew why! I’m sure you have better things to do with your time – but if you watch the clip, you soon see that the responses are often out of sync, they were often filmed in response to another question, sometimes on another day! (We filmed for 15 long days)The continuity is dire, but hey, it’s entertainment masquerading as a business programme.

    I’m trying not to be cross – after all, I got my family and myself into this. 3 million odd viewers, some local to me will get 40 minutes of nonsense followed by (hopefully) a happy ending as we are ‘fixed.’ I still believe our kindness and sincerity will come through – as will a certain naiveté! If that’s so, then it would have been worthwhile, despite everything.
    I shall try and refrain from making further posts here on the subject!

    By the way, if you were wondering, business is actually OK. We have work and make a modest profit. Our numbers of funerals (families helped) are rising. Not I feel, thanks to Alex Polizzi.

    1. Charles

      One of the producers phoned me when this was in its planning stages. The young producer hadn’t got a clue about the funeral business. He happily ignored everything I said stubbornly clinging to his irrelevant and impossible questions.

  6. Charles

    If they can twist the meaning and sentiment of footage and comentary that was sactioned and planned, just think wat they could do with undercover footage

  7. Charles

    ” The tv industry is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry. A long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.” Dr Hunter S Thompson.

  8. Charles

    Hi David

    very brave of you to expose yourself and your business to this

    sadly, this Programme has a constantly permanent mode, It’s really nothing other than a ‘standard macro’ for all of the businesses covered, just slot the different business in and the individuals, press the button and out it comes. Of course there HAS to be some family disharmony, couldn’t produce such a programme without it, can we…………………

    anyhow you said:-

    “….By the way, if you were wondering, business is actually OK. We have work and make a modest profit. Our numbers of funerals (families helped) are rising….”

    I’m pleased to hear it



  9. Charles

    David, you came across as an ok guy with a good little business. It will do you the worl of good. The shop makeover looked better and exposure is exposure. Good luck to you. Charles however didn’t come across so great…perhaps shouldn’t jump at every chance to get on the telly!!

  10. Charles

    Not a great lover of coffins hanging from walls, upsetting and difficult to walk into a funeral ‘shop’ without that being forced into your face, quite shocking!

    Charles, yet again you jumped on board, making out you have knowledge on everything connected with the funeral profession, TGFG has NO authority too make comment on these programmes, keep it shut and stop making a fool of yourself, stick to this rather boring and rapidly DYING blog!

    1. Charles


      May I enquire as to your involvement with the funeral profession? It would help me to understand your negativity towards the programme and the GFG in general. I also wonder why, if you find the GFG so distasteful (and boring) you take the time to follow it?

  11. Charles

    The Holmes came across as a loving family and caring undertakers. The premises were, however, in need of a makeover and look better for it. In trade, a combination of both style and substance is better than having just substance without style or just style without substance.

    All in all, good exposure. The cruel-to-be-kind tone at the outset seemed more cruel than kind but we ended up backing the family’s progress, respecting them for the way they both took on board criticism and moved forward.

    Keep the heart, keep the decor and maybe toughen up a bit on the business front! Good luck.

  12. Charles

    So glad that I watched this programme.

    I was…. expecting the worst. BUT, what a cracking, spot-on, fly-on-the wall prog.

    David, this programme had not in any way hurt your business. And Charles, I feel that your input was appropriate on the day.

    Unlike the most recent “dodgy expo” TV programmes, this one, for my money, has actually “hit the spot”.

    Good Publicity, and well presented for my money.

    – Nick

  13. Charles

    I thought it was a good programme overall – not 50 minutes of rubbish, it was 50 minutes of insight, surely?

    The Wedding Planner bit wasn’t saying – ‘plan it like a massive wedding’
    it was saying, have some plans, be prepared to inspire, think of alternatives.
    The big companies all do that – sell/recommend catering, flowers, wake venues, dove fanciers, horse drawn carriages, photographers etc…
    and even reward the selling of flowers and extras.

    As David said – let’s get it all in one place – not scattered around like a bomb has gone off in the office…( he may have said scattergun actually)

    Charles, what you said came across as suggesting putting the ‘client’ at ease and considering them and their needs before starting to punch in the numbers on the calculator at least…..Every ‘client’ knows that they are walking in there to buy a coffin, someone to carry it, someone to drive it, and someone to bury it, they don’t need to see them hanging on the wall like weird objets d’art.
    (I think it would be good to have little models for people to see, touch and handle – like the GFG award ones maybe. The reality looms large enough…)

    The premises makeover was excellent..

    The ideas for voluntary involvement for the community was really quite inspiring ie: providing ongoing support for the bereaved and not just taking their money for the funeral. That was genius.

    David and Ollie both appeared to listen and absorb the criticisms

    How cool to get ‘free’ advice from a top notch branding agency.
    It’s got to be worth the slightly humiliating moments for that alone!

    David, your kindness did come through – and your honesty, and your desire to build a business based on trust and decency.

    (I seem to remember that Green Fuse offer a training programme for Funeral Directors – maybe Ollie could go on something independent like that to get his ‘out of family’ experience?)

    Good Luck indeed!

  14. Charles

    Beware the devil in the corner of the room. It draws you in and steals reality.

    David, well-survived and good luck. Meeja is our modern god – it can do great good and but also great harm. In your case I think you’ll survive it ok.

  15. Charles

    What did this programme teach me? That I would rather go somewhere where the staff can actually remember the names of the person the funeral is taking place for. Or can clean a kitchen and leave the premises in a good condition. Or can carry a coffin into the back of a hearse without throwing it in like you would your supermarket shopping into the boot. What an awful display of amateurishness. Is there going to be a second episode of this comedy? I do hope so!

  16. Charles

    I thought it was very interesting if a little toe curling at times. I felt a bit sorry for David and his two sons (who actually both shone as the program went on). I think they could have been better prepared for Alex’s arrival perhaps but that’s hindsight for you. Overall the publicity was positive and showed a good heart to the business. I thought Charles role was fine and his advice very appropriate! Would I put myself up for this kind of show? Not a chance!!

  17. Charles

    I did cringe a little bit and I agree about the coffins on the wall – horrible. The makeover was great as was the recognition that the arrangers need more training. I had no problem with Charles’s involvement. I doubt if he jumped in – from the phone call I had with them, the producers were clearly desperate for some (free) advice. All the best David – I hope your passion for the funeral business has been rekindled.

  18. Charles

    How rude is Alex Polizzi? I cringed when she said to David in front of his sons – “I find you inadequate as a boss”…
    And Charles, darling (she said that a lot), you need to sit up properly – you were virtually horizontal – a dangerous position to adopt in a funeral home.
    Altogether the goodness of the family shone through. Who wants spivvy business people to be dealing with funerals anyway?
    Well done Holmes and Family – nice new branding too, though of course I’d like to see more about natural burial on your website.

  19. Charles

    I have to say that, given the write-up that was posted on RT prior to the programme being aired, I was expecting far worse than was actually shown. As you pointed out yourself, David, you were cleraly subjected to some harsh editing but, for me, what shone through was the genuine care and compassion that you have for this industry and that is something that you have passed onto your sons. As has previously been commented, both your sons grew in stature throughout the programme and I think that they are a real credit to you and, in turn, this industry. I would say that your all your immediate investments should be in Ollie & Toby!

    As with any programme of this nature, the focus will be on the negative “business” failings but, from seeing the changes that you did implement toward the end of the programme and, subsequently, on your website today, you have clearly taken more out of the programme than it has taken from you. I applaud your courage and wish you and your family every success.

  20. Charles

    Thank you everyone for your kind words – and constructive criticism. Alex’s hand-bagging I (mostly) took on the chin. I realise what they needed to do, the title of the programme is a fairly good clue.

    The coffin being ‘loaded’ was of course empty – still wearing it’s Bradnam screw caps and without a plate. Quite probably that’s why the thing flew around like an empty suitcase! What can I say, they needed establishment shots.

    A few other points – I never stand gazing out of the window – unless asked by a TV crew 🙂 We filmed for 15 long days – and they insisted we didn’t ‘do’ or arrange any funerals on those days. The boys were selected for the mock arrangements deliberately for their obvious inexperience. They were hanging around a lot, waiting for their next ‘scene’ – so the endless checking of phones and facebook, as well as the coffin store soccer were a by-product of that created boredom.

    I think we did OK, I was relieved. The power is all theirs – you really don’t know what they will present. For example, we organised a soccer tournament for the local hospice – it was probably too successful, so was cut.

    I think Ollie was the star, creating the emotional moment they looked for. All in all, I think our gamble paid off, our local profile raised. Would I do it again? Ask me in six months time! The feedback today, often from families served, was almost 100% positive. We’ve had over 10,000 hits on our website, 100’s of emails, so far.

    The wall coffins, put their to stimulate debate and attract attention from passing traffic, were probably 95% successful. Very few people seemed to have a problem with them – but for now, they’re history.

    1. Charles

      I have just watched the programme and feel you should be pretty happy with it.

      You came across as a caring, genuine guy with two lovely sons and the makeover is fantastic, it really does make your premises look much more high quality.

      I’m an NAFD approved tutor and unfortunately quite far away from you but if you wanted some training for Ollie and Toby the new National Certificate in Funeral Arranging and Administration is a really good qualification. If you want some more info have a look at , all the students I am teaching have said that it is worthwhile and quite in depth.

      Best of luck with the new branch.

  21. Charles

    I’ve just got around to watching it. I withdraw 99% of my misgivings. Fascinating telly, and good and honest, too. Alex doesn’t pull her punches. I thought her directness was useful. It was clearly sincere. I liked her when I met her and I like her just as much now.

    The arrangements interview – the quality of the arranger – is the foundation. All the branding in the world won’t make up for anything less than the best in that department. There will always be disagreement and debate about the best way to conduct it and I can see a lot of FDs not being persuaded by the sofa style. It’s a debate that has legs.

    It was good to see that the researchers bought one of the GFG’s Big Ideas, the volunteering scheme. So far as we know, this is the first time an FD has tried it. I thought the way Alex presented it was brilliant — and it was encouraging to see the enthusiastic uptake. I think there’s a lot in it.

    David, it was fascinating to see you ‘in the flesh’. I really hope that you can do good and do well – a difficult trick. Just keep believing that nice guys really can be winners!

  22. Charles

    The volunteering idea is one I took up and asked various people about a few months ago, but it didn’t get off its feet because I was warned in the strongest terms about problems, in particular insurance.

    Where would we, as funeral directors, stand if a volunteer we had ‘approved’ or ‘introduced’ went into someone’s house to mend a leaking tap and stole something (or worse)?

    Is this something you have an answer to David or Charles? If so, please do share it, as it’s a great idea.

  23. Charles

    Good points, Andrew. I wondered what due diligence Alex Polizzi’s people did – but I never got a chance to ask her. They must have checked it out.

    Risk can be reduced by processes of scrutiny including references and a CRB check, but risk can never be eliminated. So I guess it’s a matter of deciding what level of risk is justifiable.

    They say that in America anyone coming up with a bright idea is greeted by ‘Do it!’ whereas in Britain the response is more likely to be ‘Ooh, I don’t know about that.’ I have a feeling that a risk assessment carried out in a spirit of optimism might well carry the day. Yes, CRB. Yes, some sort of insurance if they fall off a ladder and sue you. There are hurdles but (I say optimistically!) no impenetrable barrier.

    I thought it was very touching when that man said that he wondered who would do things for his wife if he went first.

    A little later… I have just talked to David Holmes. He is not finding it easy.

    Other volunteer associations have worked it out. There must be a template. David is in touch with a local volunteering association.

    But at the end of the day there has, also, to be trust – and that’s where the risk is concentrated.

  24. Charles

    Good programme, good advice, and nice end result – yes a funeral business needs many aspects all to be very finely tuned. Not easy to get started with limited resources.

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