What would you like to see on your TV?

Charles 8 Comments

When media people phone the press office here at the GFG-Batesville Shard, their requests for information often conform to whatever they suppose to be trending.

“We’re doing something on living funerals. Are these catching on?”


“We’re doing a documentary about the dying process and we want to film someone actually dying. Can you help us?”


“Arranging a funeral?”


When they say they want to expose malpractice, we urge them to shine a light on good practice, too, in the interest of fairness and balance.  We can introduce you to lots of good undertakers, we say. They always promise. They never do.

Today we received an enquiry about the growth of professional mourners in the UK. We replied a little perfunctorily that there hasn’t been. Actually, there’s an outfit called Rent A Mourner but we’ve always thought it must be a spoof. Have you ever encountered a professional mourner? We thought that would be the end of it.

But the enquirer, Malcolm Neaum of CB Films, pursued the topic on a broader front. Are British funerals being in any way cross-fertilised by multiculturalism, he wondered. And it’s a good question because, even though they haven’t to any remarkable degree, we have from time to time, on this discount cialis coupon blog, discussed the desirability of respectfully and gratefully adapting rituals and observances from other cultures with which to enrich our own ‘secular’ funerals, many of which are beautifully and expertly scripted, but are characterised by a DVT-threatening inactivity on the part of the audience. Funerals are going to go on evolving. The question is whether they are going to evolve in the direction of elaboration or extinction. 

Malcolm is keen to make a documentary about funerals — has been for some time. He tells us: I’ve been working in documentaries for 15 years and have never been able to get a commissioning editor interested in even approaching the topic of death.’ 

He adds: ‘My grandfather died last year and I can’t help but feel that so much of the symbolism and power has been stripped from a modern day funeral. Hopefully, an interesting programme may be an opportunity to you explore the funeral ritual in modern times.’

Malcolm has asked me to ask you what you think. What could he most usefully make a programme about? 

It’s a rare thing to be asked what we think. I hope you will tell him. He says, ‘it’s very exciting to think what we will hear back.’ 

Go on: excite him!


  1. Charles

    I’m not sure about excitement, but I can certainly make what I would hope to be a worthwhile suggestion to Malcolm Neaum:
    Get hold of a copy of ‘Sorry for your Trouble’, a documentary commissioned by the BBC from Michael Beattie Media in Belfast. This was a well-received hour long film about funeral provision and funeral options in Northern Ireland. It was shown on BBC1 in, and only in, the province as it featured one of their best-known radio and tv presenters (William Crawley) going on a personal journey of discovery. I should declare an interest as I was involved in it, and introduced Michael Beattie and William Crawley to various people who featured in it. The result was both moving and informative and generated a deal of interest. The point is that it was designed for a NI audience but sadly this meant that it was never shown on the mainland.
    Now, I’m not suggesting plagiarism – but I’ve always thought that such a documentary could work well here. Plagiarism wouldn’t apply anyway, as with a well-known, well respected and non-aligned presenter (Nicky Campbell? other suggestions?) the model depends on a personal view, taking on a similar role, but looking at all the main stream options through their own eyes, pulling the threads together and coming to a conclusion. I’d be happy to elaborate if Malcolm so wished.

  2. Charles

    Coming from Northern Ireland I am aware of this documentary and have been trying to get a copy. In Ireland if someone dies ‘we say sorry for your trouble’ without even mentioning the persons name or the sad event. It’s a great cover, avoiding the possibility of saying the wrong thing in awkward situations. Another often used Irish expression of sympathy is ‘Ar dheis De go raibh a anam’ which means ‘may his soul be on the right side of God’

  3. Charles

    Malcolm – I recommend you talk to Ed Emsley at Falmouth – he has made a short film that I would absolutely love to see extended – “An Undertaking” about some good, caring, decent, clever and thoughtful undertakers. Everyone I know who has seen this wants to see more…. See Charles for the link.

  4. Charles

    Yes! What Jed said. Also, I think it would be quite interesting to make a documentary on funeral celebrants. It’s a relatively new vocation, and there are many amazing representatives in the UK. Shadow four of them, in their daily lives, meeting with a family, preparing the ceremony. And ask some questions that celebrants ask themselves: how do I open myself to really listening heart and soul to who the deceased was in order to represent her faithfully (not as how I or a church or other organization think she should be)? How do I support myself with a living wage when people think I should be paid what a minister/vicar is (who are paid by the church, room and board, etc.)? How do people find me and know the deeply caring service I am able to provide? How do we help inform many (most?) funeral directors that times are changing and customers want to be empowered, will insist more and more on getting what they want, and a funeral celebrant is not part of the fd’s list of offerings…the fd and the celebrant are part of the customer’s list of many options. A documentary about funeral celebrants would show how they go into the family, within the circle, listen deeply, and create a ceremony that is really healing, not a cookie cutter of what has been done in the past.

  5. Charles

    Certainly follow up Ed Emsley’s superb short film. Ed could have said a bit more in his film about the fact that the Callenders are undertakers and celebrants.That seems to me important.

    But there has been so much about funeral directors, i.e. undertaking, body care, The Business, that I’d really like to see something about the ceremony itself.

    That is, the actual funeral. Look at the ritual elements in British funerals led by ministers of established religions, look at secular/civil funerals, look at Pagans, and try to work out how we can develop effective symbols and practices for our times, if we don’t have a funeral conducted according to the rites of an established religion.

    Charles has talk before about the threat of DVT in secular funerals – how is the congregation involved in a religious funeral? Actually, how much is it really involved, doing stuff, as opposed to standing up and muttering in a self-conscious way through TLMS? How can we get congregations involved in ritual activity that benefits them, whatever their beliefs?

    The real issue is not “religious vs secular” funerals (YAWN) it’s how to realise a good funeral, whatever people believe or disbelieve. And for that, we need ritual elements that go deep.

    Rant over. Well, you did ask!

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