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Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 14:31 GMT
Living it up at the funeral
generic hearse and coffin
The traditional funeral may become outdated
Jazz music, football songs and loud clothes could become as common at funerals of the future as black ties and hymns, according to a survey.

The report, commissioned by the Co-operative Funeral Service, found there was growing enthusiasm for personal, custom-made ceremonies that owe less and less to religion.

The traditional ceremony - with hearse, black clothes, church service and depressing wake - is on its way out, it would seem.

The report found that 57% of people questioned would choose pop songs instead of traditional hymns or poems, and just under half would consider having a "themed" funeral.

'Bright is right'

Ideas range from gangland-style funeral processions, with horse-drawn carriages pulling the coffin, to New Orleans jazz bands playing When The Saints Go Marching In.

More than 89% of people interviewed expressed a desire for family and friends to wear bright colours in place of traditional black.



Most people wanted their ashes scattered in a favourite place - such as a football ground, a childhood home or a hilltop vista - and a few suggested being launched into space.

Others suggestions included treating friends and relatives to a firework display by mixing the ashes with gunpowder, while some people wanted a small amount of their remains placed in a specially designed locket for their loved ones to wear.

The Co-Op, keen not to get caught out by the changing consumer demand, has launched the Funeral Pledge, a free service allowing customers to specify every detail of their own funeral in advance.

Co-Op spokesman Ben Jason said: "While the traditional funeral service will continue to be popular, these results show that an increasing number of us are not prepared to leave our funeral arrangements to chance or to those we leave behind.

"Whether it is a particular version of a pop song or a horse-drawn hearse, we want to have the last word in how we are remembered and personalise our funeral by exercising the wide number of options available to us."

Church of England spokesman Steve Jenkins said reports of the death of the traditional funeral were "premature".

'Vicars are flexible'

He said: "No-one keeps figures but we think about 80% of funerals in the UK are conducted by the Church of England and the majority of those will be fairly traditional."

But he said vicars were increasingly flexible about what took place in their churches or at cremation chapels.

Mr Jenkins said: "We have just finished updating the Alternative Service Book to take into account modern tastes and customs."

He said it was accepted that people wanted to do things differently and most vicars had no problem with playing the deceased's favourite songs or allowing friends and relatives to make speeches and even crack the odd joke.

But he said: "There has to be a certain amount of spirituality. There is no point having a service without committing the person to God's care."

Mr Jenkins said the Church would never tell non-religious people how they should behave at funerals but he added: "The dignity of a funeral is important and the most important thing is to say goodbye to that person, otherwise the relatives will be left in limbo."

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