With inspirational eulogies and readings,sublime organ music and glorious singing from about 800 of us, all still ringing in my ears and resounding in my heart from Saturday, here's a book published in 2004 by John Murray, Well- Remembered Friends - Eulogies on Celebrated Lives collected into an anthology by Angela Huth. Unheard of here and discovered on a second-hand bookshop jolly last week.
'The eulogy is a literary form like no other: to compress a lifetime into minutes, to summon the person, what they meant to their friends, colleagues and sometimes a wider context; to be moved to grief, laughter, sadness and fond memories, to mix praise for virtue with the acknowledgement of foibles; to choose a few anecdotes from the hundreds available - all this is a very diferent art to that of the dry obituarist.'
I'm not sure I'd ever given the literary form of the eulogy much thought but this book soon set me on the right track and steered me through a strange range of emotions as I read.
Some of them are beautifully poetic, you'd expect no less from Ted Hughes on Henry Williamson as he pays tribute and expresses his own first encounter with Tarka the Otter.
'Tarka put my life under an enchantment that lasted for years and that gradually crystallised into an ambition to write for myself, and to fasten that strange feeling, that eerie sense of the moment of reality, in my own sentences.'
Seamus Heaney on Ted Hughes
' He has become another 'genius of the shore', a guardian spirit of the land and of the language'
Then, as you read on, every single eulogy becomes compelling in its own way. Who wouldn't want to read what Alec Guiness said about Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud on Vivien Leigh, Margot Fonteyn on Frederick Ashton, Alan Bennett on Peter Cook or Barry Cryer on Frankie Howerd. There are 110 to choose from and they make perfect episodic reading, but I have a runaway favourite to date.
Dudley Moore's Memorial Service was held at Magdalen College Chapel,Oxford on 16th November 2002 and Michael Parkinson did the honours, quickly identifying that one of the advantages of dying is that you don't have to read your obituaries. Thus Dudley Moore was spared the one that pointed out, as if it explained everything,
'For a long time he lived with Susan Anton who was 11 inches taller'.
But there follows the most hilarious account of an evening when Parky had been invited to hear Dudley, a great and gifted musician, play the piano at a club.
Picture the moment.
Parky slightly the worse for being "in drink" as they say these days, accepting Dudley's seemingly impromptu invite to go up on stage and sing Moon River to his piano accompaniment. Far beyond the point of making a wise and informed decision based on the fact he didn't really know the words, and in fact thinking he was indeed Frank Sinatra at that moment, Parky agrees.
Dudley plays magically and Mancini-like and Parky sings...sort of.
Then Dudley changes the key in that Les Dawson way and things start to go very pear-shaped but Parky carries on. Suddenly catching Dudley's huge smile and following his gaze shakily to the first row of the audience, there who should be sitting in the front row but Mr Moon River himself, Andy Williams.
As Parky says, it was the most spectacular set-up of all time but then,
'You see that's how I remember him. Someone once said that when comedians die, when funny men die, all they leave behind is the echo of remembered laughter. Well that will do for me and I'm sure it would do for Dudley Moore.'
There are another 109 like this and they make for splendid reading and, lest we forget, here's one of the moments I grew up on, and Dud and Pete to bid a swift thirty-eight second adieu in their own inimitable style for a Monday morning smile.