Coronation Street - Did you see Hayley's Funeral?
Feb 4, 2014
Nervous anticipation. Now there’s a double-edged phrase. It speaks of an impending event, the outcome of which we feel nervous or fearful of; but with an implied subtext that things might just as likely turn out ok after all. Like going on a first date, or having transplant surgery.
With similar trepidation I forced myself to watch Coronation Street on Friday night, having been reliably informed that “funeral-world” (as one online commentator light-heartedly refers to the funeral profession) would be agog at how the producers of Coronation Street would portray the funeral of Hayley Cropper. Her death was, I believe, already the subject of a national media non-event.
You need to be aware that until last Friday I hadn’t watched Coronation Street since the days when Alf Roberts ran the corner shop, Brian Tilsley was murdered and the chap playing Ken “lock up your daughters” Barlow had yet to present the scriptwriters with an awkward problem. So I had no emotional investment in Ms. Cropper’s demise and my only interest in her funeral was to see what answers I’d need to arm myself with when confronted with curious clients in the coming days.
When I was younger and still in training I’d eagerly anticipate TV portrayals of funeral work and immediately launch into an informed critique for the benefit of anyone in earshot. Nowadays I just sit there in quiet dread, hoping it won’t be as bad as experience has led me to expect. But with a resigned sense of professional “noblesse oblige” I forced my still-resistant index finger to press 3 on the TV remote control.
In fairness, what unfolded before my eyes wasn’t too bad at all. I could even say Hayley Cropper’s funeral was actually portrayed very well. Modern funeral trends meant the show’s producers were handed perfect dramatic material on a plate and they certainly exploited the zeitgeist: the colourful design for the coffin, nobody wearing black, female bearers to carry The Late Ms. Cropper and a fair if extremely truncated portrayal of a non-religious ceremony, etc, etc.
But fictional drama aside, how fairly does the media portray the funeral trade? The last documentary, on Channel 4 last year, rightly caused a stir. Some of its revelations represented investigative journalism at its best; but in certain other very specific instances the “revelations” were little more than cleverly manipulated insights into the reality of working life in one particular nationwide funeral chain - albeit the programme’s producers benefited hugely from the unwitting help of some hopelessly inept employees of that particular company.
But remember, that company only grew so large because bereaved families across the country choose to go there in large numbers. The factory-like facilities and working practices viewers witnessed are the direct result of the sheer volume of funerals such companies handle. Catch 22, it pains me to say.
Other times however, the media resort to outright misreporting to get a good story. The most common example is usually:
“Grieving family stunned at vicar’s refusal to allow memorial headstone design.”
This, when accurately translated, should read:
“Grieving family suffer further distress after being allowed to purchase headstone well outside of cemetery/churchyard regulations when stonemason/funeral director doesn’t bother to check the regulations first and advise client family accordingly. Furious vicar, who would have been happy to discuss matter with family before work on stone began, is instead left to take all the blame in local media.”
However, there really is no answer to “Bungling undertakers cremate wrong body.” In the vast majority of such cases that headline brutally captures a simple truth. But very, very occasionally it might almost be argued that it illustrates the law of averages in equally brutal fashion: circa 484,000 funerals a year in England & Wales - sooner or later something’s bound to go wrong somewhere. That doesn’t make it right of course and it certainly doesn’t make it any more excusable; but it is an inconvenient truth nonetheless. In such cases the silent headline that never dares speak itself in funeral-world might be “There but for the grace of God go any of us….”
But for now at least, it’s the bankers’ turn to take the flack..!
For information on cardboard coffins, including the one featured in Coronation Street, visit: www.greenfieldcreationscoffins.co.uk
For Information on non-religious funeral ceremonies visit the British Humanist Association at: www.humanism.org.uk