Belfast Telegraph

Biggins wears pink at Lynda funeral

Christopher Biggins was among the stars of the showbiz world gathering to say goodbye to actress Lynda Bellingham at her funeral.

The TV star, wearing a bright pink suit and pale shirt, was accompanied to the service at St Bartholomew's Church in Crewkerne, Somerset, by his partner, Neil Sinclair.

Asked about his suit, Biggins replied: "She (Lynda) would like this, put a smile on her face."

Many of the guests arriving at the church were carrying umbrellas due to the rain, as more than 100 members of the public lined the path outside the church to pay their respects.

Lynda had asked for a lively send-off, so her husband, Michael Pattemore, has lined up a string of acts to make the funeral a Royal Variety-style celebration of the much-loved actress's life.

Her friend, former Archdeacon of London Peter Delaney MBE, is leading the service at the church, which holds 300 guests.

A memorial service will take place in London in February next year.

Among the showbiz stars gathering for the funeral were Loose Women Coleen Nolan, Jane McDonald, Andrea McLean and Kate Thornton, as well as Julia Sawalha, Coronation Street's Helen Worth, Robert Lindsay, Giles Brandreth and Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes.

Also attending was her screen husband from the hit Oxo adverts, Michael Redfern.

The TV star, best known for her long-running role as the mother in a squabbling family the Oxo adverts since the 1980s, had colon cancer which later spread to her lungs and liver and died last month aged 66.

She was diagnosed last July but recently said she had decided to end her treatment to limit the amount of suffering her family would witness. In her last few weeks, she spoke openly about her illness and its effect on her family.

One of her last wishes was to spend one more Christmas at home with them, but husband Michael said the advanced state of her illness meant it was clear she was unable to die at home as she dearly wished.

He told Yours magazine, for which his late wife was a columnist: "She was in too much pain and they didn't have it under control enough for me to be able to look after her."

He said: "I can tell you now that the words on her gravestone will be 'The curtain went up on May 31 1948, and the final curtain went down on October 19 2014'."

Lynda's acting career included the title role in sitcom Faith In The Future and regular stage roles. She was also a regular on panel show Loose Women, and filmed a special farewell episode where she spoke about her illness.

Her Loose Women co-presenter Nadia Sawalha, who also appeared with her in the Oxo adverts, paid tribute to a "brilliant actress".

She said Lynda told her fellow Loose Women panellists: "'Please, when I'm gone, have a big party for me and have a dance' and that's Lynda through and through."

The actress's decision to end her treatment was revealed in a newspaper serialisation of her autobiography which was published 10 days before she died.

The mother-of-two was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours list for her charity work.

Lynda, whose sister Barbara died from lung cancer, had been a high-profile supporter of Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support.

The actress, who was adopted, published a best-selling memoir, Lost And Found, which dealt with her search for her birth mother. She also wrote a novel, Tell Me Tomorrow, which was published last year.

She married Michael, who was her third husband, on her 60th birthday.

The service began as Lynda's husband and sons Michael, 31, and Robert, 26, helped carry her wooden coffin adorned with white flowers into the church as Elgar's Nimrod - The Enigma Variations played.

Mourners following in behind the coffin wept as they carried single white roses. The congregation sang the hymn Lead Us Heavenly Father before Loose Women star Lisa Maxwell read The Epistle to the Romans (ch 8.31-39).

The first tribute was paid by TV star and former MP Gyles Brandreth.

He said: "Sometimes sadness and celebration can go hand in hand. Here we are in this beautiful, amazing church in Michael's home town saying goodbye to lovely Lynda.

"Brave, beautiful, brilliant, funny, fabulous Lynda. As we say goodbye to her in here, her book is No 1 bestseller. I think she would have liked to have gone out on a high.

"I first met her nearly 40 years ago when we were introduced by Biggins. Of course, I fell for her at once. She was so funny and so sexy - even gay men fancied her.

"Shakespeare has one of his leading ladies remind us that all things must die, passing through nature to eternity.

"Lynda was an extraordinary force of nature, intelligent, gifted, generous, funny, feisty, open, honest, kind and caring.

"I don't think I have known anyone more alive than Lynda Bellingham. She showed us how to live and in the last year or two of her life she taught us how to die - with grace, courage, humour and acceptance.

"She rang me three weeks ago and said she was in a good place. 'I am sad for the boys and Michael but I'm all right'.

"She was all right, she was the best and she was our friend. Aren't we the lucky ones?"

Tributes were then read by her sister Jean Bellingham and actress Maureen Lipman.

Fighting back tears, Lipman said: "I wish I could reproduce the fun times, the joke-telling. Strangely she loved one joke that ended in the words '...I think that maybe I s**t in the piano'.

"Her sudden honking laughter, her craziness, her rich, throaty and slightly metallic voice, her high campery and her beautiful brown eyes.

"In this sad time we must conjure up over a Campari and soda or three as we attempt to adjust to living in a belligerent, sometimes bellicose world, which no longer holds our Belly."

Mourners, who had filled the church, then sang Love Divine, All Loves Excelling before listening to more tributes from Jane McDonald and Christopher Timothy, Lynda's on-screen husband in All Creatures Great And Small.

The church choir sang God Be In My Head before the congregation listened as Loose Women co-star Denise Welch, actor Nickolas Grace and Biggins paid tribute.

Welch read to a round of applause an ode she had written about her friend.

It said: "I'll miss you Lynda very much as will everybody here

"There is no need to say how much you are loved, as today that is abundantly clear

"If you are looking down from wherever you are I am sure you will be having a hoot at the odd bods that loved you so dearly like Biggins in that bloody pink suit

"Your humour is what I will remember and the dirtiest laugh known to man

"Your jokes even I said you can't tell, 'C'mon Denzy, you know that I can'

"We laughed until we cried over willies, they provided us with such endless fun

"We'd have bets on who would have the biggest but no, none of you ever won

"Her career spanned several decades showing a talent so huge and so rare, spawning comments like 'God that was brilliant' and 'What a magnificent pair'

"But joking aside, as an actress, she knocked spots off all around, from 'All Creatures...' to 'At home with the Braithwaites', all her characters had us spellbound

"We all know she became a Loose Woman and made a success of that too, where her honesty, truth and compassion made it feel like she was talking to you.

"But her main role in life wasn't on stage but back at her home with the boys. From Michael and Robbie as babies in a house full of nappies and toys, to a new life that made her so happy. By the look on her face it was plain and we all know the reason why that was, 'My luvver over there Mr Spain'.

"Ten years have gone by oh so quickly, in his arms she was destined to stay, until a cruel twist of fate took her from us and that's why we are all here today.

"When it's my turn to go I will remember to cherish each night and each day. I want to go just like Bellers, decided to do it her way.

"As she said today must be joyous, full of laughter and try not to cry and because she was ever so bossy, let's obey her Here's to Lynda with a 'y'."

Grace spoke of his 48-year friendship with Lynda when they met at drama school as teenagers, until he held her hand as she quietly slipped away at hospital with her family at her side.

Biggins had mourners laughing with a theatrical five-minute tribute to his great friend. He started by reading some words from one of her close friends, agent Felicity Larner, who was unable to attend the service.

Biggins said: "Wouldn't she have loved today? Looking around, it is like looking at all our lives, it's fantastic, it's just, just wonderful.

"I only hope, I have a little challenge to you, Peter (Delaney - Archdeacon), I only hope that when we die we hang around for at least the funeral - to see who's there and who's not there.

"I rang my mother Pam, who's 90 and lives in Salisbury, and I said I am going down to Lynda Bellingham's funeral and she said 'Oh poor girl, where is it then?' and I said 'Crewkerne' and she said 'Crew-keeerrrrnnnnne, I was stationed there in the war. It's a lovely place'.

"There was a bit of a pause and she said 'She'll love it there'. So Lynda, you have Pam's approval. It's a very, very nice place indeed."

Biggins then read a poem called Codicil, written by Julia Deakin, which had been given to him by his "comedy guru" Maureen Lipman.

It said: "Hang about Vicar, let me interrupt. Having been full of life you say, I'd want a party. Yes, but I'm full of death now and see things differently.

"You say I wouldn't have wanted folk to grieve for long. No - but with infinite death ahead of me, a few months being alive and fed-up doesn't seem much to ask of my friends.

"OK, some of you wear the bright clothes I admired - but you lot with less taste, give us a break and wear dark colours please.

"No flowers? Donations only? Hold your horses. I could never have picked one charity and loved buying and looking at flowers. I'd like to give my mourners that opportunity.

"True, I liked food, and would like to see most of you tucking in. But I'd also like to do some good - and some of you who could do to lose a pound or two should surely be too upset to eat.

"Smile by all means, remember my gaffes and share a careful laugh - but then it's my funeral, f*** it - some of you ought to go home and weep buckets."

Fighting back tears, Biggins turned to the coffin and said: "Lynda... Belly... we will cry but eventually at the end of the day we all love you, we will always love you as you were so, so special. Thank you."

To a round of applause, Biggins was them embraced by Mr Pattemore.

Recorded contributions were played to the congregation from both author Lynda La Plante and celebrity agent Sue Latimer, as both were unable to attend.

The choir then sang Lord Make Me An Instrument Of Your Peace before actress Sue Holderness - Only Fools And Horses' Marlene - read Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.

Archdeacon Delaney led prayers and then the choir sang, for Grace, Away In A Manger - as a mark of Lynda's wish to see one last Christmas.

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