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Farewell, Pete

Stars including Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Gambon, Sue Johnstone and Kevin Spacey attend a memorial service for Pete Postlethwaite in London yesterday

Day Lewis, who appeared alongside his friend in the Guildford Four movie In the Name of the Father, led the addresses - and sang to his widow Jacqui.

He told guests at the service: "My great good fortune was to serve an apprenticeship under Pete Postlethwaite."

Grimethorpe Colliery Band, the brass ensemble conducted by Postlethwaite as bandleader Danny in the movie Brassed Off, performed a rousing Danny Boy.

And the actor's own words rang out around the church in Shoreditch, east London, with a recording from AE Housman's A Shropshire Lad.

Postlethwaite, acknowledged as one of the finest actors in the world by director Steven Spielberg, died in January after a lengthy fight with cancer. He is understood to have been diagnosed first in the early 1990s.

His films included The Usual Suspects, The Shipping News, Inception and Romeo + Juliet. Shropshire-based Postlethwaite landed an Oscar nomination for his performance as Guiseppe Conlon in In The Name Of The Father, about the men wrongfully imprisoned for a notorious IRA bomb attack.

Today's service took place at St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch, which is sited fittingly just yards away from the site of one of Britain's first purpose-built theatres. The church's bells are famously mentioned in the nursery rhyme Oranges And Lemons.

Among guests were a number of leading figures from the movie world including Spacey, who played Verbal to Postlethwaite's Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects.

Day Lewis, who spoke without notes, talked of Postlethwaite's peerless ability as an actor and spoke of their days training together at the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol.

Day Lewis's first professional assignment was as his friend's understudy and their paths crossed many times in later years including 1992's The Last Of The Mohicans. During his address, Day Lewis sang a traditional song to Postlethwaite's widow, Jacqui Morrish.

Other guests included Michael Gambon who shared a stage with Postlethwaite at the RSC, as well as Julie Walters and Matthew Kelly, part of the extraordinary collection of talents in the company of Liverpool's Everyman Theatre in the 70s, which also included Jonathan Pryce and Bill Nighy.

Warrington-born Postlethwaite's son William read a poem written by his father in November while being treated on ward 21 of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, and his daughter Lily told the hundreds of family friends how she felt he was still among them.

Old friend and fellow actor Eamon Boland recalled, to laughter, an episode which saw the pair of them left in charge of a pub, the Salutation Arms, for a fortnight, but drank their way through the stock of Tetley's bitter themselves. They also managed to kill a budgie in their care - and its replacement.

Postlethwaite himself closed the service, when his reading of poem XXVII Is My Team Ploughing? from A Shropshire Lad was played. Poignantly, the poem takes the form of a conversation between a dead youth and a living friend in which he expresses concern for the partner he left behind.

The memorial coincided with the launch today of a new Pete Postlethwaite Memorial Trust, to help young actors at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

The actor studied at the school and retained links with the theatre throughout his career.

Principal Paul Rummer said: "Bristol was very special to Pete and he considered his time spent at the School to be 'the best years of (his) life'.

"When he was a student here, he was helped by various scholarship funds and his family have generously decided they would like to help the students of today who are in a similar position as Pete was at that time.

"Bristol Old Vic Theatre School continues to train people from the widest social background and so this is an extremely poignant way to continue Pete's legacy and to help those highly talented individuals who might otherwise not be able to afford to train."