Dear departed, thanks for the great party

Funerals are glum, but memorial services have become seriously chic.

What practical steps can Nineties man take to prepare for his own inevitable exit from this world? A properly sworn will, a trust fund for the children, pension rights secured for the current spouse and a touch of Neil Diamond at the funeral?

If this is not enough, what about a memorial service? It is no longer essential to be counted among "the great and the good" to qualify for a special service of remembrance once you are dead.

Ordinary people, whom Oscar Wilde famously depicted as living in "virtuous obscurity", are now following the new standard set by celebrities and are opting for memorial services in addition to traditional funerals.

The Rev Dr Peter Jupp, of the National Funerals College, is so committed to the idea of memorials for the common man that his organisation has published The Dead Citizens' Charter to help promote their wider acceptance.

"The average British funeral is a miserable and disappointing affair," said Dr Jupp. "For those who are not well-known figures or members of churches - most of us - the contemporary funeral lacks meaningful symbolism, dignity, adequate time and comfort to those who mourn."

The answer is to follow the lead provided by famous dead, such as the former England cricketer and footballer Denis Compton, whose memorial service at Westminster Abbey last week was so over-subscribed there were rumours of a black market in tickets for places in the pews.

"Memorial services play a serious role. Their immediate value is the provision, for all sorts of people with full diaries, of an opportunity to pay public respect to those who have died and acknowledge their contribution to wider communities," said Dr Jupp.

The broadcaster Ned Sherrin has put together a users' guide to memorials called Remembrance: An Anthology of Readings, Prayers and Music Chosen for Memorial Services. "A memorial service is not only a chance to pay respects and to celebrate a person's life," said Mr Sherrin. "It is often a happy way to put a period to a time of mourning. Funerals arrive too soon."

All over Britain crematoria, where 70 per cent of us take our final curtain, are reporting an upsurge in demand for memorial services, often on the anniversary of the funeral. So how should the new rite of passage be ordered? You could do worse than take a lead from the once-shining personalities who have in the past five years turned gloomy occasions into prime society shindigs.

Some have already made plans for their memorial services. Desert Island Discs' Sue Lawley wants Henry Purcell's anthem Sound the Trumpet and "the opening section from the comic novel The Wimbledon Poisoner, read by the author, my brother-in-law, Nigel Williams".

Newsreader Martyn Lewis has stipulated that He Who Would Valiant Be and Jerusalem be sung at his, while Esther Rantzen opted for Edith Piaf's Je Ne Regrette Rien and Ella Fitzgerald singing Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.

John Mortimer, who has spoken so entertainingly at a host of celebrity memorials, was reluctant to be drawn on the subject. "Memorials are horrible things really because the person you are there for is dead. It is just that a number of the people I knew well died over a quite short period of time so I attended quite a few. As for my own I have no interest whatsoever."

Columnist Jeffrey Bernard admits he is often asked to speak at friends' memorials. "They are a bloody sight better than funerals," he says, but confesses he failed to attend the service for fellow Soho habitue Ronnie Scott in April. "I didn't like him," says Bernard, who has made arrangements for his own memorial service. "Trouble is," he says, "I can't remember what they were."

Tears and Tattinger: how to say your farewells in style

Here, for future reference (it might be later than you think) is the Independent on Sunday guide to successful memorial services.

Location:

In death, as in life, a good address always helps. The smartest London venues are, unsurprisingly, adjacent to the best properties. They include Westminster Abbey, St Paul's (Covent Garden - the "actors' church"), St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral, St Bride's (Fleet Street - the "journalists' church") and St James's, Piccadilly.

Guests and habitual memorialists:

Ned Sherrin is a must. As Britain's only memorials correspondent, for The Oldie magazine, his attendance is a seal of social acceptability. Other regulars include John Mortimer, Peter O'Toole, Barbara Windsor, Spike Milligan and Barry Cryer. One social commentator has already observed that celebrity memorials are now more fun than weddings, guaranteeing a high social profile without the obligation to hand over a present.

Most popular songs, hymns and readings:

Gabriel Faure's Pie Jesu; Jerusalem, words by William Blake; Immortal invisible, God Only Wise by Walter Chalmers Smith; Henry Scott Holland's Death is Nothing at All; Plato's The Last Days of Socrates and WH Auden's Funeral Blues, made popular by the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Most glitzy recent memorials:

Photographer Terence Donovan's at St George's, Hanover Square, London: here, Diana, Princess of Wales shared front-row pews with Baroness Thatcher, Sir David Puttnam, the Earl of Snowdon, David Bailey and Lord Lichfield.

Ronnie Scott's at St Martin-in-the-Fields: some 1,000 guests including George Melly, Peter O'Toole, Spike Milligan, Barbara Windsor and Rolling Stone Charlie Watts.

Actor Sir Robert Stephens at St James's, Piccadilly: Dame Judi Dench (who read from Henry V) and John Mortimer, Simon Callow, Steven Berkoff and Dave Allen spoke.

Willie Rushton's, at St Paul's, Covent Garden: mourners included Spike Milligan, Auberon Waugh, Richard Ingrams and Humphrey Lyttelton.

Jessica Mitford's at The Lyric Theatre: presided over by the newsreader Jon Snow with addresses from John Mortimer, Polly Toynbee, Helena Kennedy and Maya Angelou.

Where to eat afterwards:

After the Terence Donovan service, Princess Diana joined guests for lunch at The Ritz. John Osborne's wife Helen treated mourners to lunch at the Garrick Club while The Ivy remains a prerequisite of theatrical types both in this world and the next.

Last orders:

Memorials provide one last score-settling opportunity. Cantankerous playwright John Osborne notably banned Sir Peter Hall, Albert Finney and Arnold Wesker from his memorial. Lord Olivier said the Queen was not to attend his while Sir Kingsley Amis insisted that despite being held at St Martin- in-the-Fields, his memorial service should be non-religious.

Odd location:

The Odeon, Leicester Square was chosen by Cubby Broccoli, who produced the Bond movies and premiered them in that cinema.

Most Memorials:

Calouste Gulbenkian. On 27 July the oil magnate, who died in 1955, enjoys his 42nd memorial service at St Sarkis, London.

n Ned Sherrin's book Remembrance is published by Michael Joseph at pounds 17.50. All royalties go to Cruse, the bereavement charity.

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