Few tears and much laughter as friends remember a clown: Mothers-in-law joined celebrities to pay tribute to the comedian Les Dawson, writes Malcolm Pithers

THERE were a few tears for the clown yesterday, but mostly the final audience for Les Dawson stood and chuckled.

His friends said it was what 'Lumpy' would have appreciated. No pomp and a bit of a laugh at life and its tragedies. They turned up for Dawson's funeral at the White Church near Lytham St Anne's, Lancashire, in their hundreds. The comedian would not have been surprised to see more mothers-in-law in macs and plastic rainhoods than he had probably ever seen looking out into the stage lights.

Police closed roads and erected barriers to keep people back, so they peered over a brick wall, stood on parking cones and hung on to lampposts. Across the road from the church, where only last week the comedian had opened the annual garden fete, women in a residential home trained their binoculars on the cortege. The cortege brimmed with floral tributes from friends who could not resist the one-liners. One, from the comedians Little and Large, read: 'Hope you play the harp better than you did the piano.'

In the church the actor Edward Woodward, a close friend of Dawson, faltered only once as he tried to keep the atmosphere light yet not irreverent. 'Why?' he asked, 'has there been the kind of coverage usually reserved for kings and princes? Well he was the king of comedy and indeed a prince of a man.'

Other entertainers had been adulated, praised and admired, but in Les Dawson's case there had been such an outpouring of love, Woodward said. 'That is the key is it not? . . . The key to this whole day is the love of Les Dawson and his love of others.'

The service was a mix of hymns, songs and readings from Dawson's own comic, autobiographical and philosophical writings. Michelle Dotrice, an actress and Woodward's wife, said everyone knew that in order to survive over the past few years, Dawson had given up things which were deemed bad for him. She said he had written 'losing weight entails giving up all the things that make life enjoyable. Hot mouthwatering pies, with lagoons of thick aromatic gravy, golden crumpets, dripping with warm butter . . .'

In the church and outside they chuckled and kept on laughing as a few of the Dawson deadpan jokes hung in the air. But there were sombre moments, too. In one, Mo Moreland, of the Roly Polys dance group, read from Dawson's autobiographical work, No Tears for the Clown, in which he wrote about the birth of his daughter, Charlotte, eight months ago.

At the end of the hour-long service the cortege drove slowly away past the seafront and the Fairhaven lake, where Dawson used to stroll. On the window of each car was a black-and-white sticker advertising the funeral director's name. It read: Box Brothers. Les Dawson would have seen the humour in that.

(Photograph omitted)