Memorial unveiled in a blaze of glory

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The Independent Online
Bang on time, to his evident surprise, Ben Gaskell yesterday blasted the skies above the Herefordshire countryside and more than 100 guests with a pyrotechnic display worthy of his late father, Tom.

The noise was hellish and not at all the thing most churchyards are used to in the way of memorial services. However, Fawley Chapel, in a bend of the River Wye, is well used to this sort of thing. Next to the chapel, in a fine ex-farmhouse, Tom pursued for 21 years his twin passions of fireworks and jazz, until his death a decade ago.

Even after his death, the place rocked to explosions: when Tom's wife Daphne was buried in the churchyard in 1988, it was to a valedictory salvo of rockets devised by her son.

Yesterday's event culminated in the unveiling of a bronze memorial to Daphne and Tom modelled and cast by Ben's brother- in-law, Nicholas Dimbleby, the sculptor and youngest son of Richard Dimbleby, the late television presenter.

It was, inevitably, on a firework theme. Ben's sister, Josceline Dimbleby, the food writer - who married David Dimbleby, also a television presenter - presided over the party.

The ceremonies began with loud toasts to each of the departed, these being followed by an even greater explosive din - a maroon shell for Tom and a maroon rocket for Daphne. There followed a series of banshee-wail fireworks and the churchyard fence became a wall of roman candles which made a deafening sound, akin to monsoon rain pounding a nissen hut.

Finally, through the rain of sparks, the debris, the gathering smoke and the shattering noise, there came a sudden, single, ground-shaking boom as a bomb planted beneath a rather straggly bouquet of flowers set before the monument went off.

The crowd were stunned into silence and near-insensibility. Eventually, the smoke began to clear and there - like the man in the explosions in the movies - the monument stood naked except for a few tatters, its comely black veil blown to smithereens.

Sir Roy Strong, former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Lady Strong, who live nearby, pronounced themselves impressed. The local landowner who lives in the late Tom Gaskell's house and is one of the trustees for Fawley Chapel, which is run as a resource centre for the parish as well, occasionally, as a church, said he saw nothing too odd about the event.

Certainly the trust does not allow alcohol to be drunk inside the chapel, but the graveyard was, it seemed, a different matter. The memorial was unexceptionable, he said. 'The only unorthodox thing is to unveil the thing with a rocket.'

Josceline, clearly pleased that the thing had gone well and that the roll call of the dead had not been lengthened, hoped that Tom and Daphne had heard the celebrations. It is hardly likely that the Elysian fields had not shifted a bit under the feet of the departed.

(Photograph omitted)