Jazz band helps Sir Bernard's funeral go with a real swing

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IT was a fitting send-off for a man never shy of making a big noise on both the local and national stage.

The funeral procession of Professor Sir Bernard Crick, who died last month aged 79, was led not by a grim-faced undertaker, but by a New Orleans-style jazz band.

Sir Bernard, who was knighted in 2002, was a lover of parties, so his family decided to throw one last bash yesterday afternoon.

They hired The Gus Ferguson Jazz Band, a four-piece led by Cameron Toll-based trumpeter Gus, plus a trombonist, banjo and sousaphone players.

Sir Bernard's son Olly, 48, explained: "There was a band my father very much admired called The Charlie McNair Hot Five, who have probably now all retired or passed on, but in their absence we decided that this was the kind of noise we wanted played upon his departure."

The light dusting of snow that accompanied Sir Bernard's final departure from his Bellevue Terrace home had become a swirling blizzard as the procession approached Warriston Crematorium, but the band played on with blue fingers.

They set off to the tune of When The Saints, before breaking out into the strains of – appropriately for a man so strongly allied to the political left – The Red Flag.

The Socialist rallying cry was reprised at Sir Bernard's cremation by his scores of friends from the worlds of politics, academia and the arts, including the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP and Edinburgh-based film and television producer Leslie Hills.

Mr Blunkett, who Sir Bernard referred to as "my pupil" long after the former Home Secretary graduated from his political theory class at Sheffield University in the 1960s, delivered a warm eulogy to his friend and former tutor.

He said: "We used to go walking together by the river in Derbyshire. Some said that during our walks we were like (18th-century philosophers] David Hume and Jean Jacques Rousseau, who also walked the Derbyshire paths together. I think that is stretching it, but we had some tremendous discussions."

He added: "Bernard was a committed humanist but not entirely an atheist, and during his final days we talked about what lies beyond. I told him that whoever he met – whether it be St Peter or Old Nick – to give him as hard a time as he gave me."

Son Olly recalled how his father's erratic driving nearly changed the course of Labour Party history in the 1970s.

"During one typically eventful trip, he managed to brake to avoid hitting a frail, grey-haired old gentleman crossing the road. That day, he did not run over Michael Foot," he told the congregation.

Sir Bernard's eccentric send-off didn't end with the band. Mourners were handed Post-It notes and invited to compose brief farewells to Sir Bernard and attach them to his simple cardboard coffin.

During the farewell and committal, more uplifting music was played by renowned Celtic musicians Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham and Margaret Bennett.

In recent years Sir Bernard concentrated on local campaigns, including the one to save Glenogle Baths, where he was a regular swimmer. He also fronted the Edinburgh At Risk Campaign, fighting plans such as the expansion of Edinburgh Zoo, building a new school on parkland at Portobello and threats to the future of Meadowbank Stadium.

He died in St Columba's Hospice on December 19.