DOZENS of mourners gathered to pay their final respects to a devoted County Durham pit band supporter described as an “irresistable force”.

The funeral of the self-titled ‘real Billy Elliott’, of Fishburn, was held on Monday at Wear Valley Crematorium, in Coundon, near Bishop Auckland.

A former miner, Mr Elliott dedicated decades of his life to saving, managing and “keeping Fishburn Band together”.

In honour of his life-long support, the musicians gave stirring renditions of Arnhem, Blaze Away and Gresford - The Miners’ Hymn performed annually by Fishburn Band ahead of the speeches at Durham Miners’ Gala.

At the service Mr Elliott was commended for his fundraising and dedication to the now championship standard Fishburn Band - now the official band for the RMT.

Fishburn band was described as Mr Elliott’s legacy while he was praised for being an “irresistable force” for good in his home community.

Known for his sense of humour and love of his allotment, Mr Elliott preferred to grow vegetables over flowers and requested cauliflowers at his funeral.

Funeral-goers had given cauliflowers and cauliflower arrangements while one of the white vegetables sat atop Mr Elliott’s coffin.

Mr Elliott was born on March 18, 1947, in Trimdon Colliery, and was one of five sons to parents George and Mary Elliott.

A miner and founder member of Fishburn Band with Mick Terrans in the early 1950s, George and his family moved to Trimdon Village then Trimdon Grange before settling in Fishburn where he died down the pit - leaving his young family behind.

At the age of 17, Mr Elliott set out on a career underground and worked in pits at Fishburn, Kelloe and then Vane Tempest. He married Christine Tempest in 1970 and the pair had two children, John and Anne-Marie.

Mr Elliott retired as a result of ill-health following the closure of Vane Tempest Colliery, Seaham, in 1993 and dedicated the rest of his days to Fishburn Band - dubbed “the love of his life”.

It is estimated Mr Elliott’s tireless work for the band and community saw him raise hundreds of thousands of pounds in his lifetime.

His son John last week said: “He was the heartbeat of the community, a stalwart and inspiration.”

He died at the age of 71 on Remembrance Sunday, November 11.