A much-loved Darlington character has been given a musical send-off. PETER BARRON pays a personal tribute to 'Ukulele Bill' Blewitt


MUSIC was always going to play a big part in the farewell to “Ukulele Bill” – and the song choices summed up his life to perfection.

As Bill Blewitt was brought into the overflowing Darlington Crematorium, Moonlight Serenade signalled his love of Glenn Miller and his Orchestra.

Frank Sinatra was next – Nancy (With The Laughing Face) paying tribute to Bill’s beloved wife and childhood sweetheart, who passed away far too early at the age of 61 back in 1989.

As the service ended, and the coffin disappeared, it was Glenn Miller’s turn again. In The Mood hit exactly the right chord, because Bill’s gift in life had been to lift the spirits of everyone he met.

Whether it was as the 99-year-old star of the North Yorkshire and Darlington Age UK Ukulele Band, or the oldest member of Hopetown & Whessoe Workingmen’s Club, Bill put everyone in a good mood.

Celebrant Tamara Bibby opened her address by describing him as “indomitable” and a “significant loss” to the Darlington social scene.

“This service is for a man who has died at his right time but who never really slowed down,” she said. “He was still a vibrant presence in many lives and lots of people will miss him.”

He had survived the Great Depression, World War Two, malaria, diphtheria and prostate cancer, but he told anyone who would listen: “It was dancing with Shirley Ballas that finished me off.”

The Strictly Come Dancing head judge had popped into Age UK's offices in Darlington just before Christmas and danced with Bill to another of his old favourites, Sway.

Bill, a joiner by trade, had five children – Anne, Sheila, Jacqueline, Marie and Ron – as well as six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. “We were proud to be Bill Blewitt’s children,” Ron told the congregation. “He was not only a great father but a lovely man.”

Bill was passionate about sport and when his only son was born in Darlington's Greenbank Memorial Hospital, he was tied up, playing in a football cup final at York.

Naturally, he apologised to Nancy when he got to her bedside: “Sorry, love, we lost 2-1,” he explained.

Ron went on to describe how the Age UK Ukulele Band had given his dad a new lease of life: “He always fancied himself as a bit of a crooner and wasn’t shy, so whenever they needed a volunteer for a solo, they didn’t have to look any further. He waltzed into many hearts and had so many friends.”

Bill’s funeral could not have been complete without the Ukulele Band. The happy-go-plucky brigade, resplendent in their Hawaiian shirts, played some of his favourite songs back at Hopetown Club, where he’d been a member since 1964. Travelling Light, Sway, You Make Me Feel So Young, and Save The Last Dance For Me were all part of the repertoire.

But perhaps the song they opened with captured the spirit of the occasion better than any other. As the band struck up Bring Me Sunshine, smiles, laughter and joyful memories were all around the room.

In this world where we live, there should be more happiness…and Bill Blewitt generated a lot more than his fair share.