Those who knew him from his work as vicar and missionary joined Nick Beddow's family in a memorial service

A SERVICE to celebrate the life and ministry of the Reverend Nick Beddow - a life rich and refulgent, a ministry maverick, majestic and once or twice plain mad - was held in St Peter's chapel at Auckland Castle.

The sermon was by Canon Tony Cox, an old friend. "Wild, grubby and impestuous is how Nick's friends remember him as a boy," it began. "Fifty years on, few of us could fault that description."

Since it was the Beddow family, it was preceded by a splendid party the evening previously, the company so wholly convivial, so buoyant and so bibulous that it seemed that the dear old boy might somehow reappear in its midst, if only to referee the bun fight.

Since it was the Beddow family, there was also a quiz - they loved their quizzes, no question - but perhaps one question kept recurring. We thought of Nick and wondered, why.

To Eating Owt column readers he was best known as the Voracious Vicar, and if his identity were thinly disguised it was about the only thin thing - despite the frequent diets - about him.

"The Vicar," we once observed after a particularly happy lunch at the Fox and Hounds in Newfield, "had melon with ginger and prawns, beef and pheasant croustade and a marvellous mango parfait.

He also had rather a lot of ours."

We remembered, too, a man of enthusiasm and of endless exuberance, of vision, vitality and verve, a man of great kindness and sometimes of much cussedness, too.

He was vicar of Escomb and Witton Park, near Bishop Auckland, from 1980- 97, doubling for the first five years as chaplain to the Bishop of Durham and thereafter spending much time also working with SPCK, taking the gospel to Africa.

Officially he was the bishop's domestic chaplain. Occasionally there were what the constabulary call domestics.

Lord Habgood, bishop for most of that time, recalled in 1997 at the 25th anniversary of Nick's ordination that a chaplain was meant to be supportive and sympathetic but not afraid to tell the bishop when he was wrong.

"Nick," he added, "did not disappoint me."

After a long fight against multiple scelerosis, and with the very public comfort of smoked cannabis, he died on January 27, 1998, aged 50.

Stricken, tormented, finally in a wheelchair, Nick didn't ask why him, he wondered - and this is recklessly to abbreviate a prolonged (and profound) argument - why not.

This was exactly ten years later, a beautiful late-January afternoon, the "smart casual" of the evening before replaced by the formal fig of the Rt Rev Stephen Pedley, retired Bishop of Lancaster and former canon of Durham Cathedral. He now lives near Hexham.

The present Bishop of Durham, of course, had allowed free use of his chapel but Auckland Castle is presently available for weddings, christenings, conferences and, quite possibly - if the price is right - bamitzvahs, an' all.

(Advt.) It was to be a "celebration of delight,"

Bishop Pedley told us and so, in every resounding syllable, it proved.

Nick's widow, Gilly, and his children Abigail, Katie and Matthew were all in attendance. Abigail, in a glorious address, recalled her father wrestling with inflatable crocodiles, being - "for all his layers" - a child at heart, always, always being there.

"Mind," she added - the memories of a once-tempestuous teenager - "I would argue that the sky was red if dad had said that it was blue."

Matt spoke of his dad's big heart - "It reached around the world" - of his unfailing helpfulness to others but, most memorably, of his extraordinary appetite.

"As children, if we hadn't finished our meal by the time that dad had finished his, he would steal from our plates. As a result, Abigail, Katie and I are very fast eaters, even to this day."

Matthew spoke, too, of his dad's illness.

"Even in his darkest hours, his faith and strength of spirit kept him fighting."

The Reverend Natasha Schemanoff, a friend from the "legendary" days when Nick was a young curate in Birmingham, recalled how his ability to read a situation resulted in his offering to take a potential youth club trouble maker home on the back of his motor bike.

Instead, the youngster was taken for a 100mph ride along the bypass. He was never any trouble again.

Canon Cox also recalled Nick's campaigns, from fighting to save the local accident and emergency department to saving the Newton Cap viaduct, from cannabis to Category D. "Escomb and Witton Park," he said, " must have regarded him as a dream come true."

He spoke, too, of the Voracious Vicar and (with acknowledgment to the column, which coined the phrase) of the priest not afraid to suspend standing orders if it meant telling people candidly what he thought of them.

It was a communion service, favourite hymns like Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer, Tell Out My Soul and The Day Thou Gave Us, Lord, is Ended. There were coruscating solos from Emily Smith, vaulting organ playing by Allan Coombes.

Nick, bless him, would have loved every carefully considered moment of it, would have been first in the queue for the refreshments which followed in the Gentlemen's Hall.

Matthew perhaps put it best. "I think of him with a smile," he said. So do we all.