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.

STILL on the subject of music, a triumphant post-script to last week’s column about the 150th anniversary of Cockerton Prize Silver Band.

Since then, the band have become North of England 2nd section champions after a stunning performance in the area contest.

Members also won a string of individual awards: Best Euphonium - Dave Hodgeson; Best Soprano cornet - Beth Marston; Best bass section - Dave Bowman, Richard Mason, Steve Petty and Isaac Annesley.

Cockerton will now be promoted into the 1st section and be invited to attend the National Finals in Cheltenham in September. As vice chair Linda Steel said: “Who could have wished for a better 150th birthday present?”

Let’s hope the band’s timing is even better come the autumn.

The Northern Echo:

ON an altogether more discordant note, a new bid to honour war hero William McMullen has been rejected by the Government.

McMullen is remembered in Darlington every January for his heroism in guiding his stricken Lancaster bomber away from houses until it crashed into a field and he was killed in 1945.

For years, I, and others, have argued that McMullen should be posthumously honoured, but the pleas have always fallen on deaf ears both in this country and his native Canada.

To his credit, new Darlington MP Peter Gibson has now had a go, writing to ministers to call for a gallantry award for the pilot who saved countless lives.

According to the Daily Mirror, Defence Minister Johnny Mercer rejected the new appeal, saying: “It’s considered that those who had full access to the facts were best placed to make judgements regarding recognition.”

Mr Gibson describes the response as “disappointing”. I’d go further and call it “rubbish”. Surely, we are sometimes in a position to make a considered judgement with the clarity of time, rather than in the midst of a chaotic war.

I recall a similar response when I was The Northern Echo’s editor and we campaigned long and hard for posthumous pardons for World War One soldiers who were shot at dawn for “cowardice”. They were, in fact, suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental health conditions in the midst of the horror.

Eventually, Tony Blair’s government relented and, in August 2006, announced that pardons would be granted.

The Northern Echo:

Sometimes, you have to just keep going and demand what’s right. I hope that one day, William McMullen, below, will be honoured not just by the small group of people who turn out on a cold January night in Darlington each year.

He didn’t give up on those whose lives were at risk in the houses below 75 years ago, and we shouldn’t give up on him now.

The Northern Echo:

FINALLY, I fear we may have to do more to convince the war generation that they have to stay indoors for four months.

When she heard about the impending isolation of those aged over 70, my 88-year-old mum replied: “Well, I’m going out on my bike – and, if anyone comes near me, I’ll just ride away!”