IN the overspill area at the back of Golders Green crematorium, we watched the farewell to Michael Foot on a blotchy black and white monitor that looked like it was streaming CCTV. You could just about make out John Foot, Foot’s great nephew as he got up to introduce this touching funeral service. But it didn’t matter that it wasn’t being brought to us in Sky-o-vision. From the outside of the red brick walls, you could still sense the emotion from inside and soak up the power of this sometimes sombre but more often playful occasion.
This was a spine-tingling salute, perforated by Byron and Cicero, and topped with the defiance of The Red Flag. the anthem of old Labour. Gordon Brown spoke with warmth and affection, as if he felt free from campaign scripts and election soundbites at last. There was a mix of gravitas and sensitivity here that we are often told about but so rarely see.
Neil Kinnock spoke for longer, an artful delivery of sweetly woven words, albeit settling old scores in the process. Michael Foot was far wittier than a spat insult, but Kinnock couldn’t resist reaching for Foot’s ‘semi-trained polecat’ label for Norman Tebbit’ once again.
Bruce Kent from CND told how Foot had taken bashings from the press but had the composure never to lash out himself, while Peter Jones, Foot’s companion in the toil of following Plymouth Argyle, recalled his undying devotion to the Pilgrims’ progress. A green scarf was draped across the coffin.
But you know what? The speaker who made the hairs stand on end was a man who has never delivered a rousing speech in the House of Commons or from a platform at Trafalgar Square before. Of course I’m biased but Tom Foot, our colleague at the Camden New Journal and Michael Foot’s great nephew, seemed to pause time for a moment in that chapel.
He shoved his nerves to one side and recalled the days he shared with Foot, while they lived together in Hampstead. This was as personal as the service got, a tribute to the optimist in Foot. Those sneering critics, the writers who rushed to trot out the same tired lines about worst election defeats, donkey jackets and longest suicide notes, had failed to break the old campaigner. His boiled breakfast egg, as Tom said, was the best in the world every morning.
Tom went on and told of his last conversation with his great uncle, when Foot’s frustration with old age and ill health was showing. Even from outside the crematorium, you could hear Tom draw breath before bellowing what Foot had told him that night in the front room: “I will. Go on. Pro. Testing.”
Tom told the chapel: “I said to him: ‘Like we’d expect anything else’ and Michael rocked back and a little smile of approval crept across his face.”
The last laugh was his.