Grave undertakings

NAME: James Locke AGE: 26 OCCUPATION: Funeral Director PERSONAL: James left school in Peterborough after taking his GCSEs and joined a small family firm of funeral directors as a trainee. He was kept on at the end of his training period and since then has

NAME: James Locke

AGE: 26

OCCUPATION: Funeral Director

PERSONAL: James left school in Peterborough after taking his GCSEs and joined a small family firm of funeral directors as a trainee.

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He was kept on at the end of his training period and since then has progressed, passing an embalming course two years ago.

He said: "I've never been squeamish, but to start with I was a bit apprehensive about dealing with corpses. Now it doesn't bother me at all and I just get on with it."

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Funeral directors are contracted by the relatives of a deceased person to make burial or cremation arrangements, but the job goes much further than that.

In Britain there are strict regulations over the procedures involved, and a good deal of administrative work must also be done by the funeral director.

The job involves making several visits to the family to discuss arrangements, as well as liaising with the officials involved - clergy, cemetery staff or crematorium officials - and preparing the body for burial.

In large firms the jobs are split between various people, but many are small family-run businesses where a handful of people are responsible for all the tasks, so extra staff, such as drivers and pall-bearers, are hired for the funeral itself.

James recently took over the firm's embalming duties, which involves the disinfecting and preservation of bodies until the funeral. He has to remove obvious and distressing signs of death, which often involves rebuilding facial features with wax or plaster of Paris and then applying cosmetics to provide colour.

Embalmers are also responsible for making sure there is no health risk for those who come into contact with the deceased.


The job requires high levels of discretion so tact and good communication skills are of the utmost importance. Funeral directors have to deal with relatives who may be unhappy or distressed, and while they must show genuine sympathy and sensitivity, they must remain detached.

Organisational skills and administrative ability are required to deal with the office work and co-ordinating funeral arrangements.

Funeral directors and particularly embalmers should not be squeamish and shouldn't have a problem with handling corpses and enduring unpleasant sights and smells.

Manual dexterity as well as an interest in science, especially anatomy, are required for embalmers.

Funeral directors should be clean and take pride in their appearance.


There are no official entry requirements and much of the training for funeral directors is on-the-job, but GCSE passes in English, maths and science subjects and a clean driving licence may be an advantage.

Trainees often begin by doing jobs like cleaning vehicles or the embalming room and collecting the deceased from homes or hospitals, before moving on to duties like finishing coffins and jobs of greater responsibility, like dealing with bereaved families.

The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) offers a range of courses leading to a foundation certificate in funeral service, and diplomas in funeral directing and funeral service management.

In order to enrol on the diploma courses, applicants must either have been awarded the foundation certificate in funeral service, or be working a minimum of 80 hours a month in the funeral service. All courses are run by The British Institute of Funeral Directors who have tutors across the UK.


Because firms and duties vary vastly, it's difficult to give figures, but starting salaries are usually around £10,000 a year and experienced directors working for larger firms can expect to earn around £17,500. Earnings depend on duties and can be supplemented by a series of bonuses, such as those paid for being on-call.

Hours are often irregular, with funeral directors on 24-hour call for seven days a week, and visits to relatives often take place during the evening.

Funeral directors, especially those with embalming skills, can work on a self-employed basis, either running their own firms or hiring out their services to others, as most firms are small and promotion prospects tend to be limited.


"Death is such a taboo subject that people seem to back away from me when they discover what I do for a living."


"It's becoming more and more common for people to have bizarre last requests or ask that their funeral be a happy occasion. We had one guy who wanted his car crushed and buried with him, which took some organising, but was rewarding to do."


The National Association of Funeral Directors at

The British Institute of Funeral Directors at

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