The undertaker went as pale as the corpse and a fierce argument began.
It was the 1940s and Bill Stephenson had once again been paid off from his employers – Smith’s Dock, North Shields. It was only temporary, the men knew they would be taken on again when new repair work came in, but it still put them behind with bills, mortgages, etc.
In the meantime, Bill and his mates had been hired on a casual basis to act as pallbearers for a local undertaker (now no longer in existence). They attended several funerals without receiving any payment. The owner was, unfortunately, addicted to drink and the business was suffering as a consequence. The day came when enough was enough and they were determined to be paid for their services.
The relatives and friends were in the living room while the deceased lay in state in the adjoining bedroom. Mr X solemnly walked into the room of mourners, asking if anyone would like to pay their last respects to the one who had passed away. Several people filed past the open coffin and returned to the living room. The door closed.
“Right”, said Mr X “screw the lid down, please!”
“There’s no lid going on until we get our money,” said Bill firmly. “And we have the screws.”
Mr X went pale as the corpse and a fierce argument began. The pallbearers were adamant – no money – no screws. Finally, Mr X rushed out to borrow some money, presumably from another long-suffering friend and returned with £1 – 2/6d each. Money changed hands.
“Right lads!” Bill shouted, “Let’s get this bugger screwed down.”
All went to work with a will and screwed the lid securely. The funeral proceeded in a dignified fashion.