Rochdale plays host to hundreds of mourners of “Big Cyril”, the veteran Liberal Democrat politician Sir Cyril Smith who died 10 days ago.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg led tributes to the “larger-than-life” Lib Dem in his home town, where he served as MP for 20 years.
More than 400 special guests attended the service at Rochdale Town Hall, with addresses broadcast over loud speakers for those unable to get seats.
Sir Cyril’s friend Lord Alton read the poem Death Is Nothing At All after receiving instructions in a letter from beyond the grave.
“He was a brilliant political organiser,” he told the congregation at Rochdale Town Hall, after reading the Canon Henry Scott Holland poem.
“He was a remarkable man, a wonderful man, a great friend and we shall all miss him greatly.”
Sir Cyril also chose five hymns for his service, including Abide With Me, and the Frank Sinatra classic My Way, which was sung as his coffin made its exit.
Close friends and family attended a separate, private service at Rochdale Crematorium.
Famously outspoken, and outsized – at 6ft 2in tall and 29 stone – Big Cyril was one of the Lib Dems’ most recognisable politicians during the 1970s and 80s – during which he served as chief whip for the party.
Borne of humble origins – in his own words “illegitimate, deprived and poor”, he received a knighthood in 1988, despite often showing distain for Westminster – he once branded parliament as “the longest running farce in the West End”.
However, he devoted his life to politics – once telling the Daily Mail’s You magazine “I haven’t had a lot of time for courting women… I’ve tended to be married to politics”.
Never married, he was devoted to his mother whom he called his best friend and made Lady Mayoress when he became Mayor of Rochdale in 1966.
He joined the Young Liberals aged just 15, switching to the Labour Party for a few years but later resigning over its refusal to increase council rents. He then joined the Liberals, becoming MP for Rochdale in 1972.
Fiercely proud of his origins, his outspoken views saw to it that he was never called on to stand as party leader.
However, Mr Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “Cyril was a colourful politician who kept the flame of Liberalism alive when the party was much smaller than it is today … I think we can safely say there will never be an MP quite like Cyril Smith again.”
He was made an MBE for his public services in 1966 before being knighted in the 80s and finally retired from Westminster in 1992.
He died the Friday before last . His brother Norman said: “Cyril passed away peacefully at a nursing home with family members around him. I couldn’t have wished for a better brother.”
Norman’s son and Sir Cyril’s nephew, Craig Smith, told the congregation that the politician was like a second father to him and his siblings.
He said: “He was there when we needed him most. Uncle Cyril taught us to treat people how we wished to be treated ourselves.