Why Was Ken Barlow’s Eulogy Speech So Powerful?

Eulogy Speech - Funeral Celebrant

Why Was Ken Barlow’s Eulogy Speech So Powerful?


“Why is it that you never appreciate anything until it is taken away?”

With those words, Ken Barlow (actor William Roache) brought the congregation and millions of viewers at home to tears when he gave a eulogy for his on-screen wife, Deirdre.

What made Ken Barlow’s eulogy speech so powerful?

The television series Coronation Street based around a community of fictitious characters said farewell this week to one of its long-standing residents Deirdre Barlow at a funeral service that poignantly reflected reality. Sadly, Anne Kirkbride, who had played the role of Deirdre for many years, passed away earlier this year after a short illness.

While only fictional, the eulogy speech given at the funeral service by her on-screen husband was extremely touching. It contained many excellent examples of what makes a powerful eulogy that a funeral celebrant or a minister could deliver.

The whole eulogy speech can be viewed on the video below.

It is important to recognise that for a spouse to give a eulogy is an emotional, gut-wrenching and extremely difficult thing to do. Speaking in public is never an easy thing. Most people find the challenge of standing up in front of an audience small or large, a fear inducing prospect. To speak at the funeral of your long-term spouse is something that many people feel is important to do, but would challenge the internal fortitude of almost everyone.

As Ken begins, he takes a deep breath, pauses for a while and then smiles at the audience. This is an important process in any speech, particularly when delivering a eulogy speech. Whenever you face an audience adrenaline rushes through your veins and can blank your mind and thoughts instantaneously. By taking a long pause, eyes making contact with the audience, scanning the room, allows the opportunity to let the initial stress drop sufficiently for the words to flow eloquently. The smile, done genuinely, builds empathy, trust and rapport with the audience who are waiting to hear your words.

Everyone knows how difficult it is to give a eulogy at a funeral. That is why you should not under-estimate the importance of the public speaking skills of the funeral celebrant that you choose. While many people may be able to train to be a funeral celebrant, speaking in public takes skill. With the several years public speaking knowledge I have, I find that experience invaluable when delivering with confidence an emotionally charged reflection of a loved one who has passed away.

Ken stands straight and posied with hands clasped in front of him. A good strong stance with feet shoulder width apart, not gripping the lectern with white knuckles or “scrooge hand wringing.” He is not deterred when an interruption takes place as Tracy arrives partway through his eulogy. He pauses, composes himself and carries on. When public speaking you need to be prepared for any eventuality that might take place. This is where confidence in your rehearsal, experience and delivery can pay dividends. When you are fully prepared, fully rehearsed and own your words rather than rent them, it allows you to be able to be distracted, but immediately return to the speech.

Partway through the eulogy speech Ken steps back, takes a breath and removes his glasses and says, “I don’t need to tell you all this, all of you knew her.” He appears to move away from his prepared eulogy and starts to speak from the heart. Engaging an audience always involves being willing to risk emotional openness and genuine feeling. This is always possible if you have spent sufficient time in preparation and rehearsal, if not it can be a recipe for disaster.

There were three key areas that are always important to cover when speechwriting and delivering a eulogy speech.

Describe Personal Characteristics

Common among the testimonials that people write about my role as a funeral celebrant is how I bring the personality of the loved one to the forefront of the celebration of life service. How many times have you been to a funeral where the leader just reads words from a page? At Memorable Words, my aim is always to create a unique and bespoke service that reflects the individuality and personality of the loved one who has passed away rather than taking preprepared eulogies from a book.

Ken uses some phrases that the audience there immediately would identify with the personality of Deirdre.

“The family was her priority; family was family, and that was that.”

“She was not a woman to set the world on fire; she lived a whole life in one street.”

“She was a friend, neighbour mother and grandmother.”

“She showed enthusiasm kindness and patience to her grandchildren.”

“She was a confidant when things were bad and a sense of fun and laughter when things were good. She was a linchpin in the community.”

“Her distinctive laugh that was a throaty, joyous, raw of happiness.”

Appropriate Humour

Using humour in writing a eulogy speech can bring back wonderful memories and moments of happiness that spread and unite the congregation in a smile remembering something about the person. Appropriate humour can be difficult to find, but stories of idiosyncrasies, quirks and funny mannerisms bring back the uniqueness of the person to memory.

Ken uses humour to remind the congregation how different they were as people. “Deirdre and I could not be more different, we were polar opposites.” When talking about the appeal of social media Deirdre would say, “why do you care what a lot of strangers think? If I want to talk about something, I do it with my mates in the Rovers and have a drink at the same time as well.” Using the power of contrast, he mused on how he would “drift away to Chopin,” while she would wash up to the “Spice Girls.”

He speaks with a wry smile about an issue that many people know was difficult for the family like when Blanche came to live with them. Then observing that Deirdre was in the pub, knowing that would mean that it would be a long while before tea would be on the table.

Authentic Perspective

Being authentic in life takes courage, Being willing to recognise that the person and the family are not perfect brings a valuable authentic perspective to a eulogy. Quite often when hearing a eulogy is can sounds like the person that has passed away was bordering on almost a saint or make Mother Teresa look decidedly lack in her efforts to change the world. The problem is people know that it is not authentic. They know about the stubbornness, the mistakes and the annoying habits. Finding a way to say that in an authentic yet sensitive manner takes time when writing a eulogy speech, to not deal with those areas is easier, but it lacks true reflection, and people feel that.

In the eulogy, Ken poignantly declares, “I wish I could have been a better husband.”

He recognises life’s difficulties as a family with numerous issues with their children and the priority of Deirdre helping her grandchildren in their lives when her children did not or couldn’t.

Moreover, longingly yearns that, “I wish I could hear that booming, life-affirming laugh just one more time.”

Why did the congregation clap and then give a standing ovation to him at the end? I think there was more than just the recognition of what he had done. There was more than just the acknowledgement this was one of the most difficult things a person could do. I think it went beyond the scene in the Soap, it transcended the actors, actresses and writers, and it gave full recognition to Anne Kirkbride as a person.

A well written, powerfully and authentically delivered eulogy speech should describe the person characteristics, include appropriate humour and have an authentic perspective. These three elements are critical as well as the public speaking ability of the funeral celebrant someone chooses. What were your thoughts about the eulogy speech? Have there ever been any eulogies in films, or tv programmes that you can remember impacting you. I would love to hear about them.

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