Eastenders funeral director is sign of the times

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a coffin in a morgue with a...

Given the number of characters who have been killed off in Albert Square, it probably shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that Eastenders is getting its own undertaker. Roger Sloman (best-known for playing Keith in Nuts in May) is joining the cast - after a couple of brief appearances arranging funerals for Nick Cotton and Pat Evans.

And the arrival of a funeral director is a reflection of the booming funeral industry in the UK.

Earlier this month, it emerged that funeral services firm Dignity's profits were up 9% in a year. It had held 68,000 funerals during the year and sold 39,000 pre-arranged funeral plans. The company is also the largest operator of crematoria in the UK, and added that "the division has benefited from the increase in the number of deaths".

The mortality rate in the UK has been gradually dropping for generations. Now around 500,000 people die each year. However, the trend is set to reverse shortly and rise up to 20% in the next 20 years.

Cost of a funeral

Meanwhile, the amount that is spent on each funeral has been rising dramatically. According to the University of Bath's Institute for Policy Research, the average cost of a funeral is now £7,600 - which is up 7.1% in a year. The cost has gone up 80% between 2004 and 2013 and is expected to rise still further.

The basics, including cremation or burial, cost an average of £3,456. The average spent on extras such as flowers, a memorial and catering for the wake is £2,006. And the rest is made up by estate administration costs.

There are of course unusual funerals which have added impressively to the bill. In 2010 country star Jimmy Dean was buried in a $350,000 piano-shaped mausoleum. Meanwhile Hunter S Thompson had his ashes shot out of a canon mounted on a 150 foot tower Thompson has designed himself, and James Doohan - who played Scotty in Star Trek, had his ashes shot into space.

With funeral firms set to be amongst the fastest-growing companies in the country, TV representation was bound to happen sooner or later - although it's unlikely to do much for Eastenders' reputation for being a bit gloomy.