A massive Only Fools and Horses fan nicknamed ‘Rodders’ was honoured at his funeral with a yellow floral tribute shaped like Del Boy’s Robin Reliant car, after he died of a brain tumour aged just 36.
Pals likened dad-of-one Paul Fryer, of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, to Rodney Trotter from the iconic sitcom because of his ‘lanky’ demeanour and character traits he shared with Rodders, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst.
After carpet fitter Paul died on April 16 – seven years after the brain tumour was diagnosed – his friends, who could not attend his funeral due to Covid-19 restrictions, honoured him with the humorous floral tribute, while his coffin was carried into the crematorium to the Only Fools and Horses theme tune.
His mum, retail assistant Debs Fryer, 59, also from Peterborough, who has four more children – Jo, 39, Adam, 34, Sophie, 26, and Jordan, 23 – said: “The Trotters van floral tribute was in the back of the hearse and we had the theme tune playing as he was carried into the crematorium.
“It just set the right tone for it being a celebration of Paul’s life. We wanted it to be humorous, as that is what he would have wanted.
“There was a funny moment when Jordan, who was very close to him, said goodbye to his coffin and as he turned to leave said, ‘You plonker’. It really made me laugh, as that’s the way we all were with each other. We didn’t want a dowdy funeral, we wanted it to be upbeat.”
Debs explained that Paul, a shy boy lacking in confidence, was first given the Rodders nickname when he was just 11, after the family moved to a small village near Peterborough and he made friends with a group of lads, who stood by him throughout his life.
“They were his support network and gave him a lot of confidence,” Debs recalled.
“As a teenager, he was quite tall, just over 6ft and was very skinny. He had lanky arms and legs, almost floppy and because he had a look of Rodney about him, he got this nickname.”
She continued: “It was a bit of a laddish thing, and it just stuck with his friends and his brothers.
“We used to watch the programme a lot and knew all the funny bits and would liken it to the things Paul did.
“He used to do carpet fitting with his brother and they would get into these funny situations that reminded us of Del Boy and Rodney.
“Jordan told a funny story at the funeral of when they were at a big posh house and were asked to move a very nice table. As they lifted it, the legs fell off.
They looked at each other and didn’t really know what to do, so they sort of propped the table up against the wall and pretended they knew nothing about it! I thought that was a very Only Fools moment.
“Paul would read ‘get rich quick’ books and had lots of business ideas so the phrase ‘this time next year we’ll be millionaires’ was fitting too!’
Debs first noticed something was wrong with Paul, who has a son, nine, who she does not wish to name, from a previous relationship, in July 2013, when his speech became garbled and he could not recognise everyday objects.
Fearing he had suffered a stroke, he was taken to Peterborough City Hospital in an ambulance, where an MRI scan showed he actually had a brain tumour.
At that stage, unsure whether it was benign, he had to wait three months for another scan to see if it had grown, which it had.
Transferred to the more specialist Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, in February 2014, Paul had an ‘awake craniotomy,’ to remove some of it, with a biopsy confirming he had stage three Anaplastic oligoastrocytoma – a malignant brain tumour.
Debs said: “It was terminal and initially they gave him two to seven years to live.”
Paul took part in a clinical trial, where he was treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy, spending six weeks in hospital.
“He struggled at first, especially with all the treatment,” said Debs.
“He had a few months where he was really depressed. He had lost his independence, because he could not drive. He was only 29 at that time, so he felt angry about why it had happened to him.”
He would return to the hospital every three months for MRI scans, which showed the tumour had stabilised, although because his brain was slower at responding following the surgery and he had lost some of his words, he had to give up work.
Making friends with model and former Miss UK, Kerri Parker, who has spoken openly about her own brain tumour diagnosis, through Facebook helped Paul come to terms with his own mortality, according to his mum.
“He knew he had a terminal illness and after he made friends with Kerri on Facebook, he started looking at life differently,” she said.
“He was really positive. I don’t know how he got up every morning to face the fact he was dying, but he was determined to live whatever life he had left and be happy.”
Debs explained: “Everything he did was for his son. They went on little holidays together and for days out. And one of Kerri’s relatives actually organised for them to be mascots at a charity football game.”
But in February 2019, medics discovered the tumour had been growing again and he was given three months of chemotherapy, followed by a second awake craniotomy to remove more of the mass, which he hoped would prolong his life by five years.
More chemotherapy followed over what was his last Christmas, as in January doctors told him it was not working and he should prepare to say goodbye.
Debs said: “When Paul was told that he just sobbed and sobbed. He was wailing and asking, “Why? I just want to live.’
“That was really difficult.
“He told the rest of the family the next day, after which his attitude was, ‘Right, let’s get on with this’
With his son’s birthday on Boxing Day, the family – knowing it could be Paul’s last Christmas – had a big celebration at his sister’s house, followed by a party with a pinata and Fortnite cake.
In March, Paul’s health started to deteriorate. Living with his brother Jordan, he and his mum cared for him until he passed away.
“He got very sick. He was curled up in a ball in pain and couldn’t really respond, so we were arranging to take him to a hospice, which would have meant no visitors,” said Debs.
“But, he started to perk up a bit and said he wanted to stay home, so we had district nurses kitted out in forensic gear coming over.
“But it got harder and harder for him, he lost the ability to communicate and could no longer physically swallow.”
On Good Friday, Debs thought Paul looked particularly unwell, with sunken eyes and skin stretched across his body like a skeleton.
“His brothers took him outside to give him a shave, then put him back to bed and he didn’t wake up again.
“I would sit by his bed just talking to him, telling him what was happening with the pandemic at first. Then I started to search for good stories to tell him about. I don’t know if he could hear or make sense of it, but it felt like I was doing something useful.
“He died on Thursday, April 16, quietly in his sleep. Nursing him for those last few days, I think it was the best thing for him – to stop him being in pain. We’d already had to make the heartbreaking decision not to resuscitate him.”
Due to the pandemic, only 10 people were allowed at the funeral organised by Co-op Funeralcare and held at Peterborough Crematorium.
Debs said: “One of Paul’s friends had organised for a tribute bench to be installed at the local community centre and floral tributes just grew and grew.
“Paul was such a lovely lad, who would do anything for anyone and it proved how well liked he was.
“The hearse went past the community centre and people lined the streets clapping, cheering and shouting, ‘Rodders.’ It lifted my heart to see how many people came out for him.”
“Some of his friends followed the cortege on their motorbikes,” Debs added.
“It was upsetting not being able to have more people there, but the funeral directors from Co-op were amazing with helping us to arrange everything.
“The funeral was even live-streamed so people gathered at the community centre to watch it together on their phones.”
Now Debs is looking at ways of raising money for research into brain tumours, in her son’s honour.
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She added: “Paul always wanted to travel. I’ve seen a group online that paints memorial pebbles and then they send them across the world, encouraging people to pick them up, take them with them and place them somewhere else on their own journey. Although Paul never got to travel, I thought this would be a way of him see the world.
“I’m thinking of setting up a website to document how far the pebble gets, and to raise some money at the same time.
“I want to do something positive and raise awareness.”
Scott Creedon, Funeral Director at Co-op Funeralcare in Peterborough, who conducted Paul’s funeral, said they did their best to give him a proper send-off despite the lockdown restrictions.
He said: “On the day of his funeral, Paul’s loved ones lined the streets of the village to pay their respects, clapping and cheering as the hearse went by.
“Some of his friends followed the cortege on their motorbikes and gave a ‘last blast,’ revving their engines as he was carried into the crematorium. It was a spectacular sight.”
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