A gravedigger has lost his job of 40 years after a picture of him standing half-naked in a burial plot was deemed offensive by locals.
Ray Loxton, 59, was featured smiling in his local newspaper while standing in a grave on a hot summers day.
He was also shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand – which some readers mistook to be a cheery salute.
Mr Loxton, from Shepton Mallet, Somerset, says he has now been told his services for one funeral director are no longer required because of the media attention.
He said: “It was a hot summer day in June and I was actually digging a grave for one of my old friends.
“A photographer came by and asked if it would be ok to take a picture. The sun was in my eyes so I put my hand up to stop myself being blinded.
“Some people thought I was saluting and they wrote to the local paper.
“After that I noticed I wasn’t getting any work from one of the funeral directors so I called them up and asked what was going on.
“They told me that they had found someone else because of all the attention I had in the media.
“I am very hurt, very upset. I haven’t had a cross word with them in the last 30 years. I did a good job and they never had a bad word to say about my work.”
The picture, printed in the Shepton Mallet Journal in July, was taken by photographer Jason Bryant for the “picture of the week” section of the paper.
It was viewed by more than 15,000 people both in the newspaper and online.
But one reader, Holger Harras of Evercreech, Somersert, wrote a letter of objection under the headline ‘Picture in poor taste’.
It read: “Has your photographer run out of favourite places to take photos that he has to stoop himself and prowl around cemeteries taking photos of a half naked gravedigger and calling this his “favourite picture going down the dead men”?
“How must the grieving family feel for whose relative Ray Loxton is digging the grave, knowing that Mr Loxton has been photographed half naked and saluting in their relative’s grave.
“Isn’t there nothing more sacred than man’s and woman’s last resting place?”
But Mr Bryant defended the picture and said Mr Loxton was a “local legend” and he felt that digging the graves would make a nice feature.
He said: “Every week we have a picture of the week in the paper I work for, I had seen Ray digging graves quite often and decided to take a picture of it.
“After it was printed it sparked a bit of outrage, there was a letter complaining about it in the paper the following week.
“He’s an absolute legend. He’s a really popular guy.”
Several readers also jumped to Mr Loxton’s defence.
Steve Wilson, licencee of the King’s Head pub in Wells, wrote: “Everyone has a right to be happy in their work, whether that be digging graves or delivering babies.
“What would they prefer, that Ray Loxton forces himself to cry while digging each grave and then self-flagellates with his shovel afterwards?”
WJ Trotman, the funeral directors which has now stopped using Mr Loxton, declined to comment yesterday.
But John Weir from the National Society of Independent Funeral Directors said: “Trotmans have taken a commercial decision – they are reviewing their business practices generally.”