Ninety-one-year-old stuntman, occult high priest, escapologist and Dad’s Army impersonator Ralph Harvey has been laid to rest at a pagan funeral service.

Ralph was born in 1928 and led an extraordinary life until his death last month.

Representatives from the stunt industry, the occult world and re-enactment groups gathered at Clayton Wood Natural Burial Ground on June 4 to bid him a socially distant farewell amid the coronavirus crisis.

The Argus:

Ralph’s early career was colourful. He served in the RAF and was based in Yemen in 1948, where he learnt Arabic.

He also spent a stint as a private investigator, became a professional stuntman and performed as an escapologist in Berkshire, where he was known as “Reading’s Houdini”.

In his sixties, he became a Captain Mainwaring impersonator thanks to the intervention of Prince Philip, who spotted his military reenactment troupe at Newhaven Fort and invited them to march outside Buckingham Palace.

Parading down The Mall, Ralph heard people in the crowd saying “Look, it’s Captain Mainwaring and Dad’s Army” – and his impersonating career began.

The Argus:

Ralph was also a leading figure in the Wicca community.

He was a pagan high priest, respected across the globe. His family were worried about publicising details of his funeral on social media, fearing the service would have been flooded with well-wishers and social distancing would have been impossible.

He appeared many times in The Argus. In one story, he was pictured in Brighton aged 85 conducting ancient rituals at the unveiling of a plaque to the mother of modern witchcraft, Doreen Valiente.

Last year The Argus carried a story about a car crash in Worthing where a car burst into flames on the A259.

The Argus:

We later heard from Ralph’s son Wayne de Strete who said his elderly father had been inside the car.

The veteran stuntman survived the fireball after being pulled from the wreckage and taken to A&E. Wayne said he was a “tough cookie”.

The Argus:

Paying tribute to his father, Wayne said: “He really was a larger than life character. The term ‘legend’ is frequently used by people to describe a lost one, but in this case, it is entirely justified.

“He was a man who lived life to the full and will never be forgotten.”

Wayne recalls his father would joke about the Grim Reaper. “He always used to say to me, ‘When I look at old boney in the eyes, I can say at least I have lived’ – and lived he certainly did.”

The Argus:

Wayne followed in Ralph’s footsteps and became a stuntman himself.

He said: “My upbringing was one of stunts, armour, nature and wildlife, fighting, intellectual debates, love and lots of witches coming to my house to talk of the old gods and I listened to all their stories with fascination – but most of all it was filled with love.”

Clearing out his father’s house in Shoreham, alongside books and photo albums, Wayne said he had found “weapons of every type” and huge stores of food.

“I’m convinced he was planning to survive a nuclear war,” Wayne said.

“I’m amazed he didn’t die of food poisoning years ago, as some tins were over ten years out of date.

“The contents of his house reflect a life so full of events and amazing memories.

“Every costume, every prop, every incredibly different photo we came across reminded us of what an astonishing life he had.”

The Argus:

Wayne has been blown away by the tributes to his father.

He said: “I thought many years ago how many people knew and respected my father, but until the time of his passing, I had no idea just how many, literally from all over the world.

“His standing as one of the country’s most respected witches in the pagan community was legendary.”

Ralph was married to Audrey De Straet Von Kollman, who died six years ago. He is survived by five children, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.