THEY came in their hundreds to say farewell to the man responsible for the largest event in Dorset.

Steam enthusiasts from across the country lined the streets of the tiny village of Child Okeford to pay their last respects to Michael Oliver MBE.

The founder of the Great Dorset Steam Fair was sent off in style with a funeral cortege led by his favourite traction engine and accompanied by his favourite fairground organ.

Tributes paid in the small church of St Nicholas were broadcast by loud speaker to the silent crowds gathered in its grounds.

The late Mr Oliver’s son, Martin, the steam fair’s managing director, asked mourners for their patience if emotion overcame him.

“People have often asked why and how has the steam fair become so successful and popular over the years. The answer is simple – Michael Oliver. Dad was the Great Dorset Steam Fair. And that’s it.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that the whole thing would not have started or developed without dad’s visionary idea for a proper working show whereby steam engines, vintage vehicles and country crafts would be shown in authentic style.”

Brian Moore read a Biblical verse from the Book of Timothy in tribute to his great friend: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Mourners laughed aloud with some of the memories shared by Robert Herring, the chairman of the National Traction Engine Trust, who described the late Mr Oliver as a man whose wit and humour were legendary.

Brian Mellish, the steam fair’s campsite manager for 14 years, was among the hundreds of mourners who had come to pay their respects.

“All my memories of him are brilliant. He was such a character. There’s no other man you can compare him with. The steam fair went from strength to strength with his enthusiasm.”

Exhibitor, Terry Richardson, travelled from Worcestershire to show his gratitude for a lifetime of steam fair memories.

“I have been coming to the steam fair since I was four years old.

“I felt I had to be here today. That man brought pleasure to so many people around the world. I’ve come here to say thanks.”