HUNDREDS of people turned out to pay their last respects to champion of poorly children’s wishes Steve Ford at his funeral today (Tuesday).

The community spirited former Dudley Hospital Radio DJ was laid to rest after a packed service and celebration of his life at St Mary’s Church in Kingswinford which ended with the theme tune to the Great Escape.

Steve was found dead at his home in Ash Crescent, Kingswinford, on December 29 at the age of 60.

He is believed to have suffered a heart attack - just days after helping to bring smiles to the faces of those less fortunate as part of Dudley’s Operation Santa appeal.

Lifelong friend Dave Brownhill led tributes in the church to Steve, revealing how he came to change his name from his birth moniker of Stephen Mukanovic to Steve Ford when he first took to the airwaves with Dudley Hospital Radio in the early 1980s after ill health forced him to retire from his Post Office job.

Dave told mourners his friend came up with the catchy DJ name after staring down at his Ford steering wheel in his car one day after radio pals told him his Yugoslavian surname would be too difficult to pronounce on air.

Dave said: "He was so proud of that name Steve Ford and that's what he's been known as for 35 years."

He said Steve helped to make 551 dreams come true for poorly youngsters on the children's ward at Russells Hall Hospital through his Wishing Well charity which he set up after being given the job of hosting a show for the ward on hospital radio which Dave said "changed his life forever".

Over the years he arranged helicopter and limousine rides, pop star meet and greets, dream job taster days and he even enabled one lucky child to enjoy a flight around the Bay of Biscay on Concorde.

He added: "He leaves us with so many memories. I'm pleased to have called him a friend."

Eileen Fielding, of Dudley CVS which coordinates the borough's Operation Santa appeal, also paid tribute at the service - describing Steve as "the ultimate super volunteer" who had a "lovely positive soul". She said Steve had been helping with wrapping presents and helping out with a charity Christmas lunch in the run-up to the festive season and she added: "His warm personality made him really popular. He was one in a million."

Linda Taylor, from the children’s ward at Russell’s Hall, told how Steve arranged "such wide ranging wishes and some very, very bonkers ones" for young inpatients including organising a prom for a poorly teenager who was upset about being unable to attend her school prom.

She said: "It gave him much pleasure and happiness over the years. He was never happier than when making people smile."

She described Steve as "the most amazing asset to our ward" and added: "Steve was a volunteer, he never got paid. No one could ever have paid him what he was worth."

Steve, who developed arthritis at age 14, had undergone many operations over the years to try to fix his hips, his knees and his hands and he had been awaiting a shoulder operation which was due in January - and Linda said: "He could barely walk but somehow managed to find a smile."

She said it was also "without doubt" Steve's involvement that helped bring the hospital's sensory room project to fruition and she added: "There'll never be anyone like him."

Donations from the funeral will go to Arthritis Research UK.

A memorial event for Steve will be held at Brierley Hill Civic Hall on May 21.