ONE of Pill’s “real characters” has been laid to rest after visiting the Newport Transporter Bridge - where he spent much of his working life – for a final time.

Yesterday (MON FEB 24), the funeral procession of Billy Collier carried his body over the iconic structure, where he was the maintenance operative for 27 years.

Mr Collier, who was born and bred in Pill, died on February 13 at the Royal Gwent Hospital after a short illness with pneumonia.

One of the 71-year-old’s three children, Jan, said he thought of the bridge as “his second home”.

“He loved the bridge, absolutely,” she said. “He was always happy and ever the joker. Even when he was in hospital he was trying to make people laugh.”

Mr Collier’s wife, Christine - to whom he was married for 47 years - added: “He was always content, just a lovely man. And we had a lovely marriage, full of happiness and laughter.

“He was the best husband, father and bamp you could ever wish for, and would do anything for his family.

Former bridge superintendent Martin Newman called the grandfather of three “very well known”.

“He was always cracking jokes and that is how he will be remembered,” said the 49-year-old from Ringland.

Mr Newman opened the bridge especially yesterday (MON) to allow the funeral car to pass over it en-route to St Stephen’s Church, Pill.

A minute's silence was held during the gondola crossing, along with a special bell-ringing, while a merchant flag was flown at half mast in homage to Mr Collier’s former role with the Navy.

“It was a special moment,” added Mr Newman, who said he had recently refurbished the brass bell on the pilot house of the gondola and intends to keep it shined remembrance of both Mr Collier and bridge superintendent of 30 years John ‘Sean’ McDermott, who died in 2012.