TRIBUTES have been paid to a familiar Barnsley figure who was renowned for keeping the town’s streets safe and helping to steer youngsters away from crime.

Keith Ellis, who lived at Stone Street, Honeywell, for more than 50 years, died from cancer aged 84 on Sunday and hundreds are expected at his funeral later this month.

A former policeman, a lifelong Rotarian, school governor and all round nice guy according to his daughter Kathryn Methley, Keith was something of a local legend.

Keith joined the police in 1956 when he was demobbed from the RAF. Back then the local force was the Barnsley Borough Police before it was merged with Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield to form South Yorkshire Police.

Keith spent the first seven years as a beat bobby braving the weather as he kept Barnsley’s streets safe.

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Then he became a police motorcyclist ensuring he was first on the scene at many a major incident, including murders.

Promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1973 Keith became a crime collator gathering information on known criminals.

Despite serving at a tough time for the police, his popularity was such that Barnsley FC supporters would break into song and chant ‘there’s only one Keith Ellis’ during Oakwell home games, and fans honoured him in the 84th minute in the Reds’ clash against Cardiff City.

Keith retired as a policeman in November 1986, but carried on working at Oakwell for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) as part of the football in the community programme.

Kathryn said: “He was such a popular figure because he truly cared about the Barnsley community. He had a massive impact on so many lives whether that was through his police work, helping charities or just being there to keep people on the straight and narrow.

“He retired in 1986 but even though that was more than 30 years ago, people would still recognise him and a normal supermarket trip would end up lasting a few hours.

“The messages we’ve received as a family have been overwhelming and it’s really helped us through a sad time, but knowing the impact my dad had has been brilliant.”

He was also well known as a speaker and his fees were always donated to Barnsley Hospice, who cared for his beloved wife Eileen who died there in 2009.

Keith received a British Empire Medal (BEM) from the Queen upon retirement for community services, and tributes have also been paid by the Rotary Club of Barnsley, where he was a member for more than 40 years and a former president.

David Dand, secretary, added: “No-one epitomised the ethos of ‘service above self’ more than Keith Ellis. He was a great servant of others, both through Rotary International and in the local community. He will be greatly missed.”

Keith’s funeral will be held at St Mary’s Church, Barnsley town centre, on March 20 at 2pm, followed by cremation at 3.30pm.

Kathryn told the Chronicle she is expecting a fitting send-off for her dad and plans are in place for a party at the Holiday Inn, Dodworth, to celebrate his life.

“His son and my brother, Jonathan, will be singing because our dad was a wonderful singer who was even offered a summer season in Blackpool while he was serving in the police,” she added.

“It’ll be a true, fitting send-off for a popular man who was adored by many. He’ll be carried by six South Yorkshire Police officers with the force’s flag.”