Terry Riley pays tribute to Hal Draper who sadly died on 27th December 2012.

To many of our BSL Zone viewers Hal Draper was the actor they could not take their eyes off, he had this craggy, chiseled face, a real Northerner -- one look and you knew he had lived a hard life. Hal was an actor of great talent, he played a variety of parts from humour to sadness, enriching us with his performances.

It all started way back at his roots in the North West Of England, when Doug Alker started a new comedy group, the Deaf Comedians. Hal was an integral part of this, but he was relatively unknown in this field. He was better known as a good footballer, hard and tough as nails, as I well know from the 'calling cards' (studs) he left on my legs a few times ☺.

Hal was in his element, taking the mickey out of interpreters. I am sure you all have your favourite clips. They were a skit on deaf culture and, importantly, what we could all relate to. I have two favourites: one is when Hal came onto the stage at Manchester, with a handheld radio to his head, dancing to a Rap rhythm, then Doug would stop him and take the back of the radio and there were NO batteries. Well, he was Deaf. The other was acting as an interpreter when one of the group had committed a bank robbery and was now in the police station being interrogated. The Deaf man was telling Hal (the interpreter) where the money was stashed. Hal didn't relay the information and said he did not know, and gave them wrong information. The man was hauled away and Hal went and picked up the hidden money. A twist on the interpreter’s ethics and honesty and the interpreters that I know loved it.

But it was in his next 'challenge' that we as an audience began to see Hal blossom as an actor, one who could who could make us laugh and cry at the same time. He became someone who was able to turn his hand to any role, no matter how demanding and draining it might be. In his many roles he blossomed into something rare and unique. But this new adventure was a great challenge: he had to come out of his shell, he had to become someone else. We discussed many times over a pint (or two) of course his uncertainty -- did he have the skills to adapt from stage to film? Could he play the part convincingly enough for people to forget the Old Hal and see the actor? But he had no real reason to fear how he would be received, and after the initial positive feedback he became an Icon.

I know everyone who worked with him treasured those moments, especially Louis Neethling who adored him. His roles in Still Here which, ironically, portrayed an old Deaf comedy group was in many ways a reflection of Hal and the Deaf comedians. His character in Chasing Cotton Clouds was something else -- a dutiful Grandad who bridges the two generations.  We also were fortunate to see the person behind the man when we did an  interview with Julian in Under the Lamp, Series 2, programme 3.

But for me his most moving role was in many ways a reflection of Hal and his future. In Departure Lounge he played the dying patient who befriended an angry young deaf man and steered him along the right road. Those tender scenes were so moving and it showed Hal was at the pinnacle of his career.

And, as in the film, Hal has always been there to give a quiet supporting word of encouragement to his fellow actors, especially those treading the boards for the first time. If he had been a hearing actor he would have won Oscars and Emmys... He has left a legacy for us to enjoy for many years to come. An Icon has passed away but he still lives on both in our hearts and minds -- and thankfully on film.

Catch the memories and go to www.bslzone.co.uk.

Terry Riley
January 2013