Draper was best known for his work as a comedian and actor, but was also involved in many other areas of the Deaf community, excelling at Deaf sports and working as a counsellor for Deaf students.
He first became well known as part of the Deaf Comedians group, set up nearly 20 years ago. The sketch-based group toured Britain and then the world, pioneering a brand of humour based on Deaf culture. He was asked to join after winning an award at the North West Festival of Deaf Drama and Comedy.
During an interview with Julian Peedle-Calloo in an episode of the chat show Under the Lamp, Draper said of his time as a comedian: “I love making people laugh. It’s a sad world out there – so many depressing events on a daily basis. So getting up on stage, connecting with people and making them laugh, made me feel better.”
He went on to become an actor, starring in the BBC’s Deaf soap opera, Switch, directed by Louis Neethling. He collaborated closely with Neethling on a number of other films, including Grandad, Departure Lounge and his final film, Still Here. He also worked with director Sam Dore, most notably on Chasing Cotton Clouds, which won the best film award at Deaffest 2011.
Having begun his working life driving a JCB tipper, Draper had to give up a career as a roofer following an accident. He went on to work in mental health, becoming a counsellor for Deaf students at the University of Bristol. There, he also taught Deaf Awareness, advised university departments about Deaf access, and served as Chair of the Deaf Studies Trust.
An incredibly popular figure for his friendly nature and his sense of humour, Draper grew up in the North West of England, and helped support the work of the British Deaf Association there. Having moved to Bristol for work, he became a regular at Bristol Deaf Club, performing at fundraising evenings. He loved sport, and earlier in his life, picked up numerous trophies for his achievements in Deaf sport, playing football, cricket, badminton, snooker and bowls.
Photo: Still image from Chasing Cotton Clouds, with thanks to Sam Dore.
Watch Hal Draper’s interview with Julian Peedle-Calloo in an episode of On the Lamp here: