Obituaries: Eric Halsall

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For 14 years Eric Halsall was the cheery voice behind the commentary and Phil Drabble's sparring partner on the popular BBC television series about sheepdog trials, One Man and His Dog.

This though was the tip of the iceberg as far as his involvement in sheepdog trialling was concerned, as he was a regular (and had been for some 40 years) on trials fields up and down the country in his wax jacket and deerstalker, smoking his old pipe. He cared greatly for the countryside and conservation but sheepdogs and sheepdog trials were his passion. He wrote seven books, including Sheepdogs, My Faithful Friends (1980) and Gael, Sheepdog of the Hills (1985), all of which brought out his love for sheepdogs and the countryside, and for the last 36 years he reported and commented on sheepdog trials' results for the agricultural world through the weekly broadsheet, the Farmers' Guardian. Halsall was also a strong and active member of the International Sheepdog Society and for a time was an officer of that organisation.

His countryside experience was gleaned during his career as a farms manager for the National Coal Board, and he continued in this work until 1982, by which time his television career was established. Before his introduction to television Halsall's voice was known to local radio listeners in his native Lancashire where he gave compelling talks on the local countryside and wildlife.

One day at the English National Sheepdog Championships, at Leek, he found himself talking to a young BBC producer, Philip Gilbert, explaining to him the details of the event. From that conversation the idea for the BBC television series One Man and His Dog was born.

In 1975 Halsall began his 14-year relationship with One Man and His Dog and that series, now in its 20th year, would not have been possible without the guidance, support and enthusiasm that he brought to the project.

Halsall did more than almost anyone to raise awareness of the sheepdog and its role not only amongst the general public but also within the farming community. He brought to One Man and His Dog a wealth of knowledge and a personal enthusiasm that was infectious, commentating on over one hundred programmes and providing insight and guidance both to the programme's presenter Phil Drabble and to the entire BBC production team.

I met Eric Halsall when I directed my first series in 1989. He was always extremely kind to me and never minded my asking him questions or explaining the finer points of what seemed at that time an arcane sport. He was meticulous in his preparation for the series, from his beautifully executed maps of the course to the background information he had gleaned about the competitors for his commentary. I became aware that not only was he a fount of knowledge, with an immense commitment to sheepdogs and shepherding, but a delightful colleague with a genuine sense of fun.

In addition to his commentary duties, Eric Halsall was the course director for the series and was to be seen helping to lay out the trial field with a small group of local enthusiasts as the programme moved through England, Scotland and Wales over many years.

Eric was a warm and gentle man who through his personality and obvious pleasure from everything to do with sheep-dogs, won the affection and admiration not only of all the members of the BBC team with whom he worked but also of many sheepdog men and their families up and down the hills and valleys of the United Kingdom. His death will be a sad loss to the sheepdog trialling world.

Eric Halsall, television commentator and author: born Burnley, Lancashire 18 March 1920; married 1942 Rita Greenwood; died Burnley 21 October 1996.