TRIBUTES have been paid to a man who played a prominent role in keeping amateur theatre alive in Weardale.

Walter Raynor died after being taken ill during a birthday party for one of his five grandchildren on Sunday. He was 64.

For 12 years, Mr Raynor, who lived in retirement at Stanhope, had owned the Weardale Inn, formerly known as The Ranch, at Ireshopeburn.

He and his family moved there from Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire, where they also ran a pub.

One of the biggest contributions Mr Raynor, who was born in Chester, made to life in Weardale was with the Stanhope-based Phoenix Players amateur theatre group - the last to survive in the upper dale.

He provided the inspiration, both as a producer and actor, for many of the group's productions over the past ten years. Friends described him as a charismatic character with a rare gift of getting the best out of others.

Mr Raynor was also a director of the Weardale Publishing and Printing Company, which owns the Weardale Gazette.

He leaves a widow, Pat, three sons, Nick, Mark and Johnny, and a daughter Tina. A cremation service will take place today in Durham City, at 1pm.