Norman Painting, who played Philip Archer in the much-loved radio show The Archers since its trial run in 1950, has died aged 85, the BBC said today.
Painting was also a scriptwriter on the BBC Radio 4 programme from 1966 to 1982 and wrote 1,198 scripts.
Mark Thompson, BBC director general, said he was "deeply saddened" to hear of the death.
Born in Leamington Spa, Painting was credited with being the longest-serving actor in a single soap opera.
In recent years his appearances on The Archers became more limited as he suffered poor health. He was last heard on the show in September.
Painting was diagnosed with bladder cancer several years ago, but said it would not stop him doing "what I love".
More recently, he had been suffering from a heart condition. He lived in Oxfordshire and died last night.
Painting spent what was to be his final day in the studio on Tuesday last week.
Fans will be able to hear his final episode on Sunday November 22, when the character will be surrounded by his grandchildren, preparing for Christmas.
Mr Thompson said Painting chose to leave a promising career in academia at Oxford to devote 60 years to BBC audiences - who regarded him as a "friend".
He said: "He rightly became renowned for his portrayal of Phil Archer, a role he created in the pilot episode in 1950, but he was also a gifted writer and talented, versatile broadcaster.
"He was a pillar of The Archers family, but to millions of listeners he became a friend and latterly a wonderful father figure.
"His death leaves us with a great sense of loss but an even deeper feeling of gratitude for such a huge contribution to the BBC and its audiences over six decades."
Painting was appointed an OBE in the 1970s and penned an autobiography titled Reluctant Archer.
One of his most hard-hitting storylines was when Phil's first wife Grace died in a barn fire in 1955, though in recent years the character had been enjoying a peaceful retirement.
The show's editor, Vanessa Whitburn, described Painting as a "consummate professional" playing the Ambridge farmer.
She said: "He has played Phil since The Archers trial run at Whitsun in 1950.
"And, under his sure hand, Phil graduated seamlessly from young romantic hero to serious farmer and father - holding Brookfield together in good times and bad, handing over the farm to eldest son David in 2001.
"Norman then gave us the delighted grandfather; enjoying astronomy with Daniel, music with Pip and finally always there when needed to give advice about farming methods of the past to son David.
"Norman always wanted to remain working on The Archers until he died - and I am delighted and proud of him that he achieved his wish."
Mark Damazer, controller, Radio 4, said: "Norman Painting was for almost 60 years a central figure in one of Radio 4's hallmark programmes.
"As Phil Archer, he became a wonderful patriarch yet he had started decades earlier as a young romantic hero.
"His success was not due merely to longevity but to his passion for The Archers and his skill as a radio actor. He loved the medium.
"He will be deeply missed by the rest of The Archers team and his millions of fans."