Actor Edward Woodward dies aged 79

Veteran actor Edward Woodward, who was known for his roles in The Wicker Man and The Equalizer, died today.

The 79-year-old had been suffering from various illnesses, including pneumonia, and died in hospital, his agent said.

Janet Glass released a statement praising his "brave spirit and wonderful humour".

It said: "Universally loved and admired through his unforgettable roles in classic productions such as Breaker Morant, The Wicker Man, Callan, The Equalizer and many more, he was equally fine and courageous in real life, never losing his brave spirit and wonderful humour throughout his illness.

"He was further sustained by the love of his wife, Michele, children, Tim, Peter, Sarah and Emily, his grandchildren and numerous friends. His passing will leave a huge gap in many lives."

Woodward rose to fame in the 1960s and early 1970s in the television spy series Callan.

The cult film The Wicker Man, saw him play a devout Christian police officer drawn to investigating the disappearance of a young girl in a sinister community.

In the 1980s he gained international attention in the hit US TV series The Equalizer, playing a former spy turned gun-for-hire.

Woodward recently joined EastEnders for a short stint as Tommy Clifford, whose character drew out details of Patrick Trueman's past.

Speaking about the role to What's On TV earlier this year, Woodward said: "I was very pleased. I only like to do a few jobs each year and I pick the ones I can't turn down. I liked the character and six episodes suited me."

He said that as well as working on an autobiography, he had been spending time painting watercolours, adding modestly: "I am not very good at it, but my friends and family all get a copy."

Woodward lived in the Padstow area of Cornwall, with his wife, actress Michele Dotrice, who is known for playing Frank Spencer's long-suffering wife Betty in the classic sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

EastEnders star Barbara Windsor said she was "deeply saddened" at the news.

She continued: "I have such fond memories of our time working together."

As well as both appearing on the popular BBC soap, the pair worked together in musicals early in their careers.

Robin Hardy, who directed The Wicker Man, said of Woodward: "He was one of the greatest actors of his generation, without any question, with a broad career on American television as well as British film.

"He was an absolute star of The Wicker Man. He was an extremely nice human being."

The director also described Woodward as someone who worked his way into people's hearts.

He said he showed great care and diligence and had an "instinctive talent".

The paganism thriller also starred Sir Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland.

Woodward clocked up more than 2,000 television appearances, his credits also including Over My Dead Body, Common As Muck and The New Professionals.

His acting career over the decades spanned theatre, TV and movies - but perhaps what is less well known is that he also recorded more than 10 solo albums - and has three gold discs to his name.

Woodward scooped Golden Globe success for The Equalizer and won an Emmy Award for Remembering World War II. He was also honoured with an OBE in 1980.

During his theatrical career, he was seen treading the boards for the Royal Shakespeare Company and on Broadway he was chosen by Noel Coward to star in High Spirits, the musical version of Blithe Spirit.

His film appearances include roles in A Christmas Carol, Merlin And The Sword, The Young Winston, The Champions, Who Dares Wins and Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Most recently, he appeared in the police movie send-up Hot Fuzz, starring Simon Pegg, and A Congregation Of Ghosts, which is currently in post-production.

Pegg wrote on Twitter: "So sorry to hear we have lost the great Edward Woodward. Feel lucky to have worked with him."

Diederick Santer, executive producer of EastEnders, said: "All of us at EastEnders are very sad to learn that Edward has passed away.

"We were thrilled when he joined us for a stint of six episodes earlier this year.

"He was a delight to work with, and delivered a characteristically touching and layered performance. Our thoughts are with his family."