War hero and silver screen legend Richard Todd dies

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The Independent Online

Distinguished actor Richard Todd, best known for his role in the classic war film The Dam Busters, has died at the age of

His spokeswoman said that Todd, who had been suffering from cancer, died last night.

She said in a statement: "He had been suffering from cancer, an illness that he bore with his habitual courage and dignity. His family were with him throughout."

In his heyday, Todd was one of British cinema's biggest box office draws.

The son of a British officer, he grew up in Devon and became a war hero in his own right.

He served as an officer in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry as well as serving as a paratrooper in the British 6th Airborne Division.

He was one of the first British officers to land in Normandy on D-Day.

After the war he gained fame in the London stage version of The Hasty Heart, which took him to Broadway.

He returned to England to appear in the film version, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1949.

He later appeared in the film The Dam Busters as Wing Commander Guy Gibson, in a screen reconstruction of the triumphant and daring British raid against the Ruhr dams.

He was well known in America for his role as the United States Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall in A Man Called Peter.

Todd was the first choice of author Ian Fleming to play James Bond, but because of other commitments he had to turn it down. The role went to Sean Connery.

His other film roles include Robin Hood in Robin Hood and his Merrie Men and he continued to act well into his 80s.

Joan Hayes, from Little Humby, Lincolnshire, trained Todd's gundogs for him and knew the actor for 30 years.

She said: "He was the perfect gentleman. The tragedy was that he was never knighted.

"He was very much loved by everyone in the village. He has been very ill recently but we attended his 90th birthday party at Grantham House in June.

"He was in a wheelchair but at least he was able to get there and see the Lancaster bomber fly-past."

Tessa Buckley, from Little Humby, said: "Richard was a very charming gentleman. He really was a gentleman of another era.

"The way he did his constitutional around the village green reminded you of the time he grew up in."

Merv Hallam, curator of RAF Scampton's museum where the Dam Busters were stationed, said the last time Todd visited the base was in 1993 for the 50th anniversary of the squadron's raids.

He said: "Todd was a war hero himself. He was a member of the 6th Airborne Division which attacked the Pegasus Bridge during the D-Day Landings and under Major John Howard.

"Funnily enough, he ended up playing his commanding officer in The Longest Day.

"He was one of the old-fashioned film stars in the '50s and '60s when British actors were at the forefront of the movie business."

Mr Hallam added: "Most people remember him for playing Guy Gibson and it was such a good performance.

"He spent two years researching the way Gibson was, including his colleagues and his family. He did the best anybody could do to play Gibson."

Michael Winner, who directed Todd in the 1978 film The Big Sleep, described him as "the best example of classic British screen acting".

Winner said he was thrilled to work with the man who he had watched on screen since he was a child.

"Richard Todd was the most wonderful type of British stiff upper lip acting," he said.

"He was a very fine actor but his style of acting went out of fashion, which was a pity because his contribution to British movies was enormous.

"He was also a very, very nice person.

"He was a good friend and wonderful to work with, utterly professional, very quiet, just got on with it.

"He was just a splendid person and a very, very good actor."

Winner said Todd's finest performance was in the 1949 film The Hasty Heart, opposite future US president Ronald Reagan.

Todd was nominated for the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of injured Scottish soldier Corporal Lachlan "Lachie" MacLachlan who is forced to stay in hospital - not knowing he has just weeks to live - while his colleagues head home from Burma at the end of the Second World War.

"Not many British actors are nominated for a best actor Academy award so that shows his worth," Winner added.

Winner said the film "made him", adding: "The compassion of that performance I will never forget.

"For me that was his finest piece of acting."

Winner said Todd "personified the British person who, faced with a crisis, stayed calm".

Winner said Todd would be best remembered as Wing Commander Guy Gibson in The Dam Busters, his "big film".

"That typified his skill in being the underplayed hero," he said.

Winner also praised Todd's performance in 1952's The Story Of Robin Hood And His Merrie Men, saying he was "very good" as the hero.