Heartbeat actor William Simons, who charmed Sunday evening viewers for nearly two decades as easygoing veteran PC Alf Ventress, has died aged 79.
Welsh-born Simons played the character in all 18 series of the 1960s-set show.
He also appeared in Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Crown Court and Last of the Summer Wine during his 60-year career.
His agent said: “He was a wonderful, kind, warm, witty, lovely human being and anyone who ever worked with him or knew him will be devastated.”
Jason Durr, who appeared alongside Simons in Heartbeat paid tribute to the “lovely man”.
Simons, who was born in Swansea, was already 51 when he landed the biggest role of his career, playing Alf Ventress when Heartbeat first landed on TV screens in 1992 as a prime-time vehicle for former EastEnders star and chart-topping singer Nick Berry.
Berry played a young London constable who moved north with his family and encountered Ventress as one of the colleagues who helped him build a new life while fighting crime in a rural setting.
The show, set in the fictional Yorkshire villages of Ashfordly and Aidensfield, attracted more than 13 million viewers and saw guest appearances by Gary Barlow, Charlotte Church, Lulu, and David Dickinson – and Yorkshire’s legendary cricket umpire Dickie Bird.
Simons was very popular with viewers and his character continued to appear in the show as a civilian even after he retired from the force.
And when ITV launched a spin-off show called The Royal, he was asked to play Ventress in six episodes.
According to the Yorkshire Post, Simons enjoyed his role in Heartbeat so much that he bought a house in the village of Goathland, where much of the show’s filming took place.
But he sold it 14 years later, explaining in an interview with the Daily Express that Goathland had become so popular with tourists drawn by the Heartbeat factor that “it was impossible to step outside without being recognised”.
As a teenage actor, Simons had suffered so badly from acne that he gave up his acting career for a few years and instead got a job as a stage manager.
So as soon as he became a major star on Heartbeat, he became a patron for the Changing Faces charity, which supports people with facial disfigurements.
Heartbeat was based on the Constable series of novels written by ex-policeman Peter N Walker, under the pseudonym Nicholas Rhea.
In an interview before his death in 2017, Walker said Simons had “created a totally believable character, just as I imagined him”.