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Arthur Daley actor George Cole dies, aged 90

George Cole died on Wednesday. Credit: PA

Actor George Cole, best known for playing used-car salesman Arthur Daley in ITV drama Minder, has died aged 90.

Cole, whose showbusiness career spanned 70 years, starred as small-time wheeler dealer and crook Daley alongside his bodyguard Terry McCann, played by Dennis Waterman.

ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies reports:

Cole died in hospital in Reading on Wednesday with his family at his side, according to agent Derek Webster.

Mr Webster said: "It is with deep regret that I have to announce the sad death of one of our most loved and respected actors.

"George Cole passed away yesterday at the Royal Berkshire Hospital after a short illness."

His wife Penny, daughter Tara and son Toby were with him at his bedside, he added.

It was understood he died as a result of pneumonia.

Mr Webster added: "The family are struggling to get their heads around it because it did happen rather quickly.

"Even though he was 90 and he was quite frail it was a bit of a surprise."

Cole, who was made an OBE in 1992 and was married twice, first to Eileen Moore and then Penny Morrell.

Minder, which ran from 1979 to 1994, brought the criminal underworld of west London to millions of homes up and down the country.

Cole's character, an ambitious but feckless small-time crook, spent each episode dreaming up another get-rich-quick scheme while avoiding the attentions of the police - in the form of Patrick Malahide's Mr Chisolm - and the never seen but often mentioned 'er indoors.

When Waterman left the show, Gary Webster stepped into the role for the last two series.

In a statement, Waterman paid tribute to his friend:

I am so sad to hear of George's death. His family must be devastated, and I am absolutely certain that anybody who ever knew him, will feel the same.

I'm so grateful to have been a friend of this wonderful man. We worked together for many years and my boast is that we laughed all day, every day.

He was an amazing man, a wonderful actor and besotted with his family. I had the privilege of spending Tuesday afternoon with him and Penny and, although very frail, his wit was as evident as ever. Farewell old friend.

– Dennis Waterman
Dennis Waterman paid tribute to his former co-star today. Credit: PA

Cole's film career began in the 1940s, appearing with mentor Alastair Sim and Sir John Mills in Bombsight Stolen.

In 1943 he appeared in the film The Demi-Paradise opposite Laurence Olivier and in Olivier's film version of Henry V the following year, before serving with the Royal Air Force from 1944 to 1947.

He found fame in the 1950s playing Flash Harry in the St Trinian's films, sharing the screen once again with Sim.

In 1963, he appeared alongside Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison in Cleopatra.

Cole collecting his OBE at Buckingham Palace in 1992. Credit: PA

Cole and Sim met in theatre when Sim took him under his wing while he was still a teenager - he plucked the young actor from Blitz-hit London and took him in as an unofficial evacuee in his Oxfordshire home.

Cole eventually built his own home next door to Sim and proceeded to star in a succession of stage shows and films with the Scottish star, including the series based on the fictional girls' school created by cartoonist Ronald Searle.

Cole, who was adopted as a baby and grew up in a council flat in Morden, south London, started performing music hall routines on stage as a child with his parents who were both amateur musicians.

He began acting when he left school aged 14 and got a job as an understudy in a musical in Blackpool, sharing his dressing room with the animal extras - two goats and six pigeons.

He went on to be a regular on stage, screen and radio and worked almost non-stop for more than 70 years.

Cole played Captain Hook alongside Lulu in a pantomime at London's Cambridge Theatre. Credit: PA