Actor Barry Foster (pictured) died today, aged 70. Until this past Saturday, Foster had been starring, alongside Nigel Havers and David Lloyd Pack, in the long-running West End comedy, Art. He was taken ill before Saturday evening's performance and died today, following a presumed heart attack, at the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford.

Art's producer David Pugh spoke to Foster from his hospital bed yesterday, when the actor said he expected to be back on stage by the end of the week. Pugh says now, "The show will go on as Barry would always have wanted it to."

Since Saturday, Foster's part of Marc in the play about three friends who fall out over a piece of modern art, has been played by understudy Andrew McDonald, who will continue until a replacement is confirmed. Pugh says there should be a casting announcement later this week, with Foster's successor to be a well-known actor who's previously appeared in the play. "All of this is done with Barry's and his widow's blessing," said the producer.

Foster trained at London's Central School of Speech and Drama and was a familiar face to British TV audiences for his many series such as Smiley's People, Van der Valk and A Woman Called Golda. His film credits included Frenzy, Maurice and Rancid Aluminium.

The actor made his stage debut in 1952 and, more recently, had been seen on stage in The Tempest, The Holly and The Ivy, Double Indemnity as well as Art, both on tour and in the West End.

Foster's agent Sandy Rees, who has represented him for the past two decades, paid tribute to Foster as a man of "great wit and had the clearest intelligence and enthusiasm."

- by Terri Paddock