John Thaw, actor of stage and screen, died yesterday at his home in Wiltshire after a battle with cancer of the oesophagus. He was 60 and is survived by his actress wife Sheila Hancock and three daughters.

Born on 3 January 1942, Thaw began his acting career in the theatre with numerous roles at the Royal Exchange in his native Manchester as well as at the Royal Court, the National and in the West End. He most recently appeared on stage in April 2001 as Captain Hook, alongside Hancock, in Peter Pan at the Royal Festival Hall, although his last major stage production was the National’s 1993 premiere of David Hare’s The Absence of War, which was directed by Richard Eyre and later adapted for a television film.

It was for his TV roles, of course, that Thaw was best known and loved. These included The Sweeney, Kavanagh QC, Monsignor Renard, The Glass and, most famously, the long-running Inspector Morse series, based on Colin Dexter’s novels about the irascible Oxford detective.

Thaw made 33 episodes of Inspector Morse before Dexter killed the character off with a heart attack. The final episode, aired on British television in late 2000, was watched by 12.5 million people. The series has been syndicated to more than 200 countries around the world.

Tributes to Thaw have poured in since his death was announced. On BBC television, Colin Dexter said of the actor, "He loved work, he didn't mind how many takes there were, he was a perfectionist, he was a person who was prepared to do anything to make sure that the television was as it should be. That is how I will remember him: giving 100 percent."

Clive Jones, chief executive of Carlton Television, which produced Thaw’s series Inspector Morse, Goodnight Mister Tom and Kavanagh QC, said Thaw “will be remembered for some outstanding theatre and television work, but most of all for setting new standards in television films with Inspector Morse". He was, said Jones, "one of the great actors of his generation" and "universally the viewers' choice".

- by Terri Paddock