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New Avengers star Gareth Hunt dies

Erbs

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The actor Gareth Hunt, who starred in the iconic 1970s show The New Avengers, died of cancer today aged 65.

Hunt had battled pancreatic cancer for the past two years.

A statement from his agent said of Hunt’s illness: “He fought the disease with great courage and through his strength of character and his wonderful sense of humour he continued to work right up until the end of 2006.”

Hunt is survived by his wife, Amanda, and three sons.

He got his big break playing Mike Gambit in The New Avengers, alongside Joanna Lumley, and was also familiar to millions as Frederick in the hugely popular Upstairs, Downstairs.

In the show Hunt, as Gambit, provided the muscle for John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee. A former mercenary he was a weapons and king-fu expert.

Lumley today paid tribute to her “dear friend”. “We started off as friends in The New Avengers and remained that way for more than 30 years. I loved him so much,” she said.

Speaking from Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, where she opens tonight in a production of The Cherry Orchard, Lumley said: “Gareth was also a very good actor, which was often overlooked. He started life in the RSC and he was just terrific.”

She added: “He kept his illness quiet, only his family and a few close friends knew.

“I went out with him for his birthday in February and he was pretty frail but still hysterically funny. I always looked forward to seeing him. He was loved by everyone who knew him.”

In 2002 Hunt collapsed on stage at the Bournemouth Pier Theatre with a suspected heart attack - and was clapped by the audience who thought his agony was part of the show.

His co-star, former Emmerdale actor Robert Beck, rushed from the wings shouting: “Is there a doctor in the house? I’m serious.”

The curtain came down as nurses in the audience ran to help at Bournemouth Pier Theatre.

Hunt, who grew up in Battersea, South London, joined the Merchant Navy when he was 15 so he could travel.

He ended up in military prison for three months after jumping ship from the Merchant Navy in New Zealand.

Before finding fame as an actor he worked as a stagehand, a road digger and a door-to-door salesman.