Tributes are pouring in for John Inman, most famous for the BBC comedy Are You Being Served?, who has died aged 71.
Inman, who passed away in a London hospital, made his name in the 1970s show as Mr Humphries and coined the catchphrase "I'm free!"
His former co-star Wendy Richard said he was "the funniest and most inventive actor" she had ever worked with.
The Preston-born actor had been suffering from a hepatitis A infection for a number of years.
The infection, usually caused by eating contaminated food, forced him to cancel the opening of a pantomime in London in December 2004.
"He will always be remembered for making us laugh," said Richard.
"He will be greatly missed not just by his friends, who loved him dearly, but also by his legion of fans on both sides of the Atlantic," she added.
The former EastEnders actress visited him on Tuesday and said she had found it "upsetting" to see him look so "frail".
Nicholas Smith, who played store manager Mr Rumbold in Are You Being Served? said: "I always had tremendous admiration for him. He had a wonderful precision of movement and his comedy timing was impeccable."
Another co-star, Trevor Bannister, who played Mr Lucas in the series, told BBC News 24: "The 'I'm free!' was something put in because that is what people in those stores really said.
"We didn't realise it would become a running catchphrase."
Veteran actress and co-star Mollie Sugden, who played Mrs Slocombe, told the BBC: "It's a very sad day. As far as I'm concerned, it's the end of an era."
In recent years Inman became a pantomime regular, most often taking the role of the dame.
Fellow panto dame Danny La Rue had been close friends with him for more than 40 years.
"He was such a fantastic and inventive actor," he said. "He is utterly irreplaceable. The world has lost a star and I have lost a dear friend."
In the last four series, Mr Humphries was given an assistant, Mr Spooner, played by Mike Berry.
"I felt like going home at the end of the day and ironing my face, he made me laugh so much! As funny as he was in front of the camera, he was funnier off.
"And he was a confident comedian, which made him generous. He would help you in delivering a line to get the most out of it, he liked to work in a good team."
Inman's manager Phil Dale said: "John was known and loved throughout the world. He was one of the best and finest pantomime dames working to capacity audiences throughout Britain.
"John was known for his comedy plays and farces which were enjoyed from London's West End throughout the country and as far as Australia, Canada and the USA."
'Charming and funny'
Actress Rula Lenska, who worked with Inman on TV and in pantomime, paid tribute to his comic style.
"It was suggestive but never in your face or aggressive. It had an innocent quality that you rarely find today," she said.
Are You Being Served? attracted up to 22 million viewers
"He was a joy to work with and even after an exhausting day in pantomime he would have time for the fans who crowded round the stage door."
The BBC's head of comedy, Jon Plowman, said: "He was one of our great comedy actors who was responsible for one of the best loved TV sitcom characters of the last 40 years."
Inman devoted a lot of his raising money for the Variety Club, which helps disabled and disadvantaged children.
The charity's chief barker, DJ Russ Kane remembers him as being "charming, always polite and always funny".
Inman's long-term partner, Ron Lynch, is said to be "devastated" at his death.