Page last updated at 14:33 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Actor and director Lionel Jeffries dies, aged 83

Lionel Jeffries, pictured in 1994
Jeffries played Grandpa Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The well-known actor and film director Lionel Jeffries has died at the age of 83, his family has announced.

Best known for directing The Railway Children and appearing in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, his long career spanned theatre, film and television.

Known for his bald head, baritone voice and bristling moustache, the London-born actor trained at RADA before making his screen debut in 1950.

In later years he played the loveable Grandad in children's TV show Woof!

According to a family friend, Jeffries died in a nursing home in Poole, Dorset.

Actress Jenny Agutter, star of The Railway Children, remembered him as being "an extraordinary character" and "wonderfully funny".

"He was a total dear to work with," she told the BBC. "He very much created a family on set."

Lionel Jeffries with Madge Ryan in Casualty
He was seen (with Madge Ryan) in a 1992 episode of Casualty

Born in the East End in 1926, Jeffries served in Burma during World War II and would later blame its humidity for his hair loss.

His career saw him play an array of larger-than-life characters, notably the odious Marquis of Queensbury in 1960 drama The Trials of Oscar Wilde.

Despite the success of The Railway Children, whose script he wrote, he only made four more films as a director.

These included The Amazing Mr Blunden in 1972, Wombling Free in 1977 and The Water Babies the following year.

Jeffries's features served him well over the years but would often consign him to authority figures and elderly relatives.

He played Dick Van Dyke's father Grandpa Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, despite being the US actor's junior by six months.

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