EastEnders actor John Bardon dies at the age of 75

image captionJohn Bardon made his first appearance as EastEnders' Jim Branning in 1996

EastEnders actor John Bardon, who played Dot Branning's husband Jim in the soap opera, has died aged 75.

The screen star suffered a debilitating stroke seven years ago and was forced to drastically reduce his appearances in the BBC One show.

June Brown, who played his on-screen wife, said; "I shall miss him very much as I loved him dearly."

Bardon's illness was reflected in the series and he was last seen on screen in May 2011.

media captionJohn Bardon's real-life illness was reflected in the programme

A spokeswoman for the soap said they are "absolutely heartbroken" at the news of the actor's death.

"John was an exceptionally talented actor whose humour, mischievousness and brilliant performances made Jim Branning one of Walford's most loveable, memorable characters, and we will miss John forever," she added.

Friday night's episode of the programme will be dedicated to the late actor.

Actress Natalie Cassidy, who plays his screen granddaughter Sonia, said: "I never had a real granddad so John was like an actual granddad to me. He was a lovely man and I learnt a lot from him."

Actor Jake Wood, who plays his son Max, wrote on Twitter it is "such sad news".

"I'm honoured to have known him. John was a gentleman and will be missed by all who knew him," he added.

Shane Richie - Alfie Moon in the soap - said: "Jim Branning - funny, grumpy, endearing, mischievous, massive talent, Walford will always miss you."

Former EastEnders actor Robert Kazinsky, who played Sean Slater, pointed to Bardon's performances after he fell ill.

"John showed immense courage playing Jim Branning after his stroke, he brought his own pain and reality to it and shouldn't be forgotten," he said via Twitter.

image captionDevoted couple Jim and Dot found love late in life
image captionJohn Bardon (r) had a role in Dad's Army

Before suffering a stroke, his character was a regular fixture in the Queen Vic pub and a keen gambler, making his first appearance on the show in 1996 before becoming a regular some years later.

But Jim was devoted to God-fearing Albert Square stalwart Dot, whom he married in 2002 after proposing to her on the London Eye.

Bardon's character caused great anguish for Dot after his stroke when he required full-time care and was eventually moved to a nursing home.

Branning also had a fractious relationship with his screen son Max, who he buried alive in a coffin during his childhood.

His children Carol and Jack were also brought into EastEnders, along with other members of the Branning clan.

Bardon was born in Brentford, Middlesex in 1939 and played a number of other roles, including a racist neighbour of the Khan family in hit British film East is East.

He also appeared in numerous TV series including sitcom Birds of a Feather, Rumpole of the Bailey and had a turn in classic sitcom Dad's Army in 1975, five years after he made his screen debut. Bardon also appeared in Only Fools and Horses.

The actor also had a recurring role in ITV comedy Up The Elephant and Round The Castle, playing Jim Davidson's screen father.

He also worked on the stage in a number of productions during his career, winning an Olivier Award in 1988 for his performance in the musical Kiss Me Kate.

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