Farewell to a real-life war hero, movie Dam Buster and the man who should have been James Bond

ACTOR Richard Todd, best known for his roles in war films The Dam Busters and The Longest Day, has died at the age of 90.

In his heyday, Todd was one of British cinema's biggest box-office draws.

He also became a war hero in his own right and was one of the first British officers to land in Normandy on D-Day.

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The actor died at his home in Lincolnshire on Thursday. His family said in a statement: "He had been suffering from cancer, an illness that he bore with his habitual courage and dignity."

Born in Dublin, Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd at first hoped to become a playwright, but discovered a love for acting after helping to found the Dundee Repertory Company in 1939.

Todd had to master a Scottish accent for his Oscar-nominated performance in the 1949 film The Hasty Heart – which also starred Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal – and the accent proved a useful skill in his later film career.

In A Man Called Peter, based on the true story of Scottish priest Peter Marshall, Todd played the man who left for the United States and eventually became chaplain to the Senate.

Mr Marshall's widow, Catherine, later said of Todd's performance: "He was just about the only film actor whose Scottish syllables would have met (her husband's] standards."

However, Todd was probably best known for playing RAF pilot Guy Gibson in the 1955 film The Dam Busters.

Merv Hallam, curator of the museum at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire where the Dam Busters were stationed, said the last time Todd visited the base was in 1993 for the 50th anniversary of the squadron's raids.

He said: "He was one of the old-fashioned film stars in the 1950s and 1960s, when British actors were at the forefront of the movie business."

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Todd just missed out on becoming the first big-screen 007, with writer Ian Fleming preferring him to play James Bond in Dr No in 1962. However, a schedule clash opened the way for Sean Connery to play the superspy.

Instead, Todd took the role of Inspector Harry Sanders in Death Drums Along the River, which was released in 1963.

During the Second World War, Todd volunteered for the British Army, and was among the first paratroopers dropped into Normandy in the D-Day invasion. He was also one of the first paratroopers to meet the glider force commanded by Major John Howard at Pegasus Bridge.

He later played Howard in the film The Longest Day in 1962.

His role as male lead in Claudia led to romance and then marriage to his leading lady, Catherine Grant-Bogle. His other film roles included the lead in The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, and he continued to act well into his eighties.

Todd had a son and a daughter from his first marriage and two sons from his later marriage to Virginia Mailer. Both marriages ended in divorce.

His son Seamus took his own life in 1997, as did his eldest son, Peter, who killed himself in 2005 following the breakdown of his marriage.

Todd said dealing with those tragedies was like his experience of war.

Michael Winner, who directed Todd in the 1978 film The Big Sleep, described him as "the best example of classic British screen acting", adding: "Richard Todd was the most wonderful type of British stiff-upper-lip acting."