John Challis, who played Boycie in Only Fools And Horses, has died at the age of 79.

His family said in a statement that he died “peacefully in his sleep, after a long battle with cancer”.

The actor, who was born in Bristol in 1942, had an extensive television career but was best known for playing unscrupulous second-hand car dealer Terrance Aubrey “Boycie” Boyce in the long-running beloved BBC sitcom.

“It is with heavy hearts that we bring you such sad news,” the family statement read.

“Our dear friend and yours, John Challis, has died peacefully in his sleep, after a long battle with cancer.

“He will always be loved for being ‘Boycie’ and leaves a great legacy of work that will continue to bring pleasure and smiles for many years to come.

“Please respect the privacy of John’s family and friends at this difficult time, and be assured that in the future there will be an occasion to celebrate John’s life – when everyone will be welcome to come along.”

His family said donations in his memory can be made to his chosen animal charities Cuan Wildlife Rescue, Tusk or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

“As Boycie would have said… you know it makes sense!” their statement added.

Challis was in his late 30s when he landed the role of Boycie, with the part initially just for one scene before his character became more prominent in the series.

Boycie was married to the feisty Marlene – played by Sue Holderness – and their marriage became a running joke, with repeated gags about her supposed promiscuity.

Challis also starred in its spin-off The Green Green Grass from 2005 to 2009 and the ITV sitcom Benidorm from the seventh series onwards.

Earlier this month, he cancelled a 30-date speaking tour after only one appearance due to ill health.

The actor recently became an honorary citizen of Serbia, where Only Fools remains hugely popular.

He also made the documentary Boycie In Belgrade, which explored why the show was so beloved in the Balkan country.

His earlier roles included gangster drama Big Breadwinner Hog in 1969, as well as a recurring role on Z-Cars as Sergeant Culshaw between 1971 and 1975.

Tributes have been pouring in since the news of his death emerged, with Sue Holderness, who played Boycie’s wife, describing him as a “beloved friend”.

She said in a statement: “Marlene without Boycie – it’s unthinkable. John Challis was my partner on screen and stage for 36 years and my beloved friend. R.I.P. darling John. I will miss you every day.”

The Three Degrees singer Sheila Ferguson tweeted: “I’ve been waiting for this for a few days now.

“It is with great sadness that I tell you that my dear friend, John Challis (Boycie from OFAH) has just passed.

“I’ve been in touch with his wife, Carol, who is obviously heartbroken, as am I. Much love, S.”

One Only Fools fan tweeted: “Absolutely gutted to hear of the passing of John Challis (Boycie from OFAH) Massive part of so many people’s childhoods”.

Allo Allo star Vicki Michelle said: “Shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Wonderful John Challis such a fabulous man. Loved by the Nation. Condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Crissy Rock, who starred alongside Challis in Benirdorm, tweeted: “I am heartbroken to hear the news that the legendary actor @BeingBoycie has sadly passed away. John you were a true gentleman and always so loving and supportive towards me. I am thinking of your family and close friends at this hard time. Rest well. Crissy xx.”

The Jolly Boys Podcast said: “We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our lovely friend, John Challis. Our hearts go out to his family & friends at this difficult time We love you, John. Sleep well”.

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