Dennis Waterman, who starred in TV shows including The Sweeney, Minder and New Tricks, has “passed away very peacefully in hospital in Spain”, his family has announced.

A statement from Dennis Waterman’s family said: “We are deeply saddened to announce that our beloved Dennis passed away very peacefully in hospital in Spain, on Sunday afternoon, with Pam by his side.

“The family kindly ask that our privacy is respected at this very difficult time.”

The star - who created two memorable screen partnerships in two classic shows - was 74.

Waterman sprang to stardom as a child actor and got his break in early 70s shockers like Fright (where he starred with George Cole) and Scars of Dracula (where he was the hero battling Christopher Lee's vampire count).

But his big break came when he landed a role in a one-off TV drama about the Flying Squad.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Called Reagan, the tv play feature John Thaw as Inspector Jack Reagan and Waterman as his dutiful sergeant, George Carter.

The play was so successful that Thames TV commissioned a full series, now retitled The Sweeney (cockney rhyming slang for the Flying Squad - Sweeney Todd).

The show was a massive success and ran to four seasons and two feature films before the stars decided they had had enough.

But Thames TV's film off-shoot, Euston Films, wasn't done with Waterman.

He was quickly cast in a new drama, provisionally called The Bodyguard, about a shady fixer and his bodyguard.

Denholm Elliott was originally set to star opposite Waterman in the show - later retitled Minder - but when he passed the part went to George Cole.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

The result was showbiz gold.

Cole's dodgy car dealer Arthur Daley was the perfect foil to Waterman's ex-boxer turned bouncer Terry McCann.

Mindre ran throughout the 80s and was often the highest-rated show. 

Waterman left when he became dissatisfied with the scripts but Cole continued for three more seasons opposite a new Minder in Gary Webster.

After Minder, he went on to star in Stay Lucky and had a late-career renaissance with New Tricks but it is for The Sweeney and Minder he will be best remembered.

Actor Matt Lucas tweeted: 'I grew up watching Dennis Waterman's iconic performances in The Sweeney and Minder. 

'His guest appearance in our Little Britain Live show at Hammersmith Apollo - in which he hilariously duetted with David's absurd impersonation of him - remains the absolute highlight of my career.'

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Newsreader Kay Burley posted: "A brilliant actor who was a staple on our screens throughout the 70s and 80s. Loved The Sweeney. Loved Minder more.'

Waterman was married four times, and was the father of former EasstEnders actress Hannah Waterman  with second wife Patricia Maynard.