Tributes have been paid following the death of a university lecturer who debunked one of the most sensational hoaxes of the 20th Century – the famous Cottingley Fairies photographs.

Joe Cooper remained convinced of the existence of fairies, despite revealing the truth surrounding photographs supposedly showing the supernatural beings taken by young cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright at Cottingley Beck in 1917.

More than six decades after they were taken, Mr Cooper revealed the pictures had been fakes – created with hat pins and cut outs from a children’s book – and reported his findings in The Unexplained magazine.

His son, David Cooper, 47, yesterday paid tribute to the astrologer, broadcaster and psychic investigator who died peacefully on Tuesday, aged 87, after a short illness.

Mr Cooper, of Ilkley, said: “He was an unforgettable, unique character who was very enthusiastic and had an enormous curiosity and a willingness to believe in things that most people rejected out of hand. He was attracted to the arcane and unusual.”

He said his father had been fascinated by the series of five pictures supposedly showing the girls playing with fairies after befriending them in the 1970s.

In 1981 Frances Griffiths confessed to him the pictures had been a hoax.

Mr Cooper went on to document his account of his experiences in his book The Case of the Cottingley Fairies, which was used as the basis of the film Fairy Tale: A True Story.

His son said: “His inclination was to believe them and, to the last, he believed they saw the fairies. It was not what he wanted to find out at all and he always claimed the final photograph was real.”

Mr Cooper said his father’s interest in the supernatural may have stemmed from his near-death experiences as a navigator in bomber command participating in pathfinder missions during the Second World War.

After the war, he appeared in films and wrote material for comedian Frankie Howerd. He also acted on stage with a young Peter O’Toole and became a friend of the actor Philip Stone, who went on to act in many of Stanley Kubrik’s films.

A successful academic and sociology lecturer, Mr Cooper carried out one of the first studies to indicate a scientific basis for astrology. He was also a gifted musician and composer, who founded the Yorkshire Ukulele Circle and made regular TV appearances in the 1970s and 80s speaking on topics related to the occult.

He married in 1959 and leaves a son, David and daughter Jane.