Published Saturday, 08 March 2014
James 'Jimmy' Ellis receiving an honorary doctorate at Queen's University. (© QUB)
The Belfast-born actor died from a stroke in Lincoln Hospital early on Saturday, just a week short of his 83rd birthday.
Ellis became a familiar face through his role in the police drama, which was a household favourite from 1962 to 1978.
He played alongside a young Kenneth Branagh in BBC Northern Ireland's 'Billy' plays and also starred in programmes such as Doctor Who, In Sickness And In Health, Ballykissangel and Only Fools And Horses.
Sir Kenneth has paid tribute to the actor, saying he had been an inspiration to work with.
"I was blessed to begin my career working with him, and I will never forget his generosity to me," the Hollywood star said.
He was a highly intelligent, funny, and kind man and a tremendous actor.
Peter Johnston, director of BBC Northern Ireland,said: "We are saddened to hear about the death of Jimmy Ellis. He was a major talent from Northern Ireland, famous for his roles in Z-Cars and the Billy plays.
"He will be deeply missed by all his colleagues on screen and on stage."
In 2008 Ellis was awarded an honorary doctorate from Queen's University, where he had been a student, for services to the performing arts. He was praised for his "lifetime's commitment to honesty and integrity of performance".
He also studied at Belfast's Methodist College and at the Bristol Old Vic.
He began his acting career at Belfast's Group Theatre in 1952.
Sinn Féin Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín described Ellis as a "remarkable talent".
"He never however forgot his Belfast roots and he will be greatly missed throughout the acting profession," she said.
"James was a man of great character and was never afraid to tackle difficult issues as we witnessed with his direction of the Sam Thompson play 'Over The Bridge' in 1960, at a time when many believed that sectarianism, which the play addressed, was too controversial for a stage performance.
"I am deeply saddened by his passing and my thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time."
© UTV News