English actor Robert Hardy, who starred in the Harry Potter films and the BBC drama All Creatures Great and Small, has died at the age of 91, his family have announced.

In a statement they said that Hardy had a "tremendous life" and "a giant career in theatre, television and film spanning more than 70 years".

Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

He was also known for numerous portrayals of Winston Churchill and played the wartime British Prime Minister opposite Helen Mirren as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in the acclaimed play The Audience.

Robert Hardy as Winston Churchill in The Audience 

The actor was best known in recent years for playing the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, in the Harry Potter movies, a role he reprised four times. Potter author JK Rowling said everyone who worked with Hardy on the blockbusters "loved him".

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He also had roles as businessman Alec Stewart in the oil company drama The Troubleshooters on BBC from 1966 to 1970.

Hardy won acclaim for his portrayal of the unhinged Sgt. Gratz in LWT's 1969 war drama Manhunt. In 1975, the actor portrayed Prince Albert in the award-winning 13-hour serial Edward the Seventh.

In real life - Robert Hardy with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II

Born in 1925 and educated at Oxford, Hardy started his career at 24 in a stage adaptation of William Shakespeare's Coriolanus, the first of many theatre roles.

But it was as the endearingly eccentric senior veterinarian Siegfried Farnon in the BBC's hugely-successful adaptation of James Herriot's novels All Creatures Great and Small that he became widely known in the UK and Ireland. The show was also screened on RTÉ Television.  He appeared on the show from 1978 to 1990.

A statement shared by his children Emma, Justine and Paul on Thursday read: "Dad is also remembered as a meticulous linguist, a fine artist, a lover of music and a champion of literature, as well as a highly respected historian, and a leading specialist on the longbow. He was an essential part of the team that raised the great Tudor warship The Mary Rose.

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"Gruff, elegant, twinkly, and always dignified, he is celebrated by all who knew him and loved him, and everyone who enjoyed his work."

The statement also described Hardy's life as "tremendous" and added: "We are immensely grateful to the team at [retirement home for actors] Denville Hall for the tender care they gave during his last weeks."

Hardy's All Creatures Great and Small co-star Christopher Timothy, who played vet James Herriot, said he was "very sad" to hear of his passing.

"He played a big part in something that was an important phase of my life," Timothy told the Press Association.

"We did meet up last year at a Herriot function and although he looked frail he still had his wit and humour. [It was] Great to see him.

"He has left an unbelievable legacy of fantastic work for many generations to enjoy and appreciate."

There have also been many tributes on social media: