Early Doors Wigan actor Rodney Litchfield is mourned
Phoenix Nights co-star Paddy McGuinness was among the first to pay tribute, sharing a photo of Rodney on set dressed in a cowboy costume and standing alongside a horse and captioning it "RIP Rodney Litchfield aka Wild Bill in Phoenix Nights.."
Wigan-born and a Swinley resident for many years, Rodney was best known for playing the miserable retired lollipop man Tommy in the BBC sitcom Early Doors.
The show's writer Phil Mealey tweeted: "Really sad news that Rodney Lichfield aka Old Tommy passed away peacefully in his sleep Saturday aged 81, having been poorly for some time.
“We were blessed to meet and cast him as he was absolutely perfect.
“To you Rodders and To The Regiment it won’t be the same without you. RIPx”
Dylan Harris, boss of Wigan holiday firm Lupine Travel, tweeted: "RIPTommy. Rodney was our neighbour for years. Came round once to moan to my dad about his agent. "Can you believe he's got me a part in bloody Coronation St? It's gonna mean me getting the train to Manchester every bloody day. I've told him to make sure I'm not in it for long!"
The actor’s career spanned more than 30 years, with credits in many a hit show including Heartbeat, A Touch of Frost, Shameless, All Creatures Great and Small Cracker and Juliet Bravo, Casualty and Emmerdale. He also appeared in several films including Among Giants and Dancing Through The Dark, starring Up Holland's own Con O'Neill.
A further prominent role was as Wilfred Morton on Coronation Street, the grandad of Jodie, played by another Wigan borough product Samantha Seager, which he played over 23 episodes between January and October 2007.
While acting had been a hobby for Rodney since the age of 13, it did not occur to him to make a living from it until 23 years later.
The former Wigan Grammar School pupil initially became an accountant.
But it was only after redundancy from an accountancy firm in his mid-30s did Rodney's thoughts turn seriously to acting.
He had been a member of Wigan Little Theatre for several years, appearing in heavyweight drama such as Waiting for Godot and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
And it was WLT stalwart and award-winning screenwriter Brian Finch who suggested Rodney went to Manchester Polytechnic to study drama in earnest. This was soon after the college had produced such acting greats as Julie Walters and Richard Griffiths.
Rodney had his reservations, mainly because he would be 20 years older than most of the other students.
But he suceeded and has been kept busy ever since. Among his first TV parts were in the children's television dramas Sea View and Not The End Of The World.
He said: "My only regret is that I did not start my professional career earlier. But this new show is great and it certainly helps to make up for lost time!"
In a 2006 interview he said: “It’s amazing to get all these down-in- the-mouth parts because really, I’m the happiest person in the world.
“I can see the funny side of most things and my friends tell me off because I laugh too much. I’m nothing like the man I play in films and on TV.
“But people who see me around Wigan must think I’m a real miserable old chap because that’s the side of me they see on the television.
“In recent years, I’ve played murderers, paedophiles, wife beaters and other terrible characters. I must have that kind of face."