Sara Coward, who played Caroline Sterling in Radio 4’s The Archers for almost 40 years, has died aged 69.
The actress had been receiving palliative care after being diagnosed with terminal cancer last year.
Coward also appeared extensively on stage in the West End and throughout the UK.
Speaking to the Radio Times in January, the actress said she hoped the character would not be written out after her death.
“I’d like them to find someone else to play her,” she was quoted as saying. “In fact I know the very person.”
“Everyone in The Archers family is very sad today,” said Archers editor Huw Kennair-Jones. “Sara was a gifted actress with a unique voice.
“Even when she was navigating the tribulations of Caroline Sterling’s love life, Sara’s deft wit and clever characterisation meant Caroline was never solely defined by her relationships but always as a fully rounded, intriguing woman of substance.
“We will all miss her both professionally and personally.”
Coward made her first appearance in The Archers in 1977 and her last in September 2016.
Her character was the owner of the Grey Gables Hotel and Health Club but was better known for her string of unsuccessful relationships.
She twice appeared alongside royal guests on the show, firstly with Princess Margaret in 1984.
She went on to appear opposite the Duchess of Cornwall when The Archers celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2011.
Annette Badland, who stars in The Archers as Hazel Woolley, tweeted: “Sara was such pleasure to be with. RIP loving, kind, intelligent, funny lady.”
Keri Davies, writer and producer on the programme, said: “Caroline was my first #TheArchers crush, and when I came to work on the programme, Sara Coward was an absolute delight.
Susie Riddell, who plays Tracy Horrobin, posted: “So sad to learn of Sara’s death. A lovely, graceful and witty woman.”
Coward spent the last months of her life trying to leave the world “a kinder place” and launched a social media campaign urging people to smile at each other more.
She started Sm:)e from a hospice in Warwickshire and on social media wrote: “Make someone feel good today just by being kind. This can be as easy as simply sm:)ing at people, or doing something more to help them in some way. And finding out how good you feel as a result.”