Born: May 18, 1940; Died: July 11, 2014.

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Ray LONNEN, who has died of cancer aged 74, made his mark playing secret agents in gritty television series that served to balance the fantasy of James Bond. He was Sandbagger One in The Sandbaggers (1978-80) and the eponymous Harry in the acclaimed 1982 mini-series Harry's Game. Lonnen even got a shot at playing 007 as well, if only in screen tests opposite potential Bond girls.

An impressively varied career included a recurring role on Coronation Street (1975), a starring role in the David Nobbs sitcom Rich Tea and Sympathy (1991) with Patricia Hodge, and voice work for the animated television adaptation of Sarah Ferguson's literary masterpiece Budgie the Little Helicopter (1994-96).

Lonnen also did a lot of commercials of the sort that would not get made now - standing outside a shop directing his slow-witted wife through the window to the margarine he wants, and appearing in a Guinness advert in which the only word spoken is "well", as he and his mates quaff pint after pint.

Raymond Stanley Lonnen was born into a working-class family in Bournemouth in 1940. His father was a carpenter and his mother had been in service. He always wanted to be an actor, but his parents insisted he do a secretarial course first. He honed his craft in provincial theatre and by the mid-1960s was appearing fairly regularly on TV.

Dark and handsome, with a distinctive, velvety voice, he had recurring roles on the soap opera Market in Honey Lane (1967-69) and Z-Cars (1972-77) and played an oil rig worker with designs on Deirdre in Coronation Street.

The Sandbaggers gave him his first big starring role, as Willie Caine, aka Sandbagger One. Three seasons of the Cold War thriller, were followed by Harry's Game, in which his character goes under cover to track down an IRA assassin. It was gritty, violent and decidedly downbeat. Clannad's haunting Irish-language theme song made the upper reaches of the singles chart.

In between The Sandbaggers and Harry's Game, he appeared at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh in the musical Guys and Dolls (1980-81). He toured widely in stage productions, trying to preserve his tough-guy screen image on one occasion when he was seasick by throwing up over the side as discreetly as possible.

Lonnen was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, but was determined to go on working and recently shot a supporting role in the low-budget snooker film Extended Rest with his wife, actress Tara Ward.

They were introduced by a mutual friend, shortly after both had split from previous partners. They were married for 20 years and the friend claimed she was due a matchmaker fee. Lonnen was known for his sense of humour, and, shortly before his death, he sent a cheque to the friend for two shillings and six pence "in full and final payment" for services rendered.

As well as his wife, he is survived by two sons and a daughter from previous relationships.