WHO loves ya baby? Well, apparantly just about the whole world loved Telly Savalas. And they loved the tough-talking, gum-chewing, lollypop-sucking New York cop, Kojak, he portrayed.

So popular was he, in fact, that the Germans called him ''the lion without a mane''.

He was the Queen's favourite TV star of the seventies. About 80% of TV audiences in Israel watched the series. And the show was even scheduled for late-night viewing during the month-long Muslim feast of Ramadan.

Never was a man more appropriately named. For Telly did seem born for the telly. With more than 100 million people tuning in to watch Kojak solve murders, mysteries, and end suspense, the show broke into the top 10 rated shows in its very first season. The reason, according to Savalas at that time, was simple. ''There's something that 99.9% of the world's population have in common. And that fact is that they're ordinary and alike.

''In Telly they see that ordinariness and that alikeness which, in fact, is theirs.''

Savalas, the son of Greek immigrant parents, was born Aristotle (Telly for short) Savalas on January 21, 1924, in Garden City, New York.

But it was never his intention

to become an actor . . . or to become bald.

During the Second World War he worked for Information Services of the State Department (and was awarded a Purple Heart for this) and enjoyed stints as a casting assistant and senior news director at WABC in New York.

Savalas was in his mid-30s when he stumbled into acting. A friend at a talent agency asked him to find an actor who could do a specific kind of European accent. Savalas failed to find anyone for the role and ended up auditioning for the part himself.

His first acting role came in Armstrong Circle Theater in 1959 and was followed with a part as Lucky Luciano in the series The Witness. It was here that Burt Lancaster claimed to have discovered Savalas and cast him in The Young Savages.

Savalas seemed to be a natural, playing a string of heavies, including his Oscar nominated role as the sadistic Feto Gomez in Birdman of Alcatraz in 1962.

It was his next movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told, that was to have an everlasting effect on the actor, though.

For he was ordered by director George Stevens to shave off his hair for the role of Pontius Pilate. And, of course, the bald head

was to remain a feature ever

more, even though he had to shave his head twice daily to maintain the look.

Savalas made 60 movies before making his first aquaintance with Lieutenant Theo Kojak in the Abby Mann-scripted TV movie The Marcus Nelson Murders. The series came to an end in 1978 after 110 episodes. The decision to scrap it was mutual. Kojak was revived for two specials but it was never the same - and neither was Savalas's career. He simply couldn't shake off the cop's character and job offers dried up.

He appeared in a few films - Escape to Athena and Cannonball Run II - but they could never match Kojak. He did, however, continue to enjoy being a sex symbol. Even before TV stardom, Savalas had fathered four children by three women. Afterwards, he was attracted to even more young, attractive women.

Despite his success, he never lost sight of the importance of his family and, in particular, his children. He said: ''The challenge is to live long enough to raise my children.''

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Savalas contracted prostate cancer and died on January 22, 1994, at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel in Universal City, where he had a suite.

He had kept his illness a secret, revealing his condition to just a few friends and relatives, and news of his death came as a great shock to many of his acting colleagues.

But, to the very last, Savalas remained, as he once said himself, ''the kind of gorilla that people can identify with''.

Telly Savalas stars in a feature length Kojak on C5 at 3.35pm