TERENCE Morgan, who starred in numerous British films in the 1950s and played the title role in the weekly television adventure series Sir Francis Drake (1960-61), has died in Sussex at the age of 83.

His film career began when he was Laertes to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet in 1948, he was one of Gregory Peck's officers in the naval adventure film Captain Horatio Hornblower RN (1951) and the insensitive father of a deaf girl in Sandy Mackendrick's Mandy (1952), one of the few Ealing dramas that held its own against the studio's classic comedies.

He went on to starring roles in a string of thrillers and melodramas opposite Joan Collins, Diana Dors and other leading British actresses of the day, though most have slipped into obscurity.

Born in Lewisham in London in 1921, Morgan worked as a clerkwith Lloyd's of London, trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and acted in repertory and in the West End.

Olivier cast him in several theatre productions as well as giving him his first film role.

During the 1950s, he averaged two films a year, usually in a starring role, and the works included Encore (1951), an adaptation of short stories by Somerset Maugham, Svengali (1954) and The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships (1954), with Hedy Lamarr.

Many of his films were crime dramas, in which he could be found alternately on both sides of the law.

He was a Treasury investigator in the comedy Always a Bride (1953), a drug-smuggler thwarted by bird-watcher Joyce Grenfell in Forbidden Cargo (1954), a detective in They Can't Hang Me (1955), an office-worker led astray by blousy girlfriend Diana Dors in Tread Softly Stranger (1958) and a London gangster in Piccadilly Third Stop (1960), which starred Hollywood legend Joan Crawford.

On television, Sir Francis Drake was part of the fashion for historic adventure series that had already produced the likes of Robin Hood, William Tell and Ivanhoe, and Morgan's dashing portrayal owed more to Errol Flynn than to Elizabethan scholars.

He may have been playing the greatest seaman of the day, but he commanded nothing more than a refitted fishing boat that had also previously served as a harbour launch during the Second World War.

Nevertheless, each week Morgan could be found popping back and forth across the Atlantic and outrunning the Spanish armada.

There were 26 half-hour episodes, that were broadcast on ITV and sold to NBC in the United States. But while Roger Moore's career took off after Ivanhoe, Morgan found it difficult to build on his smallscreen success.

He had a starring role in Hammer's The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964), but it was not one of Hammer's best, and his return to high-seas adventure in The Fighting Corsair (1966) took four years to reach British cinemas and was dismissed by critics.

He played a married estate agent, whose tryst with Suzy Kendall is interrupted when three thugs invade their apartment in The Penthouse (1967), a thriller with a plot that is strikingly similar to both Cul-de-Sac (1966) and Performance (1968). But while they are regarded as classics, The Penthouse is all but forgotten.

By the end of the 1960s, Morgan had virtually retired from acting. In real life, as well as on screen, he felt an affinity with the sea. He ran a hotel in Hove and was involved in property development there.

He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Terence Morgan, actor; born December 8, 1921, died August 25, 2005.