Actress and star of The Champions.

Born: March 9, 1946; Died: January 12, 2014

Alexandra Bastedo, who has died aged 67, was an actress and animal rights campaigner who became famous as one of the three stars of The Champions, a 1960s drama about superheroes who fight The West's Cold War heroes.

The show's set-up and plots were pretty ludicrous but the show made Bastedo, with her dark eyes and voluminous blonde hair, a sex symbol and she went on to became a cult figure in Spanish and South American films - the fans knew her as La Bastedo.

Her break into acting came via a bizarre competition run in the Evening Standard newspaper in the 1960s.

The Hollywood producer William Castle was looking for young women to play schoolgirls in his new horror movie The Candy Web and invited girls from all over the world to audition. Bastedo won one of the parts, although her part in the finished film - whose tagline was "innocence stands face to face with terror!" - was small.

Bastedo hoped that the film, which was released in 1963, would lead to greater things, and indeed there were offers from other producers including Alfred Hitchcock. However, she was still only 16 and her parents (her father was Canadian, her mother half Italian and half Swiss) had other ideas and she returned to the UK - she grew up in Brighton - to finish her education.

After school, she began to take small parts on television, appearing in the BBC soap Compact and two episodes of The Saint with Roger Moore. She also had small parts in the 1966 Morecambe and Wise film That Riviera Touch and the spoof James Bond film Casino Royale with Peter Sellers and David Niven.

She was then offered the lead in The Champions when she was still just 20 years old. The show was created by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment production company, which also made Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Danger Man and Thunderbirds among many others.

The Champions followed three secret agents, Craig Stirling, played by Stuart Damon, Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) and Sharron Macready, played by Bastedo, who work for a secretive United Nations organisation called Nemesis. In the first episode, the plane they are travelling in crashes in the Himalayas and a remote tribe grant them special powers, including telepathy and superhuman strength. Over 30 episodes between 1968 and 1969, the three heroes fought a success of Chinese, Russian and other Cold War enemies.

Over the years, the show has developed something of a cult following. "I laugh when I think of people doing lectures and seminars about these series," Bastedo once said, "because for us it was just work and fun and waving guns around." There was a more serious side to the programme though. "At the time, one thought of all those series being lightweight but in fact in real life there was the possibility of problems with the Chinese and certainly the Russians. My mother said to me 'you'll be very lucky if in your lifetime there's isn't a third world war."

The show made Bastedo a household face in the UK but it also led to international stardom. She began to work in movies in the US, South America and Spain and at one point had apartments in London, Toronto and Madrid. Her success in these movies also led to her presenting the Miss World contest several times in the 1980s.

By the late 80s, however, she was ready to reduce the pace of her life. She married Patrick Garland, the artistic director of the Chicester Festival Theatre, and they bought a farmhouse in Sussex.

It was at this point in her life that Bastedo began to pursue her ambition to work with animals. When she was a girl, she had wanted to be a vet and volunteered at the local surgery cleaning out the animals, but with several acres at the home in Sussex she could now rescue animals. Within a few years, the sanctuary she established housed more than a hundred animals.

Partly to help fund the sanctuary, Bastedo continued to take on some roles in television and film. In 1992, she played a memorable role as a stick-thin, model friend of Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. She also had a cameo in the 2005 Batman film Batman Begins and appeared in several episodes of EastEnders in 2008.

Her husband pre-deceased her last year.