Actor Richard Briers, star of the TV sitcom The Good Life, has been praised as a "national treasure" following his death at the age of 79.

His co-star in the 1970s BBC show, Penelope Keith called him "the most talented of actors".

Briers, who played a number of Shakespearean roles on stage and screen and also starring in hit shows such as Ever Decreasing Circles and Monarch of The Glen, had battled a serious lung condition for many years.

He died "peacefully" at his London home on Sunday only weeks after he told how years of smoking had left him with emphysema.

Tributes to the star flooded in today. Sir Kenneth Branagh, who cast him in a number of productions on screen and stage, said: "He was a national treasure, a great actor and a wonderful man."

Briers enjoyed success playing dotty laird Hector in Scottish drama Monarch of the Glen.

More recently he played along Stanley Baxter in the Radio 4 comedy series, Two Pipe Problem, as a couple of amateur detectives who live in a retirement home.

Speaking from his home in London, Stanley Baxter said: "Richard told me some time ago he was suffering from emphysema.

"He said he had smoked heavily for years but just couldn't give up. And he knew the cigarettes would be the death of him.

"Sadly, when we recorded the final Two Pipe Problem at the end of last year he couldn't manage a line without coughing. It really was that bad."

Stanley added: "He was a lovely man, and fantastic to work with. We had lots of laughs together."

Prunella Scales, his co-star from 1960's sitcom Marriage Lines, said: "He was just a wonderful colleague and a dear friend."

Briers will be best remembered for his performance as Tom Good, alongside Felicity Kendal, in the 1970s BBC1 sitcom The Good Life, about a couple who drop out of the rat race to enjoy a life of simple self-sufficiency.

But his varied career saw him narrating the 1970s children's cartoon series Roobarb And Custard, as well as adding his voice to the animated version of Watership Down.

Although long known for his comedy performances, a new strand to his career unfolded when he joined Kenneth's Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987.

They worked together on Henry V, Peter's Friends, Much Ado About Nothing and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein during their lengthy association.

His most recent performances have included roles in last year's Cockneys Versus Zombies, plus a small role in a newly released movie version of the stage farce Run For Your Wife.

In an interview carried out only a matter of weeks ago, the actor told how his health had suffered as a result of his smoking habit.