George Cole, the British actor best known for playing conman Arthur Daley on the long-running TV series "Minder," has died. He was 90.

Cole's career spanned more than 70 years from his first stage appearance in 1939 and included more than 40 films, including "Cleopatra," with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. From 1979-1994 he starred as cigar-smoking, Jaguar-driving Arthur Daley on ITV's "Minder."

Set in London's criminal underworld, "Minder" followed the adventures of a small-time crook always on the lookout for his next dodgy deal. Cole's shifty but ambitious character captured the money-conscious spirit of Britain in the 1980s, and he was twice nominated for best actor by the British Academy of Film and Television.

Cole was surrounded by his family when he died Wednesday at the Royal Berkshire Hospital after a short illness, said agent Derek Webster, who represents Cole's "Minder" co-star Dennis Waterman.

Born in south London, Cole started working when he was 14, appearing in the chorus of "White Horse Inn" in 1939. He starred with Alastair Sim in the 1941 film "Cottage to Let," in which he played a resourceful evacuee from wartime London who unmasks a spy. Sim, an older actor with an established career, took him under his wing and the pair appeared together in several films, including the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol."

Cole also appeared in some 30 plays and numerous television series, including "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" in the United States.

Tributes poured in Thursday, including one from Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC.

"George Cole was a wonderful actor and he has a very special place in the public's affection," he said. "He will be greatly missed."