Edward Hardwicke, 78, who played Dr. John Watson opposite Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes on television in the 1980s and '90s, has died of cancer.

Mr. Hardwicke died Monday at a hospice in Chichester in southern England, the Conway van Gelder Grant talent agency said Wednesday.

The English actor, who took on the Watson role in the second year of the series after David Burke dropped out, was an unflappable counterpoint to Brett's nervy characterization of the detective.

Mr. Hardwicke played Watson from 1986-88 in The Return of Sherlock Holmes and also played the character in the later series from 1991.

Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, described Watson as the detective's "rather stupid friend," but that's not how Mr. Hardwicke tried to play the role.

"I think Conan Doyle is one of the few writers who has created a fictional genius. And I think anyone is going to appear stupid, or seen to be a bit slow, by comparison," Mr. Hardwicke said of the Watson character in an interview.

Mr. Hardwicke and Brett, who died in 1995, were both in the National Theatre between 1964 and 1972 when Laurence Olivier was leading the company. "My God, how lucky we were," Mr. Hardwicke said. - AP