Midland archaeologist and broadcaster Mick Aston, who found fame with TV programme Time Team, has died aged 66.
Close friend and former colleague Phil Harding, who worked on the popular Channel 4 series with Professor Aston, said he had received the news from his son, James.
Time Team’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts also paid tribute to the retired academic with the message: “It is with a very heavy heart that we’ve been informed that our dear colleague Mick Aston has passed away. Our thoughts are with his family.”
Dr Harding said that although his friend had suffered health problems, learning of his death just two weeks after talking to him on the phone had come as a shock.
“It just seems so incredible, like a bad dream, but unfortunately this is no dream,” the 62-year-old said.
“He was a seriously good mate and a seriously good archaeologist, a unique man.
“Everybody loved him, he just had a way with people. I cannot believe there was anybody who disliked him, he just had such a relaxed way.
“He had incredible knowledge and an effortless way of making archaeology accessible to people.”
Born and raised in Oldbury, Prof Aston was instantly recognisable on television for his colourful jumpers.
He lived in Somerset, and continued to take part in archaeology projects after leaving Time Team acrimoniously last year, when he accused the programme of dumbing down.
Before being named an emeritus professor at the University of Bristol and an honorary visiting professor at Exeter and Durham, he first joined the cast led by actor and presenter Tony Robinson when the show began in 1994.
Professor Francis Pryor, who also worked with Prof Aston on the programme, paid tribute to a man who he described as “remarkable archaeologist who could really dig”.
He said: “I will remember him fondly – he was a warm, loving, nice man.”