Veteran actor Ian Richardson has died suddenly at the age of 72.

The star, only recently seen on screen in Sky One’s Christmas drama, Hogfather, had not been ill and had been planning to film an upcoming episode of ITV’s Midsomer Murders next week, according to his agent.

Ian was best known for his Bafta-winning performance as the dastardly chief whip in BBC political drama House of Cards. Its writer, Michael Dobbs, has expressed his shock at the unexpected death of its lead star:

“I am desperately sad,” he told the Telegraph. “He is a man I admired immensely. He changed my life. He made a dream of mine a reality. And he did it in a way which transfixed millions of viewers.

“House of Cards was Ian Richardson. He made the character and brought the whole series to life. In anybody else’s hands, that role could have fallen flat on his face. I owe him a huge debt.”

The actor died in his sleep in the early hours of Friday morning and is survived by his wife, Maroussia, and two sons, Jeremy and Miles.