THE ILLUSTRATOR behind children's Christmas annual favourites, such as Doctor Who and John Wayne, has died aged 80.

During a career spanning 60 years, artist Walter Howarth delighted youngsters by creating some of the country's most famous illustrations.

The 80-year-old, who also created drawings for The Lone Ranger, Dempsey and Makepeace and Bonaza annuals and illustrated Bolton Wanderers programmes, died in his sleep on Thursday morning at the Royal Bolton Hospital.

His wife of 58 years, Renee, said: "He died peacefully, which is the main thing. He kept his sense of humour right up until the end."

Mr Howarth, of Blake Gardens in Halliwell, was also a former landlord of the House Without a Name pub in Bradshaw.

He began work as an illustrator aged just 16 after attending Tonge Fold School and Bolton Art College.

He initially worked for a publishing house, but made the decision to strike out alone more than 45 years ago and created stunning illustrations until he began to lose his eyesight two years ago.

A lifelong Bolton Wanderers fan, Mr Howarth created illustrations for programmes during the 1950s and was a season ticket holder until last year.

His family plan to scatter his ashes at the Wanderers ground.

The great-grandfather celebrated his 80th birthday, along with his wife and five friends, last November.

Mrs Howarth said: "He had a wonderful life and loved his job. He became down when he could no longer draw. Through his drawings his memory will live on."

The work of Mr Howarth is still in high demand and special edition packs of Doctor Who cards feature his signed illustrations.

Grandson Michael, aged 27, said: "I was so proud that my granddad did what he loved for a living and worked for himself.

"You couldn't teach the gift he had."

Mr Howarth was diagnosed with polycystic kidneys, a complaint causing people to suffer from cysts on their kidneys, 15 years ago and had been suffering with heart problems.

He was admitted to the Royal Bolton Hospital with pneumonia two weeks before he died.

His funeral will be held at Halliwell Methodist Church at 2.45pm on Thursday, followed by a committal at Overdale at 3.45pm.

Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to Derian House children's hospice.