SUSSEX and the world have paid tribute to the “titan of the British cinema”, Lord Richard Attenborough.

Thousands of tributes have poured in for the Oscar-winning director who died at lunchtime on Sunday just days before his 91st birthday. The star of Brighton Rock and former Chancellor of the University of Sussex dominated the British film business for more than half a century.

Lord Attenborough had strong links to Brighton – after launching his acting career as Pinkie in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock in 1947 and 20 years later when he filmed his directorial debut Oh! What a Lovely War set in the town and featuring the West Pier. Famous for calling everyone “darling”, Lord Attenborough – known as Dickie – was adored by everyone who met him.

Vice chancellor Professor Michael Farthing said: “Lord Attenborough was a great man in all respects.

“We are so proud that among the many roles he played, one of them was as our Chancellor.

“We will remember him for his vitality and commitment in supporting the university, for his unshakeable belief in the value of education, and for his immense warmth and kindness.”

Stepping down after ten years as chancellor in 2008 his links to the university continued – Lord Attenborough acted as patron of the University of Sussex Endowment Fund and became an honorary professor of film.

His daughter Jane and granddaughter Lucy were killed in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami but just weeks at a graduation ceremony he told students it should “not dent your happiness, sense of achievement and right to enjoy yourselves”.

Rachel Clarke, chief executive of the West Pier Trust, said: “Very sad to hear about the death of Richard Attenborough.

“Oh! What a Lovely War’ was filmed largely on the West Pier and remains the best filmic record of the pier. From 1995 he served as a director of the trust and was always a great supporter.”

Andy Winter, of Brighton Housing Trust, said: “I met Attenborough once. It was quite surreal.

“We were the last two to get into a lift. I said ‘After you’ but he replied, ‘No, after you, dear boy’.”

Film industry heavyweights yesterday poured out their respects to the esteemed actor and director.

The British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) described its former president as a “titan of British cinema”.

An official tribute page to Lord Attenborough set up on Facebook page received thousands of tributes within hours.

Steven Spielberg said: “Dickie Attenborough was passionate about everything in his life - family, friends, country and career.”

Lord Attenborough married the actress Sheila Sim when he was 21. His son Michael was born in 1949, followed by two daughters, Jane and Charlotte.

He was the older brother of TV wildlife presenter Sir David Attenborough.