A humanist who spent more than half a century fighting for freedom from religion has died at the age of 85.

Tributes have been paid to Bill McIlroy, who was at the forefront of humanist thinking in Brighton and Hove.

Three times head of the National Secular Society, Mr McIlroy also served as the editor of the Freethinker for 14 years in three stints spanning nearly a quarter of a century from 1970.

Most recently he had been a prominent member of the Brighton Secular Humanists. Fellow member Robert Stovold remembered Mr McIlroy as a “clever, kind man”.

He said: “Bill sort of took me under his wing and we had long chats at his place about life, the universe and everything.

“He had encyclopaedic knowledge and a great sense of humour.

“It's certainly a very sad loss to the movement, but he was first and foremost a good friend.”

During the 1960s Mr McIlroy campaigned successfully for reform of the law on stage censorship, Sunday observance, male homosexuality and abortion.

In 1989, he reformed The Committee Against Blasphemy Law to protest at the threat to Salman Rushdie over his book The Satanic Verses.

Mr McIlroy was a regular in The Argus, usually raging against the influence of religion on daily life.

In December last year he rejoiced at the news Brighton had become the UK's most godless city and in June he described Christian teaching in Sussex schools as “disgraceful”.

Mr McIlroy was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and spent his final months in Horsham, in the care of his daughters Helen and Ruth.

Even in his last days he was reminiscing with visitors, writing to friends and colleagues at home and abroad on his fifty-year-old manual typewriter.

He died “peacefully” there on August 22, according to his family.

A spokesman from the National Secular Society said: “Bill was a man of great integrity and humour but would not abide anyone he thought to be acting against the best interests of the organisations he supported, which included the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.

“His ready wit, wise counsel and encyclopaedic knowledge, especially on historic matters, will be missed by his many friends and colleagues.”