French stage and screen actor whose 1963 role in the comedy-thriller Les Tontons Flingueurs made him a star

Claude Rich, who has died aged 88, was a familiar face in French cinema and theatre for almost seven decades. The much-loved actor alternated between stage and screen, considering the latter as recreation, the former a passion. In fact, he had few really challenging roles on screen, despite having made films for the New Wave directors Alain Resnais, François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol. His reputation among French audiences derived from a string of mainstream comedies, especially in the 1960s, in which they cherished his ever-youthful, naive persona, his lilting voice and consistent smile, either charming or mischievous.

The film that made him a star was Les Tontons Flingueurs (1963), rendered variously in English as Monsieur Gangster or Crooks in Clover (literally, The Killer Uncles). Scripted by Michel Audiard, a master of witty and biting French argot, the comedy-thriller has Rich as Antoine, an effete young man engaged to the teenage ward of Fernand, a reformed gangster (Lino Ventura). Rich is both amusing and suitably irritating as a snob and pedant, causing Fernand to kick him out of the house.

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