Emma Chambers subtly entertained millions as delightful fool Alice Tinker

Once asked if she resembled her portrayal of the dippy Alice Tinker in real life, The Vicar Of Dibley star Emma Chambers rejected the comparison with the words: "I'm a cynical old bitch".

The actress, who has died aged 53, entertained millions of viewers on the long-running sitcom as dim-but-lovable Alice.

A character of beautiful innocence, Chambers offered the perfect dynamic to Dawn French's jolly Reverend Geraldine Granger.

And her ability to fulfil the sitcom's role - set in the rural countryside - was even more remarkable once you learn the actress was allergic to almost all animals.

It was not just the small screen for Chambers. In 1999 The Vicar Of Dibley creator Richard Curtis cast her as Hugh Grant's adorable sister Honey Thacker who is so besotted by Julia Robert's film star character she even follows her into the toilet.

One of three children, Chambers was born in Doncaster in 1964, and educated at a girls' boarding school, St Swithuns, in Winchester.

While her sister Sarah Doukas discovered Kate Moss and ran the Storm modelling agency with brother Simon, Chambers always knew she wanted to be an actress.

Vicar of Dibley Handouts
Vicar of Dibley Handouts

She first took up the opportunity to try performing at Winchester College - where she was also drawn by the presence of boys.

In the Eighties she trained at Webber Doublas Academy of Dramatic Art. And after marrying fellow actor Ian Dunn (Trust, Waking The Dead, Gulliver's Travels), she landed two vital roles in 1994.

One was as Charity Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit, a BBC series based on the novel by Charles Dickens. The other, as Alice Tinker, would change her life.

In the rural village of oddballs, Alice was a standout. Dim-witted, yes. Naive, of course. But always endearing and sweet-natured, thanks to her subtle portrayal.

Vicar of Dibley Handouts
Vicar of Dibley Handouts

Chambers would haul in her greatest laugh at the end of each episode when Alice and Geraldine would sit, mug of tea in hand, at the vicar's kitchen table. As the credits rolled, Geraldine would tell her friend a joke and, without fail, Alice would struggle to understand - either stretching the humour to its extreme literal sense or neglecting its comedy altogether.

Her character's obsession with Julia Roberts' Anna in Notting Hill was similar to real life, Chambers once admitted. She told the Independent in 2002 all she could think during filming with Roberts was: "You are completely beautiful".

In 2000 she quit acting for two years after falling out of love with the job, spending her days gardening, walking and cooking. She returned for a stage role as Sheila in the Michael Frayn play, Benefactors, and as Alice in numerous festive and comic relief reboots throughout the noughties and beyond.

She died from natural causes on February 21 and is survived by Dunn.