The TV icon landed her big break when she was cast as the Mary Poppins star's wife Laura on The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1961, and the TV couple became real-life pals.

Van Dyke, now 91, recalls, "She was 23 years old, gorgeous of course, and had a kind of mid-Atlantic accent. She sounded a little bit like Katharine Hepburn.

"My first question was, 'Can this girl do comedy?' After that I said, 'She’s a little young for me'. I got to be on hand and watch her grow into the talent she became. She was just the best."

The actor adds, "I don't know what made her comic timing so great... Mary just picked it up so fast. She had us all laughing after a couple of episodes. She just grabbed onto the character and literally turned us into an improv group, it was so well-oiled. That show was the best five years of my life."

And Van Dyke has very fond memories of Emmy Awards night 1966, adding, "We were nominated... and that year we all won. My God, we were excited. We had also been cancelled!"

The actor then became a fan of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and insists one episode in particular was an absolute classic: "The episode when Chuckles the Clown died," he smiles. "She was at the funeral and she was crying and suddenly, as she recalled him, she began to laugh. It was a performance that had me on the floor! It was just masterful comedy."

And DICk was thrilled to present his old friend with a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement award in 2012, adding, "She had moved to upstate New York and was already beginning to succumb to the diabetes, so outside of talking to her and her husband Robert, I didn’t see her unless it was an occasion like the SAG Awards.

"That night, she had trouble seeing, so they had to bring her onstage in the dark. For me, it was a payoff moment. A culmination. Outside of her family, I don’t think there was anyone more proud of her than I was. Just to watch her grow was such a thrill for me. She left an imprint on television comedy."