THE man who built the bridge over the River Kwai for the movie classic has died aged 85.

War veteran and civil engineer Keith Best OBE, of Chessingham Gardens, off Tadcaster Road in York, designed and built the centrepiece of the 1957 film, which scooped seven Oscars, including Best Picture.

While the bridge was constructed by prisoners of war in two months, the actual one built in Sri Lanka by Mr Best for the filming took eight months, with the use of 500 workers and 35 elephants.

It was demolished in a matter of seconds, and the total cost was £85,000 pounds, equivalent to more than £1.2 million in today's money.

Mr Best died on Sunday after losing his battle against cancer.

Born in 1923 in Sheffield, Mr Best was in the parachute regiment during the Second World War and was dropped behind enemy lines in France before D Day.

He was captured by the Germans and put in a prisoner of war camp for a year until it was liberated.

After the war he finished university and trained as a civil engineer before starting work with a company called Husband's in Sheffield and went to work for them building bridges in Sri Lanka.

It was while out in Sri Lanka that he was asked to work on the iconic bridge, which was 425ft long and 50ft above the water.

The film, which was directed by David Lean and stars Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins, uses the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway in 1942-43 for its historical setting.

The movie deals with the situation facing British prisoners of war who are ordered by their Japanese captors to build a bridge to accommodate the railway.

The blockbuster shows the British soldiers' instinct is to sabotage the bridge but they are persuaded that the bridge should be constructed as a symbol of British morale, spirit and dignity in adverse circumstances.

Mr Best's son, Clive, remembers how his dad argued with Hollywood producer Sam Spiegel to let him build the bridge in the first place. He said: "Sam Spiegel wanted to build a model to save money, but they managed to convince him to build a life-size bridge.

"They based it on the Fourth Bridge, but had to build it out of wood from the surrounding jungle and then when it was built my dad had to push the button to blow it up.

"They got just one shot at it and the first time the train went across they didn't blow it up because of a mix-up with the cameras.

"The train was derailed at the other end and they had to take months out to get it back on track."

Mr Best went on to work for a firm of civil engineers in Durham and in 1983 he was awarded the OBE for building bridges.

He retired to York in 1991 and wrote his memoirs, Best Endeavours in 1992. In his spare time he loved sailing and sailed Dragon Keelboats.

Mr Best married his wife, Maire, in 1947, who died in 2000. The couple are survived by their three children, Sally, Jonathan and Clive and three grandchildren - David, Louise and Naomi.

Mr Best's funeral will be on Wednesday, at 10.45am, at Our Lady's Church, in Acomb.