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John Mills
Born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills
22 February 1908(1908-02-22)
North Elmham, Norfolk, England
Died 23 April 2005 (aged 97)
Chiltern, Buckinghamshire, England
Occupation Actor
Years active 1932–2005
Spouse(s) Aileen Raymond (1927-1941)
Mary Hayley Bell (1941-2005)

Sir John Mills, CBE (22 February 1908 – 23 April 2005) was an English actor, who made more than 120 films in a career spanning seven decades.

Contents

Life and career

Lewis Ernest Watts Mills was born at the Watts Naval School in North Elmham, Norfolk, England, and grew up in Felixstowe, Suffolk. He was educated at Norwich High School for Boys[1] (which since its move after World War II to Langley Park, Loddon, is now known as Langley School), where it is said that his initials can still be seen carved into the brickwork on the side of the building in Upper St Giles Street. He made his acting debut on the stage of the Sir John Leman School in Beccles in a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream when he played the part of Puck.

Mills took an early interest in acting, making his professional debut at the London Hippodrome in The Five O'Clock Girl in 1929. He also starred in the Noël Coward revue Words and Music. He made his film debut in The Midshipmaid (1932), and appeared as Colley in the 1939 film version of Goodbye, Mr Chips, opposite Robert Donat.

In September 1939, at the start of World War II, Mills enlisted in the Royal Engineers[2]. He was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. But in 1942 he received a medical discharge because of a stomach ulcer [2]. He starred in Noël Coward's In Which We Serve.

He took the lead in Great Expectations in 1946, and subsequently made his career playing traditionally British heroes such as Captain Robert Falcon Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (1948). Over the next decade he became particularly associated with war dramas, such as The Colditz Story (1954), Above Us the Waves (1955) and Ice-Cold in Alex (1958). He often acted in the roles of people who are not at all exceptional, but become heroes due to their common sense, generosity and right judgement. Altogether he appeared in over 120 films.

As Col. Barrow in "Tunes of Glory", he won the best Actor Award at the 1960 Venice Film Festival. For his role as the village idiot in Ryan's Daughter (1970) — a complete departure from his usual style — Mills won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His most famous television role was probably as the title character in Quatermass for ITV in 1979. Also on the small screen, in 1974 he starred as Captain Tommy "The Elephant" Devon in the six-part television drama series The Zoo Gang, about a group of former underground freedom fighters from World War II, with Brian Keith, Lilli Palmer, and Barry Morse.

He also starred as Gus: The Theatre Cat in the filmed version of the musical Cats in 1998.

In 2002 Mills released his extensive home movie footage in a documentary film entitled John Mills' Moving Memories, with interviews with Mills, his children Hayley, Juliet and Jonathon and Richard Attenborough. The film was directed and edited by Marcus Dillistone, and features behind the scenes footage and stories from films such as Ice-Cold in Alex and Dunkirk. In addition the film also includes home footage of many of John Mills' friends and fellow cast members including Sir Laurence Olivier, Harry Andrews, Walt Disney, David Niven, Sir Dirk Bogarde, Sir Rex Harrison and Tyrone Power.

Honours

He was appointed a Commander of Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1960. In 1976 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

In 2002, he received a Fellowship of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), the highest award given by the Academy, and was named a Disney Legend by The Walt Disney Company.

Family

The Wick on Richmond Hill in Richmond, Greater London, was the family home for many years.

His sister Annette Mills was known for being the partner of the puppet "Muffin", in the BBC Television series Muffin the Mule between 1946 and 1955.

His first wife was the actress Aileen Raymond. They were married in 1927 and divorced in 1941.

His second wife was the dramatist Mary Hayley Bell. Their marriage on 16 January 1941 lasted 64 years, until his death in 2005. They were married in a rushed civil ceremony, due to the war, and it was not until 60 years later that they had their union blessed by a church.[3] They had two daughters, Juliet, star of television's Nanny and the Professor and Hayley, a Disney child star noted for starring in Pollyanna and The Parent Trap, and one son, Jonathan Mills. In 1947 he appeared with his daughters in the film So Well Remembered. Mills' grandson by his daughter Hayley, Crispian Mills, is a musician, best known for his work with the alternative rock group Kula Shaker.

Death

In the years leading up to his death, he appeared on television only on special occasions, his sight having failed almost completely in 1992. After that, his film roles were brief but notable cameos.

He died aged 97 on 23 April 2005 in Chiltern, Buckinghamshire,[4] following a chest infection. A few months after Sir John's death, Mary Hayley Bell (Lady Mills) died on 1 December 2005.

Selected filmography

Stage performances

Principal television performances

Notes

  1. ^ Mills, John. Chapter one Up in the Clouds, Sir John Mills Gentleman Please Published by Orion. What page?
  2. ^ a b "British actor: Lewis Ernest Watts Mills". Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009-10-22. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1089511/Sir-John-Mills. 
  3. ^ Obituary, The Age, 25 April 2005, p. 9
  4. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006

External links

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