John Mills

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Sir John Mills
John Mills.jpg
BornLewis Ernest Watts Mills
(1908-02-22)22 February 1908
North Elmham, Norfolk, England, UK
Died23 April 2005(2005-04-23) (aged 97)
Denham, Buckinghamshire, England, UK
Years active1932–2005
Spouse(s)Aileen Raymond
(m. 1927–1941, divorced)
Mary Hayley Bell
(m. 1941–2005, his death) 3 children
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people with this or similar names, see John Mills (disambiguation).
Sir John Mills
John Mills.jpg
BornLewis Ernest Watts Mills
(1908-02-22)22 February 1908
North Elmham, Norfolk, England, UK
Died23 April 2005(2005-04-23) (aged 97)
Denham, Buckinghamshire, England, UK
Years active1932–2005
Spouse(s)Aileen Raymond
(m. 1927–1941, divorced)
Mary Hayley Bell
(m. 1941–2005, his death) 3 children

Sir John Mills CBE (22 February 1908 – 23 April 2005) was an English actor who appeared in more than 120 films in a career spanning seven decades. On screen, he often played people who are not at all exceptional, but become heroes because of their common sense, generosity and good judgement. He received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Ryan's Daughter (1970).

Early life[edit]

Mills was born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills at the Watts Naval School in North Elmham, Norfolk, the son of Edith (Baker), a theatre box office manager, and Lewis Mills, a mathematics teacher.[1] He grew up in the Norfolk village of Belton, where his father was the headmaster of the village school,[2] and in Felixstowe, Suffolk, where he lived in a modest house in Ham's Road. His older sister was Annette Mills, remembered as presenter of BBC Television's Muffin the Mule (1946–55).

He was educated at Balham Grammar School in London, Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, Suffolk and Norwich High School for Boys,[3][4] 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. Upon leaving school he worked as a clerk at a corn merchants in Ipswich before finding employment in London as a commercial traveller for the Sanitas Disinfectant Company.

In September 1939, at the start of World War II, Mills enlisted in the Royal Engineers.[5] He was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, but in 1942 he received a medical discharge because of a stomach ulcer.[5]


Mills took an early interest in acting, making his professional début 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 début in The Midshipmaid (1932), and appeared as Colley in the 1939 film version of Goodbye, Mr Chips, opposite Robert Donat. In 1942, he starred in Noël Coward's In Which We Serve.

Mills took the lead in Great Expectations in 1946, and subsequently made his career playing traditionally British heroes such as Captain 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).

From 1959 through the mid-1960s, Mills starred in several films alongside his daughter Hayley. Their first film together was the 1959 crime drama Tiger Bay, in which John plays a police detective investigating a murder that Hayley's character witnessed. Following Hayley's rise to fame in Pollyanna (1960) and the 1961 family comedy The Parent Trap, John and Hayley again starred together, in the 1965 teen sailing adventure The Truth About Spring, the 1964 drama The Chalk Garden (with Deborah Kerr in the lead role), and the 1966 comedy-drama The Family Way, in which John plays an insecure, overbearing father and Hayley plays his son's newlywed wife.

As Colonel Barrow in Tunes of Glory, Mills 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 Best Supporting Actor Oscar. 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. Mills also starred as Gus: The Theatre Cat in the filmed version of the musical Cats in 1998.

In 2000, Mills released his extensive home cine-film footage in a documentary film entitled Sir John Mills' Moving Memories, with interviews with Mills, his children Hayley, Juliet and Jonathan and Richard Attenborough. The film was produced and written by Jonathan Mills, 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 Mills's friends and fellow cast members including Laurence Olivier, Harry Andrews, Walt Disney, David Niven, Dirk Bogarde, Rex Harrison and Tyrone Power.

Mills's last cinema appearance was playing a tramp in Lights 2 (directed by Marcus Dillistone); the cinematographer was Jack Cardiff. They had last worked together on Scott of the Antarctic in 1948. Their combined age was 186 years, a cinema record.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

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

His first wife was the actress Aileen Raymond, who died only five days after he did. They were married in 1927 and divorced in 1941. Raymond later became the mother of actor Ian Ogilvy.

His second wife was the dramatist Mary Hayley Bell. Their marriage, on 16 January 1941, lasted for 64 years, until his death in 2005. They were married in a rushed civil ceremony, because of the war; and it was not until 60 years later that they had their union blessed in a church.[6] They lived in The Wick, London, for many years. They sold the house to musician Ronnie Wood in 1975 and moved to Hills House, Denham.

Mills and Bell had two daughters, Juliet, star of television's Nanny and the Professor and Hayley, a Disney child star who appeared in Pollyanna, The Parent Trap and Whistle Down the Wind, and one son, Jonathan Mills. In 1947, Mills appeared with his daughters in the film So Well Remembered. The three also appeared together decades later, on an episode of ABC's The Love Boat. Mills's grandson by Hayley, Crispian Mills, is a musician, best known for his work with the raga rock group Kula Shaker.

Despite having always voted Conservative, Mills publicly supported Tony Blair's Labour Party in the 2001 General Election.[7]


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 yet notable cameos.

He died aged 97 on 23 April 2005 in Denham, Buckinghamshire,[8] following a chest infection. Lady Mills died on 1 December 2005. Sir John and Lady Mills are buried in Denham Churchyard.


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

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


1932The MidshipmaidGolightly
1933Britannia of BillingsgateFred Bolton
The Ghost CameraErnest Elton
1934The River WolvesPeter Farrell
Blind JusticeRalph Summers
The LashArthur Haughton
A Political PartyTony Smithers
Doctor's OrdersRonnie Blake
Those Were the DaysBobby Poskett
1935Car of DreamsRobert Miller
Royal CavalcadeYoung Enlistee
Brown on ResolutionAlbert Brown(later reissued in the UK as Forever England)
Charing Cross RoadTony
1936The First OffenceJohnnie Penrose
Tudor RoseLord Guilford Dudley
1937O.H.M.S.Cpl. Bert Dawson
The Green CockatooJim Connor
1939Goodbye, Mr. ChipsPeter Colley - as a Young Man
1941Cottage to LetFlt. Lieutenant Perry
Old Bill and SonYoung Bill Busby
1942The Big BlockadeTom
The Black Sheep of WhitehallBobby Jessop
The Young Mr PittWilliam Wilberforce
In Which We ServeOrdinary Seaman Blake
1943We Dive at DawnCapt. Lt. Taylor, R.N.
1944This Happy BreedBilly Mitchell
1945Waterloo RoadJim Colter
The Way to the StarsPeter Penrose
1946Great ExpectationsPip
1947So Well RememberedGeorge Boswell
The October ManJim Ackland
1948Scott of the AntarcticCaptain Scott
Captain R.F. Scott R.N.
1949The History of Mr PollyAlfred Polly
The Rocking Horse WinnerBassett(also produced)
1950Morning DepartureLt. Commander Armstrong
1952Mr. Denning Drives NorthTom Denning
The Gentle GunmanTerrence Sullivan
1953The Long MemoryPhillip Davidson
1954Hobson's ChoiceWillie MossopNominated-BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1955EscapadeJohn Hampden
The Colditz StoryPat Reid
The End of the AffairAlbert Parkis
Above Us the WavesCommander Fraser
1956The Baby and the BattleshipPuncher Roberts
War and PeacePlaton Karataev
Around the World in Eighty DaysLondon Carriage Driver
It's Great to Be YoungMr. Dingle
1957Town on TrialSupt. Mike Halloran
The Vicious CircleDr. Howard Latimer
1958Ice Cold in AlexCaptain Anson
I Was Monty's DoubleMajor Harvey(also titled Hell, Heaven or Hoboken)
1959Summer of the Seventeenth DollBarney(also titled Season of Passion)
Tiger BaySuperintendent Graham(with daughter Hayley Mills)
1960Swiss Family RobinsonFather Robinson
Tunes of GloryLt. Col. Basil Barrow (Battalion Commander)Volpi Cup for Best Actor
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1961The Singer Not the SongFather Michael Keogh
Flame in the StreetsJacko Palmer
1962Tiara TahitiLt. Col. Clifford Southey
The ValiantCaptain Morgan
1964The Chalk GardenMaitland(with daughter Hayley Mills)
1965The Truth About SpringTommy Tyler(with daughter Hayley Mills)
King RatSmedley - Taylor
Operation CrossbowGen. Boyd
1966The Family WayEzra Fitton(with daughter Hayley Mills)
Prize San Sebastián for Best Actor (tied with Maurice Ronet for The Champagne Murders)
The Wrong BoxMasterman Finsbury
1967Africa Texas StyleWing Commander Hayes
ChukaColonel Stuart Valois
1968A Black Veil for LisaInspector Franz Bulon
Emma HamiltonLord William Hamilton
1969Oh! What a Lovely WarField Marshal Sir Douglas Haig
Run Wild, Run FreeThe Moorman
1970Adam's WomanSir Phillip MacDonald
Ryan's DaughterMichaelAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor
1971DulcimaMr. Parker
1972Young WinstonGeneral Kitchener
1973Lady Caroline LambCanning
Oklahoma CrudeCleon Doyle
1975The Human FactorMike McAllister
1976Trial by CombatColonel Bertie Cook(also titled A Dirty Knight's Work)
1977The Devil's AdvocateBlaise Meredith
1978The Big SleepInspector Jim Carson
The Thirty Nine StepsScudder
1979Zulu DawnSir Henry Bartle Frere
The Quatermass ConclusionProfessor Bernard Quatermass
1982GandhiThe Viceroy
1986When the Wind BlowsJim(voice)
1987Who's That GirlMontgomery Bell(credited as Sir John Mills)
1993The Big FreezeDapper man
1994Deadly AdviceJack the Ripper
1995The GrotesqueSir Edward Cleghorn(also titled Gentleman Don't Eat Poets)
1996HamletOld Norway
1997BeanChairman(credited as Sir John Mills)
1998CatsGus the Theater Cat
2003Bright Young ThingsGentleman
2004Lights2The TrampCinematographer Jack Cardiff (previously worked on Scott of The Antarctic)

Source: "John Mills". IMDb. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 

Stage performances[edit]

Television performances[edit]

Box office ranking[edit]

For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted him among the top ten British stars at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Jonathan Mills (2000). Sir John Mills' Moving Memories (film). 
  3. ^ Brian McFarlane, ‘Mills, Sir John Lewis Ernest Watts (1908–2005)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2009 available online. Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  4. ^ Mills, John. Chapter 1 Up in the Clouds, Gentleman Please Published by Orion.
  5. ^ a b "British actor: Lewis Ernest Watts Mills". Encyclopædia Britannica. 22 October 2009. 
  6. ^ Obituary, The Age, 25 April 2005, p.9
  7. ^ Oliver, Jonathan. "John Mills to take starring role for Labour | Mail Online". London: Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  8. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006
  9. ^ 'Bloomer Girl' to Play Instead of Jolson Opus, Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 March 1946: A5.
  10. ^ "FILM WORLD.". The West Australian (Perth, WA). 28 February 1947. p. 20 Edition: SECOND EDITION. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "Anna Neagle Most Popular Actress.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW). 3 January 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  12. ^ "Bing Crosby Still Best Box-office Draw.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW). 31 December 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  13. ^ "Bob Hope Takes Lead from Bing In Popularity.". The Canberra Times (ACT). 31 December 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "TOPS AT HOME.". The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld.). 31 December 1949. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  15. ^ "'The Dam Busters'." The Times (London, England) 29 December 1955. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  16. ^ "The Most Popular Film Star In Britain." The Times (London, England). 7 December 1956. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  17. ^ 'BRITISH ACTORS HEAD FILM POLL: BOX-OFFICE SURVEY', The Manchester Guardian, 27 December 1957: 3.

External links[edit]