April 27, 2005

Great precipitations for Sir John

The weather is no respecter of titles or celebrity, as the stars who gathered for Sir John Mills' funeral discovered on Wednesday.

As the heavens opened and the hailstones fell, Sir Roger Moore, Dame Judi Dench and Lord Attenborough were among those who took cover inside St Mary the Virgin church in Denham, Buckinghamshire.

"Theatrical to the last," remarked director and family friend Marcus Dillistone as he surveyed the inclement scene.

Not everyone was so stoic, however. "Does anyone know the way in?" mumbled a bedraggled Stephen Fry as he picked his way through the massed ranks of photographers and well-wishers assembled outside.

Few of the celebrities dallied in the downpour, though actor Robert Powell and cinematographer Jack Cardiff genially posed for snaps under their respective umbrellas.

So did the prime minister's wife Cherie Blair, to some locals' audible displeasure.

Thankfully the rain had abated by the time Sir John's coffin arrived in a horse-drawn Victorian-style hearse decked with flowers.


With grandson Crispian as one of his pallbearers, the actor knight made his final journey into the church, followed by his children, Juliet, Hayley and Jonathan, and the rest of the family.

The mood was sombre, though thanks to the choice of opening music - You Make Me Feel So Young by Frank Sinatra - hardly funereal.

Loudspeakers broadcast the service to the onlookers outside, though a lucky few were permitted to watch the proceedings from the portico.

And some were seen to dab their eyes as Hayley fought to maintain her composure while reading What Shall We Do Tomorrow? - a poem written by her mother, Lady Mills.

Lord Attenborough was also visibly moved during a heartfelt oration in which he spoke warmly, if sometimes inaudibly, about his friend and colleague "Johnny".

"We shall miss him desperately," said the 81-year-old director. "But we shall have him with us always in the deep love and unmatched joy that he has bequeathed to all of us."

With Stephen Fry reading from Ecclesiastes and Juliet Mills reading from Shakespeare, the service ran like clockwork - though not everything went exactly according to plan.


Crispian Mills, former lead singer of Britpop band Kula Shaker, had chosen to sing Forever the Best of Friends, a song from the musical Great Expectations that Sir John used to sing to his grandchildren.

Unfortunately he was not on the best of terms with his ukulele, forcing him to start again after a fumbled first verse.

But he still received a round of applause in a service filled with happy memories for Mills' army of fans.

And nowhere more so than in the reading of John Pudney's Do Not Despair for Johnny-head-in-air - the poem he memorably recites in 1945 wartime drama, The Way to the Stars.

"It was a lovely ceremony," said actress Anita Harris as she stepped gingerly through the puddles afterwards.

A fitting summation of a day where the great British weather paid its own special tribute to one of Britain's acting greats.

Stars mourn veteran actor Mills

Some of Britain's leading performers have been attending the funeral of Oscar-winning actor Sir John Mills.

Dame Judi Dench, Lord Attenborough, Sir Roger Moore and 1960s model Twiggy attended the service in Denham, Buckinghamshire, on Wednesday.

Actresses Helen Mirren, Nanette Newman and Anita Harris also attended despite heavy rain and thunder, as did Tony Blair's wife Cherie Blair.

Sir John, who grew up in Felixstowe, Suffolk, died on Saturday aged 97.

His coffin was carried to St Mary the Virgin church in a horse-drawn Victorian-style hearse decked with flowers. It was followed by his family in a cortege of dark Rolls-Royces.

The coffin was taken into the church by some of his relatives, including his grandson Crispian Mills - a former member of Britpop band Kula Shaker - to the tune of Frank Sinatra's You Make Me Feel So Young.

A number of floral tributes, which had been laid by members of the public, lined the church path.

One tribute read: "To a wonderful actor and a perfect gentleman", while another said "You are a true legend and my hero".

Some of the public were allowed into the service while others stood outside to hear it conveyed by loudspeaker.

The service featured actor Stephen Fry reading a lesson from Ecclesiastes III, a tribute address by Lord Attenborough and a song performed on the ukulele by Crispian Mills.

Sir John's daughter Juliet read Fear No More the Heat O' the Sun by William Shakespeare and his other daughter Hayley read from What Shall We Do Tomorrow? by her mother, Lady Mills.

Parish rector Rev Adrian Hirst paid tribute to Sir John's work "which touched the lives of all of us here and the lives of millions of others who saw him over the years in theatre and in films".

Lady Mills was unable to attend the service due to poor health, but Lord Attenborough spoke of their "extraordinary love affair" during his address.

He also said Sir John was held "in the deepest respect and love" by everyone with whom he had worked.

"He was such a courageous man - forthright, kindly and with a unique, loving sense of humour that was, in my judgment, unsurpassed. Thank you, Johnny."

Afterwards Sir Roger Moore said he thought the funeral service was beautiful.

"How can you do justice to a life of 97 years? He was a great man," he said.

Anita Harris added: "It was a lovely ceremony. John was a darling man who spread joy throughout the world with his films.

Sir John studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made his name in overtly patriotic films including The October Man, Scott of the Antarctic, Dunkirk and Ice Cold in Alex.

He won an Oscar in 1971 for his portrayal of a mute village idiot in Ryan's Daughter.

He was made a CBE in 1960, knighted in 1976 and was given a special honour by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) in 2002.

A memorial service will be held on 30 June at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

Sir John Mills

For most people, the news that Hayley Mills would be at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in Frank McGuinness' "The Bird Sanctuary" was exciting because it brought back memories of those cute twins in "The Parent Trap." For me, the stronger image was from farther back, when she made her 1959 screen debut at age 12 in "Tiger Bay" with Horst Buchholz.

But I was most excited to have her in Pittsburgh for the chance it might afford to reminisce about the other star of "Tiger Bay," her father, John Mills (later, as of 1976, Sir John). He was one of the idols of my youth, mainly for playing Pip in the great 1946 David Lean movie of "Great Expectations" in the company of Valerie Hobson, the young Jean Simmons, Finlay Currie ... and another young adult actor, Alec Guinness.

The remarkabale Mills had just turned 97 and had made a movie (his 125th?) last year. Suddenly word came that he had died Saturday -- April 23. Actor/writer Stephen Fry told The Guardian, "It's marvelously typical of him to leave the party on St. George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday and death day. He became almost the only [English] actor in the 20th century who was a genuine leading man." That's a pretty good obituary.

Hayley Mills has gone to England for today's funeral, leaving her understudy, Amy Landis, to play Marianne opposite Elizabeth Franz. The Public Theater expects her back Friday.

Attenborough leads Mills tributes

Lord Richard Attenborough has led tributes to his close friend, Sir John Mills, who has died aged 97.

"He was a very remarkable man. He was adored by the people he worked with and he will be hugely missed," he said.

"There was nobody comparable really who gave such a variety of absolutely impeccable performances.

"He never stopped work - work was everything. He was immensely proud of his profession and he brought great honour to it," he added.


A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said the Queen had been "sorry" to hear of the actor's death.

Tony Blair described him as "a great actor, a true gentleman and a loyal friend; someone who made us proud to be British".

Actor Corin Redgrave said that he "disguised his contribution, which was enormous I think, behind a veneer of modesty".

He said of him: "He had something about him - a look in the eye, the manner of walking, the manner of delivering his speech - which - if you think of great film performers like Henry Fonda, their image stays in your mind even longer than the parts they played ".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Lord Attenborough recalled the moment they first met.

"It was 65 years ago. He was the star of a movie called In Which We Serve - in which I had my very first job."

The 81-year-old added that the pair became close friends, with Sir John almost acting as a father figure to him and his wife.

"He is my oldest friend and he's been a sort of hero to me in a way.

"He and his wife Mary almost adopted my wife and me a number of years ago. He really kept a fatherly eye on almost everything I did.

"I not only acted with him in a number of movies, but also he played in most of the movies that I directed - Winston, Oh What A Lovely War, Gandhi and so on.

"He went into hospital about four or five weeks ago with a chest infection that was never overcome. I saw him every other day virtually, I think, during that period and I shall miss him very much."

Perfect performance

When asked what he thought Sir John's greatest role had been, Lord Attenborough said it was the part of Willie Mossop in the 1954 film Hobson's Choice, directed by David Lean.

"It was probably as perfectly adjudged a film performance as I have ever seen - given by anybody. He was quite miraculous in it.

"He was a wonderful comedian too - he told stories, he was always making you laugh.

"In terms of his comedy character acting, he could play this absolute elemental figure of Willie Mossop, this local laddie from Lancashire.

"He managed to give the man great dignity while at the same time finding the ability to inject a huge humour in the characterisation. It was quite marvellous."

No comments: