Stars pay tribute to legend Sir John

STARS of stage and screen were among family and friends who paid tribute to Oscar-winning actor Sir John Mills at a memorial service yesterday .Sir John, who had strong East Anglian connections, appeared in more than 100 classic British films and graced theatre and film for more than 60 years.

STARS of stage and screen were among family and friends who paid tribute to Oscar-winning actor Sir John Mills at a memorial service yesterday .

Sir John, who had strong East Anglian connections, appeared in more than 100 classic British films and graced theatre and film for more than 60 years.

He died at his home in Denham, Buckinghamshire, in April at the age of 97 following a short illness. His death prompted a flood of tributes from fellow eminent actors, and also Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Queen.

Yesterday, hundreds packed into St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London's Trafalgar Square, as Britain's acting fraternity turned out in force to celebrate the life of one of the country's best-loved actors.

Dame Judi Dench, Sir Michael Caine, Stephen Fry, and Lord Attenborough, together with other members of the performing arts such as Sir Tim Rice and Sir Cliff Richard, were among those joining the Mills family and friends at the church in central London.

In front of a large portrait of Sir John, set in front of the altar, Dame Judi praised the man she had met 30 years ago: "Johnny Mills. The most talented, the most adorable, the most charming and the naughtiest man I have ever met."

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She regaled the congregation with anecdotes of their time together, during which she said she was "goosed' about 10 times for her performance as they laughed their way helplessly through six or seven months.

She recounted how the pair, at his suggestion, had weighted suitcases, which were meant to be twirled above the actor's head.

As they came off stage they were reproached for their "amateur behaviour' and she told the congregation, to applause: "All I can say is: Johnny - some amateur.'

The service, which lasted more than an hour, heard a reading from Sir John's son-in-law, Colbys star Maxwell Caufield.

A performance of the Lloyd Webber/Steinman composition "Whistle Down the Wind' was sung by Andrea Ross, accompanied by Lloyd Webber himself on piano.

The recital was followed by actor and writer Stephen Fry, who wrote a poem in the days after Sir John's death, entitled Johnny's Eyes, which he read for the gathering.

He said: "Knowing Johnny was one of the single most glorious and happy privileges in my life and I have done an unforgivable thing, something no Englishman should do - in the week after he died I'm afraid I wrote a poem!'

Actress daughters Hayley and Juliet also honoured their father, Juliet beginning the tributes from several members of the Mills' family by saying: "If I had to chose three words to describe him, I think they would be loving, brave and funny.

"He was the funniest man I have ever known. Everyone loved to be around him because he was funny.'

Sir John was born in 1908 in North Elmham, Norfolk, but his family moved to Belton, near Lowestoft, in 1910. At one stage he lived in Beccles, and from 1923 to 1929 he lived in Felixstowe and worked as an office clerk in Ipswich docks. He moved to London in 1929.

Sir John is remembered for his patriotic roles in films like Ice Cold in Alex, Above Us the Waves, Dunkirk, Scott of the Antarctic and Tunes of Glory - one of his personal favourites.

He also starred in a succession of David Lean films - In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Hobson's Choice and as Pip in Great Expectations. He won an Oscar for his role as the village idiot in Ryan's Daughter.

He is survived by his wife, playwright Mary Hayley Bell, his son, Jonathan, and daughters Juliet and Hayley, both actors.

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