Tributes paid to acting legend

FRIENDS and acting colleagues as well as those who knew him in his home county of Suffolk have been lining up to pay tribute to Sir John Mills, who has died aged 97.Ivan Cutting, co-founder and artistic director of Eastern Angles Theatre Company, said that Sir John was one of the true gentlemen of the profession, who always answered letters and who was thrilled to finally get to see the theatre that was named after him when he visited Ipswich in October 2000.

By Andrew Clarke

FRIENDS and acting colleagues as well as those who knew him in his home county of Suffolk have been lining up to pay tribute to Sir John Mills.

Ivan Cutting, co-founder and artistic director of Eastern Angles Theatre Company, said that Sir John was one of the true gentlemen of the profession, who always answered letters and who was thrilled to finally get to see the theatre that was named after him when he visited Ipswich in October 2000.

“We wrote to him asking his permission to use his name and he wrote back himself, very quickly, saying that he would be thrilled to have a theatre named after him,” he said.


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“We kept him informed about what was going on but we didn't pester him to keep coming down because towards the end of his life it was obvious that he was becoming frail but he always wrote and thanked us for any correspondence we sent him.”

Following a meeting at Suffolk College, where Sir John was receiving an honorary degree, a spur-of-the-moment visit to the theatre was arranged.

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“I introduced myself to him and asked if we would like to see the theatre. He said: 'I'd love to.' And there and then he got into his Rolls Royce and his assistant drove us to the theatre.

“He was incredibly generous with his time and again seemed to be genuinely moved by the idea of someone naming a theatre in his honour. He signed a picture which we now have in the foyer.”

He added: “During his speech at Suffolk College, he had that audience in the palm of his hand. His delivery was superb. He was a peerless professional.”

Brian Ralph, senior lecturer of performing arts at Suffolk College, who nominated Sir John for his honorary doctorate, described Sir John as the “last giant of his generation.”

He said: “He left a legacy of film performances that will continue to inspire and entertain for years to come. In a film career that spanned more than half a century, he was clearly one of the best loved and respected of British film actors. When he came to Suffolk College in October 2000, it was impossible for all of us fortunate enough to be in his company, not to be affected by his gentle manner, modesty and infectious joy of being.”

These local tributes echoes praise from some of his life-long friends. Actor and director Lord Richard Attenborough described his old friend Sir John Mills as a "truly remarkable man".

Lord Attenborough told the BBC Radio Four PM programme that Sir John was "almost unequalled as a world British movie star”.

He said: "There was no-one comparable really. He gave such a variety of impeccable performances. He was adored by the people he worked with from the plasterer, the chippy and the electrician to the stars who played opposite him.”

Lord Attenborough said that Sir John went into hospital five weeks ago with a chest infection which he never overcame. He said: "I shall miss him very much but I shall not be alone. He will be hugely missed.”

He said that although Sir John was famous for his portrayal of “naval officers on the upper deck”, his performance in Hobson's Choice was in his opinion his best. “It was the most perfectly adjudged performance given by anybody,” added.

Comedian and actor Stephen Fry, who directed Mills in the film Bright Young Things in 2003, paid tribute to the veteran actor. He told the Sunday Telegraph: "For 20 or 30 years, he was cinema's only authentic British leading man.

“English actors can play villains and extraordinary characters, but few have ever been good at what the Americans call an 'ordinary Joe'. Yet most good films are about ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances, and Johnny Mills could play those men.”

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