Actor Sir John Mills died today at age 97 after a brief illness. Mills' acting career spanned over seven decades, a record matched only by a few.
While Mills was known for playing a succession of military roles, he actually began his career as a song and dance man. At the beginning of his career he was part of a team, the other half of which was a fellow called George Posford, who played the balalaika. Eventually, he would travel with an acting troupe called The Quaints, which put him in touch with Noel Coward. Coward gave him parts in his revues.
Mills made his film debut in 1932 in The Midshipmaid. It was seven years later that Mills played the role that would bring him fame and a lasting career, as Colley in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. From World War II onwards, Mills played a succession of military men, everything from an able seaman in In Which We Serve to an RAF pilot in The Way to the Star. Mills also played non-military roles as well, most notably Pip in Great Expectations, Willie Mossop in Hobson's Choice, the father in Swiss Family Robinson, and Michael in Ryan's Daughter.
While Mills was known for his roles as servicemen, his own service in World War II was brief. He was part of the Royal Engineers for less than a year before an ulcer led to him being declared unfit.
Mills won his share of honours. In 1960 he was made a Companion of the British Empire (CBE) and in 1976 he was knighted. He won the Academy award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Michael in Ryan's Daughter.
Mills did very little television and when he did it was usually in the form of TV movies and mini-series. He played Professor Bernard Quatermass in both Quatermass Conclusion and the TV series Quatermass. He also played Watson in the Sherlock Holmes telefilm Masks of Death and appeared in an adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder with Mirrors.
Mills was the consumate professional. He made over 100 films in a film career that spanned six decades. At age 80 he dismissed the idea of giving up acting. Indeed, his last role was in this year's Lights2. For many Mills will always be the very image of the British serviceman. For many more he will always be the very model of a British actor
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