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Sir John Mills CBE

Red Collar Rat


John Mills (Lewis Ernest Watts Mills) was born in Suffolk, the son of a maths teacher father and theatre box-office mother.

Aspiring to a show-biz career from early childhood, John found himself in London at the age of twenty trying to hold down a job as a bathroom sales rep whilst devoting most of his time to classes at Zelia Raye's Dancing School. Encouraged by his elder sister Mabel (later, Annette Mills) he persisted at the lessons and his first lucky break came when he and fellow-pupil Frances Day were offered an engagement at the New Cross Empire. This led directly to a chorus job in Guy Bolton?s musical 'The Five O?Clock Girl' (1929) at the London Hippodrome and, later the same year, he joined a repertory company called The Quaints for a tour of the Far East where he gained invaluable acting experience playing everything from 2nd gravedigger in ?Hamlet? to the title role in 'Young Woodley.'

In Singapore his talents were spotted by a holidaying Noel Coward who saw The Quaints production of the Vivian Ellis musical, 'Mr. Cinders' in which John Mills played the juvenile lead. On the company's return to England it was Coward's influence which secured John his first West End lead as Fancourt Babberley in 'Charley's Aunt' at the New Theatre and, within the next two years John starred in both Coward's play 'Cavalcade' and the hugely successful revue 'Words and Music.'

John Mills' screen debut came in 1932 in 'The Midship Maid' with Jessie Matthews and this led to the long and distinguished career on both stage and screen with which we have all become so familiar. The Oscar-winning actor was made a CBE in 1960 and knighted in 1976.

Although countless tributes have poured in since his death, it is particularly heart-warming to recall that only two years ago on 26th March 2003 the Rats chose to celebrate his 95th birthday by holding a special Luncheon in his honour at the Savoy Hotel. The day was packed with celebrities all keen to pay their respects to Sir John and tributes both moving and funny came from, amongst others, Sylvia Sims, Past King Rat Roy Hudd, Past King Rat David Lodge, Water Rat Barry Cryer and Sir Cliff Richard.

As the celebrations drew to a close, Sir John expressed his sincere thanks to all, adding that he was a proud man; proud that the Rats had given him such a distinct honour, proud that so many had attended to pay tribute to him, and very proud indeed to be a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats. A standing ovation and musical honours brought the event to a conclusion and it was reported later that Sir John was so thrilled by it all that for weeks afterwards he talked of little else!
It was such a privilege for the Rats to be able to show Sir John just how much he was so universally loved and admired by us all.

As far as our records show, at the grand old age of 91 Sir John Mills became our oldest ever Baby Rat when he was initiated as Rat No. 808 on 7th June 1999. His Proposer was Past King Rat Frankie Vaughan, his Seconder being Past King Rat Bert Weedon.

He is survived by his wife Mary Hayley Bell, son Jonathan and daughters Juliette and Hayley.

Test Rat Chris Emmett 2005
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