Acting legend remembered

TRIBUTES flooded in today for the legendary actor Sir John Mills who died on Saturday aged 97.The much-loved star, whose career spanned more than 100 films, passed away peacefully at his home in Denham, Buckinghamshire, after a short illness.

TRIBUTES flooded in today for the legendary actor Sir John Mills who died on Saturday aged 97.

The much-loved star, whose career spanned more than 100 films, passed away peacefully at his home in Denham, Buckinghamshire, after a short illness.

He was renowned for playing plucky soldiers and sailors in such classic war films as In Which We Serve and Ice Cold In Alex.

But many of his best roles were away from the front lines - he won his Oscar in 1971 for playing the village idiot in David Lean's Ryan's Daughter and was nominated for a Bafta for his role as the downtrodden Willie Mossop in Hobson's Choice opposite Charles Laughton.

Although born in Belton, just outside Great Yarmouth, he and his family moved to Felixstowe when he was just into his teens.

Sir John returned to Ipswich for the first time in 40 years in October 1997 with his one-man show and then received an honorary degree from Suffolk College in October 2000. He also visited the theatre in Gatacre Road that bears his name.

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Last September he made his final visit to his home county when he attended a film retrospective at the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe and found time to catch up with old friends.

Sir John was thrilled to have a theatre named after him.

Ivan Cutting, co-founder and artistic director of Eastern Angles Theatre Company, said Sir John was one of the true gentlemen of the acting profession.

"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.

"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.

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."

Actor and director Lord Richard Attenborough described his old friend as a "truly remarkable man" and "almost unequalled as a world British movie star".

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

Comedian and actor Stephen Fry, who directed Mills in the film Bright Young Things in 2003, said:

"For 20 or 30 years, he was cinema's only authentic British leading man."

Opinion - see page 4.

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