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25th April 2005Death of 'Sir Bartle Frere'
By Martin Everett
Usually the movies buffs are quick off the mark. Where are they?

The death of 'Sir Bartle Frere' in other words British Actor Sir John Mills was one of UKs leading actors - perhaps his cameo role in 'Zulu Dawn' is not so memorable. But in real life he was first commissioned in the 1st Monmouths - a territorial battalion of the South Wales Borderers. He always seemed to play 'decent blokes'.
25th April 2005Sheldon Hall
Sorry, Martin - I don't have internet access at home. It was sad to hear of Sir John's death, though not unexpected (he was 97). In addition to his many film roles I also fondly recall a Stanley Baxter sketch spoofing IN WHICH WE SERVE, in which, sporting a clipped Noel Coward accent, SB let his wife in on the British Army's secret weapon which would help them win the war: they had John Mills!
25th April 2005Peter Ewart
My main memory of John Mills is of his part in "Dunkirk", which I think was made in about 1958.

The film was made chiefly "on location" in my home town of Rye, Sussex and along at Camber Sands (the "Dunkirk beaches"!) I one of my elder brothers was an extra, as many locals were, playing the part of French refugees clogging up the path of retreat. A battalion of army conscripts was dragged along from Dover Castle to take part.

One day my mother said to me "put your hat and coat on..." - which meant mackintosh & cub cap! - "... I'm going to take you to see John Mills." At 6 or 7 years old, the name meant nothing to me. After dragging me along to the Strand Quay, we witnessed a morning's filming, with to-ing and fro-ing of refugees with handcarts and lots of "takes" of a single scene.

Then mum plonks me alongside this scruffy little man in a blue pom-pom hat & fisherman's jumper and as I look up at him she says: "This is John Mills." What the great man thought (if he even noticed us) I've no idea!

The following year all five of us were marched along to the Regent cinema where the whole town was queuing to get in. Afterwards, just in case she thought we had been too young too understand the moral of the film, we received a lecture from mother on the Dunkirk spirit - "and don't you ever forget it!"

I suspect growing up in the '50s was a little different to today!

25th April 2005Martin Everett
Dear Sheldon,

I thought you would have reminded me that John Miles played Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy of India, in 'Gandhi' in 1962. Another AZW connection, perhaps.
25th April 2005Ian Essex
Dear Martin,
I'll remind you that 'Gandhi' was '82 not '62...before Sheldon does...Sent in peace.

26th April 2005Alan Critchley
John Mills was, in my opinion, the best actor that this country has ever produced.
26th April 2005Robert Jones
I agree---every film that he starred in was superb and who can forget the look on his face when he was telling Lord Chelmsford [Peter O,Toole] that the Zulu problem had to be addressed forcefully.
A great loss.
26th April 2005Andy Lee

I agree totally, apart from his part in 'Zulu Dawn' another star role was in 'Ice Cold in Alex' you could taste that cold beer at the end.

Truely a great loss.


26th April 2005Julian Whybra
Can i put in a word for 'Tunes of Glory' - a peacetime military film but one which was Mills's favourite I believe.
26th April 2005Sheldon Hall
I can't agree that every one of his films was great (with over a hundred movies on his CV, there are certainly a few turkeys in there), but he did have a remarkable run of good films in the 40s and 50s. He also, of course, played Kitchener in YOUNG WINSTON (DVD coming soon, I believe), Haig in OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR (ditto) and of course the title role in SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC. But while he's best-known for his military characters, his anti-heroic and comic roles are also worth checking out: see HOBSON'S CHOICE and THE FAMILY WAY for a start!
26th April 2005L.J.Knight
"Ryans Daughter",enough said!. regards L.J.Knight
26th April 2005Peter Critchley
I grew up watching John Mills play the hero in so many films, and loved each and every one of them.. I agree with Alex about Ice Cold in Alex!! Great film...
27th April 2005Peter Ewart

I've always thought of Mills as the greatest film actor ever - but then one thinks of Olivier & Richardson! I alway looked forward to a Kenneth More or a Wilfred Hyde-White film more than anything else, however, even though one wouldn't necessarily bracket them in the Mills, Olivier, Richardson class, who tend to reflect the golden age from the '40s to the '60s.

Then again, I suppose Dame Ellen Terry would say they weren't a patch on the actors of her day!

28th April 2005Sheldon Hall
So NORTHWEST FRONTIER would be one of your favourites, then?

Speaking for myself, I've always preferred Charlton Heston (Gordon in KHARTOUM, cast alongside Olivier, Richardson and, indeed, Nigel Green as Wolseley) ... favourite, not best!
28th April 2005Peter Ewart
It certainly would, Sheldon. I think I saw it twice but haven't seen it for well over 35 years now. Would it be considered a bit corny these days? Or politically incorrect? (No doubt about that, I suppose). Although set in Edwardian times if I recall correctly, the carnage at the railway station must have been taken blatantly from the identical real scenes of the bloodshed of 1947. I wonder how that went down in West Pakistan at the time?

I felt as a youngster that the Eton Boating Song made the film, and distinctly remember Kenneth More giving a lecture on the benefits of Empire and the public school system. And Herbert Lom! Wonderful! The perfect, sinister, foreign-looking baddie! As for WHW, how could one ever fail to enjoy every syllable he uttered?

I found The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (another train, more Indians - but Redskins these ones) hilarious about 45 years ago but never saw it come round again. A Night to Remember, Reach for the Sky - both powerful More films but I don't suppose they'd stand up to the scrutiny to which, for example, ZULU has been subjected. (Never met More but I did Bader).

Although a very regular & keen picture-goer as a youngster, I must have lost the habit about 35 years ago and the intervening period is a bit of a cinematic "black hole" for me. Having recently re-watched R Kwai & Navarone on DVD (they took me back a bit!) I suppose I might just get the taste again. Zulu Dawn didn't keep me seated for long but if Dunkirk, Zhivago, Magnificent Seven, Yangtse Incident, Tonka, Charge of the Light Brigade or the Inn of the Sixth Happiness were available, they would certainly take me down Memory Lane.

Yes, I also remember enjoying Khartoum in the mid-60s. But I'm afraid the effort needed to make allowances for Heston was equal to that need for Lancaster in Z/Dawn, Peck in Navarone & van Dyck in Mary Poppins. Just can't do it - I sit there muttering & wondering whose idea it coud possibly have been!

29th April 2005Sheldon Hall

I too love NWF and it probably is non-PC these days - I've written somewhere (a propos ZULU - no surprise there) that it was one of the last films of its era to include an overt defence of imperialism - or at least of Britain's self-appointed role as guardian of law and order in India. Lom, of course, plays the archetypal villain in imperial cinema: the mixed-race radical.

Most of the other films you mention are indeed on DVD, so it's time to set off down that lane! (I advise skipping Fractured Jaw though.) I first saw KHARTOUM at Butlin's in the early 70s (!!) and have seen it many times since, most notably in 70mm (the ultra-wide 2.76:1 image is somethng to behold on a big screen). Heston, I think, gives one of the most convincing 'British' performances by an American actor, with very few slips of the accent (he puts not only Dick Van Dyke but Laurence Olivier, as the Mahdi in the same film, to shame, as many reviewers at the time pointed out). Lancaster's Oirish brogue in ZD is unfortunate but Peck at least made no bones about being American (the character in the NAVARONE novel is a New Zealander) and didn't even try for an assumed accent (ditto in CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER). Probably just as well if THE SEA WOLVES is anything to go by.

Footnote to the above: Lancaster was not only the original casting for Gordon in KHARTOUM before he dropped out, but was also Columbia's preferred choice for Chard when it was approached to finance ZULU... true!
30th April 2005Peter Ewart

"Unfortunate" is the word! Hadn't realised that Peck's part was supposed to be a Kiwi, though. He presumably got the part to flog the film to the American market and, successful actor that he was, the aural incongruity remains. Part of Hornblower was also filmed in Rye, as he is pictured walking up Mermaid Street past the Mermaid Inn (rebuilt 1420).

Lancaster as Chard ..! Don't start me off again!

I can see I shall have to restart my film-watching habits if all these classics are on dvd - but what about the (sacrosanct) book-buying budget?!!!