Sir John Mills, one of the country’s finest actors, lived at Denham for a number of years.
Link with the Chilterns
Lived in Denham, Buckinghamshire
22 February 1908
23 April 2005
John Mills, one of the most famous British actors of his generation, was born in North Eltham, Norfolk, on 22 February 1908 and brought up in Felixstowe in Suffolk. His father was a mathematics teacher while his mother worked as a theatrical box office manager. He was educated at Norwich High School for Boys.
He married Aileen Raymond in 1927 but this relationship did not last and he divorced in 1941 when he married the playwright/dramatist Mary Hayley Bell. They had three children: Juliet (1941) Hayley (1946) and Jonathan (1949).
As a teenager, having worked briefly as a clerk in a corn merchant, he moved to London and enrolled in Zelia Raye’s Dancing School.
He appeared frequently on the London stage during the 1930s in revues, straight plays and musicals. While on tour in Singapore, in Mr Cinders, he was spotted by Noel Coward and, when back in the UK, he appeared in some of “The Master’s” musical stage productions.
Before the Second World War he appeared in some 20 films, such as The Ghost Camera, Car of Dreams, Tudor Rose and Goodbye, Mr Chips. He made many more films during the fifties and sixties and finally won an Oscar in 1970 for his role as the village idiot in Ryan’s Daughter as Best Supporting Actor.
In 1942 he and Mary bought Misborne Cottage in Denham, but they did not move properly to the village until 1975 when they bought Hills House. This house had previously been owned by the actress Merle Oberon.
Hills House became famous for the showbiz parties given by the Mills. Laurence Olivier, Burt Lancaster and Jack Lemmon all have spent time in the house and walked in the garden that Mary planted. More recent visitors were Stephen Fry, Dame Judi Dench and Tony and Cherie Blair.
By 2004 the house had become too big for them so they bought a bungalow in the village with a small swimming pool and large rooms. According to Sir John: “It’s easy to look after and the lightest house I have ever been in. It’s really lovely”.
Sir John died at home on 23 April 2005 after a chest infection; his wife Mary died a few months later on 1 December 2005.
They are both buried at St Mary the Virgin Church on Village Road in Denham.
Sir John reminisces about Hills House.
What you can visit
Denham village, St Mary the Virgin Church and graveyard.