Actress-Author Lady Mills & Telegraph's Barber DieDate: 5 December 2005
Mary Hayley Bell (pictured) - aka Lady Mills, the wife of iconic stage and screen actor Sir John Mills - died on Thursday (1 December 2005), eight months after the death of her husband of 60 years (See News, 25 Apr 2005). Aged 94, she had been suffering from Alzheimerís Disease. Though best known as Millsí wife, Bell was a successful actress, playwright and novelist in her own right, most notably as the author of Whistle Down the Wind, which was adapted for both screen and stage, and the post-war play Duet for Two Hands, which starred her late husband.
Born in Shanghai on 22 January 1911, Bell spent most of her childhood in the Far East, where her father worked as an official in the Chinese Customs Service. She moved to London and went to school at Sherborne and Malvern Girls' College before training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).
Bell made her acting debut in Shanghai in 1932, when she played Henrietta in an American touring production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. She got her first London role in 1934 at Daly's in the comedy, Vintage Wine. Her other stage roles include Summerís Lease, Tony Draws A Horse, Peaceful Inn and Composite Wine in the West End, as well as a stint with the Manchester Repertory Company and an Australian tour of Victoria Regina, Tonight at 8.30 and George and Margaret.
She gave up acting in favour of writing in 1942 when she married John Mills, who died this past April, so that she could dedicate more time to her husband and their three children, Juliet, Hayley and Jonathan.
Bellís plays included Men in Shadow (which broke records by being performed simultaneously in London, New York and Moscow), Duet for Two Hands, Angel, The Uninvited Guest, Foreign Field, Dear Enemy, Feather on the Water and Treble Key.
Her novel Whistle Down the Wind, in which three farm children discover a man hiding in a barn and think that he is Jesus, was adapted by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall into a highly successful film directed by Bryan Forbes in 1961, starring her younger daughter Hayley Mills. In the musical version by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman, which premiered at the West Endís Aldwych Theatre in June 1998 (See News, 16 Jun 1998), the story was transplanted from rural England to the American Deep South.
Bell also had a keen interest in the law and was appointed a Surrey magistrate in 1965, but had to resign after three years because being abroad so much prevented her from attending court regularly. Her autobiography, entitled What Shall We Do Tomorrow?, was published in 1968. She is survived by her children.
Also passed away is theatre critic John Barber. He served on the Daily Express from 1950 to 1958 and succeeded WA Darlington at the Daily Telegraph, where he was the lead critic for 18 years from 1968 to 1986. Barber was one of the few broadsheet critics who welcomed the arrival of the ďangry young menĒ of the 1950s and their wave of working class drama, epitomised by John Osborneís Look Back in Anger in 1956.
Barber was born on 4 April 1912 and died on Friday (2 December 2005), aged 93.
- by Caroline Ansdell