Sylvia Sims: 'John Mills was one of a special breed who never made a fuss'

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I first met Johnnie backstage in London in 1954, I think it was the Aldwych. I was straight out of Rada and the understudy in Charley's Aunt, directed by John Gielgud and starring Johnnie. I was the lowest of the low and there, along the corridor, was this great film star.

I first met Johnnie backstage in London in 1954, I think it was the Aldwych. I was straight out of Rada and the understudy in Charley's Aunt, directed by John Gielgud and starring Johnnie. I was the lowest of the low and there, along the corridor, was this great film star.

I was very young and naive but he came up to me and said, "It's nice to have something pretty backstage." He was so friendly and we got on straight away. In a non-sexist way he'd put his arm around my shoulder or bring me a cup of tea in the dressing room. He was the perfect gentleman.

It was just typical of Johnnie. A little later I was asked on a date by a famous actor, I won't say who, and told Johnnie I'd been invited out by so- and-so. Johnnie said, "Put your hand on your ha'penny, cross your legs and say you don't want coffee."

That was Johnnie absolutely. I didn't see him for a couple of years, then we did Ice Cold in Alex in the middle of the desert. There were flies everywhere, just rotten conditions. Johnnie, Tony Quayle and Harry Andrews, special kinds of men. There aren't any like that any more. They just put up with it all, and got on with it. They were grown-up men who'd experienced a lot in their lives and made no fuss.

But they were a special breed. I don't know where you can find men like that any more. It sounds so old fashioned to say they had wonderful manners. I love working with my younger friends but there was something about that generation. They never let themselves down by doing all that starry crap. And they were so versatile. They could do whatever you wanted them to do - heroic, cowardly - they never wanted to present an image of themselves. They were actors, not film stars.

Years would go by and I wouldn't see him, and then when I did see him it was as if no time had passed.

He had no side, he had a marvellous sense of humour, he was very unsnobbish. He was just a straight guy. A sparkling diamond. And he never changed his size! He could have worn the same suits he had at 18.

As told to Andrew Johnson

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