Wednesday 20 September 2017

Whatever Happened to Freddie Mills?


Freddie Mills is a name that has certain connotations for those who have been around long enough to remember. Freddie was a famous British boxer who, once his career in the ring came to an end, turned his hand to several other high profile projects, including a bit of acting on film and television.

Born in Bournemouth in 1919, Freddie originally became an apprentice milkman before finding he had the skills to become a boxer. Mills first took an active interest in the boxing world at local fairgrounds before his first official fight, which took place in 1936. He proved a success, being crowned the World light heavyweight champion between 1948 and 1950. This success guaranteed Freddie Mills a significant amount of fame, being known as Britain's "boxing idol" for much of the post-war period. 


Following his retirement from boxing, Mills quickly found work in the entertainment industry. Helped by his already strong public profile, he began appearing in films. One of his earliest roles was that of Emergency Call, a 1952 Nettlefold Films production, directed by Lewis Gilbert. Freddie plays Tim Mahoney and among the cast was his long-time friend, future Carry On leading man Sid James. Emergency Call also features actors such as Eric Pohlmann, Sydney Tafler and Thora Hird. An early comedy role came Freddie's way in 1955 when he played Harry the Scar in Fun at St Fanny's. This film revolves around the teachers and students at St Fanny's private school and stars future Carry On Up The Khyber guest actor Cardew Robinson as well as other names from the series - Davy Kaye, Stanley Unwin, Gerald Campion, Marianne Stone, Melvyn Hayes and Peter Butterworth. Watch out also for an early appearance from a certain Ronnie Corbett.

Freddie Mills first worked for director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers in 1958 when he was cast in their film, Chain of Events. This film version of a radio play by actor Leo McKern tells the story of a bank clerk who tells a white lie to avoid paying his bus fare. This then sets in motion a series of catastrophic events involving blackmail and death. Quite different from the world of Carry On Gerald and Peter would soon inhabit! Susan Shaw, soon to make an appearance as Kenneth Connor's wife in Carry On Nurse, heads the cast of Chain of Events with other Pinewood regulars such as Joan Hickson and Cyril Chamberlain popping up throughout the film. Freddie plays the character of Tiny. 


Peter and Gerald were obviously impressed by Freddie Mills as the following year saw them employ him again as part of their blossoming series of low budget British comedies, the Carry On films. Freddie makes a brief appearance as a jewel thief at the start of Carry On Constable. Mills returned to Pinewood for the very next film in the series, Carry On Regardless. Regardless provided Mills with a slightly bigger role as a boxing promoter who catches up with old mate Bert Handy (who else but Sid James again). Bert provides "Lefty" with a couple of seconds in Charles Hawtrey and Bill Owen, for a fight featuring Joe Robinson (sadly recently departed at the age of 90). Of course Charles Hawtrey's involvement leads to much farce and innuendo and the sequence ends with a memorably staged boxing match which sees Charles triumph over the burly Tom Clegg!

Away from films, Freddie Mills also had a recurring role in the television series Six-Five Special - one of the very first music shows on British television. Featuring a host of stars including Cleo Laine, Pete Murray and Petula Clark, the Six-Five Special also saw early screen appearances from future Carry On legend Jim Dale, here in his earlier incarnation as a rock and roll star. Freddie was part of the presenting team between 1957 and 1958. 


By the early 1960s Freddie was a very recognisable face in Britain. As well as his fame as a boxer and his acting appearances, he was also something of an impresario, owning a restaurant in London's Soho for several years before it eventually became his infamous nightclub. Although performing well in its early days, the club soon led Freddie into financial difficulty and into the path of the Kray twins. By the mid 1960s Mills was sadly in various kinds of trouble and on 24 July 1965 the nation woke to the news that Freddie Mills had been found dead in his car, parked near his nightclub. He had been shot. The coroner's inquest later ruled the death as suicide.

Since Freddie's early death at the age of just 46 there have been many conspiracy theories surrounding the final years of his life and the reasons behind his demise. While he certainly mixed in interesting and often colourful circles, these theories remain just that. Mills married Marie, the daughter of his manager, in September 1948. Together they had two daughters and lived, until Freddie's death, in the Denmark Hill area of London. Undoubtedly a very interesting man and a man of many talents, there will always be much mystery surrounding the life and times of Freddie Mills.


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