1936 - 24.3.2005
A Production Manager with British International Pictures at Borehamwood, Jack’s father, Frank, worked on most of Hitchcock’s early films including the first British Talkie, Blackmail in 1929. His father bought a 9.5mm Pathescope camera and projector for family events etc. but somehow Jack managed to obtain better results than anyone else in the family. Therefore, with a father already in the business, there was little doubt where his future lay. In 1935 his father moved to the Rock Studios in Borehamwood (later British National Films and eventually ATV and later still BBC Television Studios) as Associate Producer, but got Jack an interview at British International Pictures (also at Elstree). and at 16 he started there as a Clapper Boy. His first full production was Murder Gang, later retitled to Sensation (1936), directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, and photographed by James Harvey BSC. Over the next 3 years, he worked with cinematographers Otto Kanturek, Claude Friese-Green and Gunther Krampf BSC who had joined the company and with Guy Green BSC and Harry Gillam as operators.
In 1938 B.I.P. became Associated British and Jack became First Assistant Cameraman on the shipwreck sequence of Jamaica Inn (1939) directed by Alfred Hitchcock and photographed by Jack Cardiff BSC in 3-strip Technicolor. The following year he shot second unit on The Saint in London with Claude Friese-Green as Lighting Cameraman and directed by John Paddy Carstairs.At the outbreak of WWII, six years with the R.A.F. followed. After the war, Jack was able to renew his job at British National as a first assistant cameraman. His first film there was Mrs Fitz-Herbert (1947) directed by Montgomery Tully, a costume drama about the mistress of George IV, on which he assisted operator, Gerry Moss, with Jimmy Wilson BSC lighting.He had his first proper taste of operating under Jimmy Wilson BSC when they did a few days location shooting at Brighton racecourse on Brighton Rock (1947) directed by John Boulting and photographed by Harry Waxman BSC. British National sold out to Associated Television and everyone was fired. Fortunately the 1948 Olympic Games occurred that summer and he joined in as a 1st Assistant on one of the many crews at Wembley Stadium. In August, he joined ABPC. The first film was Man on the Run (1949) directed by Lawrence Huntingdon and photographed by Wilkie Cooper BSC. He was put on the second unit with Stanley Grant BSC as Director/ Cameraman. There were plenty of Visual Effects to do, which kept Stanley busy, so he had the chance of doing some of the operating. Over the next couple of years he mainly assisted operators, Norman Warwick BSC and occasionally Arthur Graham BSC (holder of A.C.T. ticket No.1). The DP's were Bill McLeod, Otto Heller BSC and Wilkie Cooper BSC, and occasionally Erwin Hillier BSC and Gunther Krampf BSC. Then followed second unit operating breaks on Captain Horatio Hornblower RN, (1951) main unit photographed by Guy Green BSC and second unit by Harry Waxman BSC and on the musical sequences of Happy Go Lovely (1951), a 3 strip Technicolor production photographed by Erwin Hillier BSC with Norman Warwick BSC operator on first camera. He continued with second unit operating on films such Another Man's Poison (1951) directed by Irving Rapper and photographed Robert Krasker BSC starring Bette Davis in Yorkshire and on Angels One Five (1952) directed by George More O’Farrell and photographed by Chris Challis BSC with Stanley Grant as second unit DP. At about this time, Brazilian-born director, Alberto Cavalcanti had been offered a contract to help start up a Brazilian Feature industry, but would only go if he could bring experienced Technicians with him. The Cameraman he chose was H. E. “Chick” Fowle BSC and he had invited Bob Huke BSC to operate for him. With work thin on the ground in Britiain, Mills took up the offer of offered second unit work in Brazil with Bob Huke BSC as cinematographer. Whilst in Brazil, work became sporadic as did the salary so in May 1956 Jack arrived back in London and immediately got operating work at Shepperton on The Jack Benny Program with Stan Pavey BSC as DP. At the beginning of the 60’s a new reflective 3M screen made Front Projection possible and Mills was invited by Peter Broxup, camera department head at Shepperton to conduct tests for the Shepperton Studio FP system, which made Mills one of the first cameramen in Britain to gain experience in this new system. Mills then worked as second unit and visual effects cameraman with Dick Bailey as operator, on the T.V. Series of The Invisible Man (1959) at National Studios Borehamwood. He also operated for James Wong Howe ASC on Song Without End (1960) directed by Charles Vidor and followed that working for Freddie Young OBE BSC on Gorgo (1961) directed by Eugene Laurie, operating main unit and second unit. His break as DP came with a Children's Film Foundation production entitled The Young Detectives (1963) directed by Gilbert Gunn. He followed that with 39 episodes of the TV series, Zero One (1962-65) shooting at MGM British, Borehamwood, for the BBC.
In 1962 Mills shot back projection plates for Stanley Kubrick on Lolita, photographed by Ossie Morris OBE BSC and second unit again for Ossie on Satan Never Sleeps on location in Wales standing in for China! He later found himself in Vancouver, Canada for several episodes of the first series of The Littlest Hobo TV (1963-65). He continued with television commercials and second unit DP work including 1 Million Years B.C. (1966) directed by Don Chaffy and photographed by Wilkie Cooper BSC and some work on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as The Battle of Britain (1969) directed by Guy Hamilton and photographed by Freddie Young OBE BSC, The Last Valley (1971) Directed by James Clavell and photographed by Normal Warwick BSC and John Wilcox BSC, Scrooge (1970) directed by Ronald Neame and photographed by Ossie Morris OBE BSC and A Clockwork Orange (1971) directed by Stanley Kubrick and photographed by John Alcott BSC,
In 1974, after a 3 month stint working for a production company in New Zealand, Mills moved from Britain and set up his own service company and was kept busy shooting mostly commercials and some second unit and television work for several years.
He returned to England in September 1988 but after an unsuccessful attempt to get a television series called The Video Bible off the ground as cameraman and producer, Mills retired in 1992.
However he was asked to go to the Ukraine for The British Executive Service Overseas, which is an organisation, funded by the Government and Industry to provide assistance to backward countries. They use retired people with specialised knowledge to sort out local problems but who receive only expenses. Private TV companies were setting up in the old Soviet Union and they needed assistance in producing Commercials and the like. Jack says, “It was a great though rather depressing and embarrassing experience to see how they were struggling with a worthless currency and trying to shoot everything with only VHS equipment. They treated me royally but in the end I was able to do little, and my appeals to UK companies to send them old Commercials and out of date Series went unheeded. I returned to Britain.”
Mills was made a member of the British Society of Cinematographers in 1971.
Jack Mills/Phil Méheux