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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 19:33 GMT 20:33 UK
Great precipitations for Sir John
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

The weather is no respecter of titles or celebrity, as the stars who gathered for Sir John Mills' funeral discovered on Wednesday.

St Mary the Virgin church in Denham, Bucks
The ceremony was held at St Mary the Virgin church in Denham, Bucks
As the heavens opened and the hailstones fell, Sir Roger Moore, Dame Judi Dench and Lord Attenborough were among those who took cover inside St Mary the Virgin church in Denham, Buckinghamshire.

"Theatrical to the last," remarked director and family friend Marcus Dillistone as he surveyed the inclement scene.

Not everyone was so stoic, however. "Does anyone know the way in?" mumbled a bedraggled Stephen Fry as he picked his way through the massed ranks of photographers and well-wishers assembled outside.

Few of the celebrities dallied in the downpour, though actor Robert Powell and cinematographer Jack Cardiff genially posed for snaps under their respective umbrellas.

So did the prime minister's wife Cherie Blair, to some locals' audible displeasure.

Thankfully the rain had abated by the time Sir John's coffin arrived in a horse-drawn Victorian-style hearse decked with flowers.

Composure

With grandson Crispian as one of his pallbearers, the actor knight made his final journey into the church, followed by his children, Juliet, Hayley and Jonathan, and the rest of the family.

Robert Powell
Actor Robert Powell briefly posed for photographs
The mood was sombre, though thanks to the choice of opening music - You Make Me Feel So Young by Frank Sinatra - hardly funereal.

Loudspeakers broadcast the service to the onlookers outside, though a lucky few were permitted to watch the proceedings from the portico.

And some were seen to dab their eyes as Hayley fought to maintain her composure while reading What Shall We Do Tomorrow? - a poem written by her mother, Lady Mills.

Lord Attenborough was also visibly moved during a heartfelt oration in which he spoke warmly, if sometimes inaudibly, about his friend and colleague "Johnny".

"We shall miss him desperately," said the 81-year-old director. "But we shall have him with us always in the deep love and unmatched joy that he has bequeathed to all of us."

With Stephen Fry reading from Ecclesiastes and Juliet Mills reading from Shakespeare, the service ran like clockwork - though not everything went exactly according to plan.

Applause

Crispian Mills, former lead singer of Britpop band Kula Shaker, had chosen to sing Forever the Best of Friends, a song from the musical Great Expectations that Sir John used to sing to his grandchildren.

Crispian Mills (right) carries his grandfather's coffins
Mills' grandson Crispian (right) was one of the pallbearers
Unfortunately he was not on the best of terms with his ukulele, forcing him to start again after a fumbled first verse.

But he still received a round of applause in a service filled with happy memories for Mills' army of fans.

And nowhere more so than in the reading of John Pudney's Do Not Despair for Johnny-head-in-air - the poem he memorably recites in 1945 wartime drama, The Way to the Stars.

"It was a lovely ceremony," said actress Anita Harris as she stepped gingerly through the puddles afterwards.

A fitting summation of a day where the great British weather paid its own special tribute to one of Britain's acting greats.



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