Mary Hayley Bell

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Mary Hayley Bell
Born(1911-01-22)22 January 1911
Shanghai, China
Died1 December 2005(2005-12-01) (aged 94)
Chiltern, Buckinghamshire, England
OccupationWriter, actress
Sir John Mills
(m. 1941; died 2005)
Children3, including Juliet and Hayley Mills

Mary Hayley Bell, Lady Mills (22 January 1911 – 1 December 2005) was an English actress and writer, married for 64 years to actor Sir John Mills. Her novel Whistle Down the Wind was adapted as a film, starring her teenaged daughter, actress Hayley Mills.


Mary Hayley Bell was born in Shanghai International Settlement, Shanghai, China, where her father, Colonel Francis Hayley Bell, served in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service with postings to various Treaty Ports. Her mother was Agnes (née McGowan). Her father, a Boer War veteran, served, from 1925 to 1928, as Customs Commissioner for Kowloon (within Hong Hong, although this position had no connection with the British colonial administration). During this period Mary attended school in Hong Kong and frequently spent weekends of leisure at the Commissioner's official country bungalow near Fan Ling Golf Club.[1] The family later (1930) moved to Tianjin (then known as Tientsin). In the run-up to World War II, Francis Bell was the Defence Security Officer in Singapore in 1936 MI5; he is believed to have hunted down and executed Japanese spies by 'unorthodox methods', causing him to be sacked in 1939[2] despite penetrating a Japanese spy ring and learning of the Japanese plans to invade from Siam and Northern Malaya.[citation needed]

Stage/film roles[edit]

Mary Hayley Bell first appeared on Broadway on 9 April 1928, in the comedy Volpone. In 1935 she appeared in the film Vintage Wine. She subsequently played the part of "Miss Wingate" in the film The Shrike (1955), which starred José Ferrer and June Allyson. She recreated the same part on Broadway in 1958. She had a small uncredited role as a nursing home resident in the 1993 Eric Sykes film The Big Freeze, opposite her husband. She appeared in her son's documentary Sir John Mills' Moving Memories (2000).


Mary Hayley Bell wrote four plays: Men in Shadow (1942), Angel (1947), Duet for Two Hands (1945), and The Uninvited Guest (1953). She also wrote the novel Whistle Down the Wind (1959), co-wrote the screenplay and story of Sky West and Crooked (1966) (released as Gypsy Girl in the United States), and wrote additional dialogue for Scott of the Antarctic (1948). Whistle Down the Wind was made into a film in 1961 (starring daughter Hayley Mills) and an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in 1996. Its title is believed to have been inspired by the sound of the wind around the bow windows of The Wick, the family's home on Richmond Hill, London.[3]

Her 1962 novel, Far Morning, was illustrated by John Mills's niece, Molly Blake.[4]

Marriage and children[edit]

It was while living at Tianjin, China, that she first met John Mills, who was on tour at the time. They next met when she was appearing in Tony Draws a Horse at the Comedy Theatre in London in 1939. She recalled an after-dinner party in Mills's dressing room after one of his performances as George in Of Mice and Men at the Apollo Theatre.[citation needed]

Mills and Hayley Bell married at Marylebone Registry Office in London on 16 January 1941. Mills had a 48-hour pass from the Royal Engineers, so their honeymoon at Duke's Hotel was one night. The Mills's first home was a 16th-century cottage named "Misbourne" which they purchased in 1942 and lived at until the autumn of 1945. The survival of the marriage for the 64 years until his death on 23 April 2005 is rare in show business. Mills said that he regretted that his divorce from his first wife prevented Hayley Bell from having a church wedding. They renewed their marriage vows, sixty years after they married, at St. Mary's Church in Denham, Buckinghamshire on 16 January 2001.[citation needed]

The Millses had three children:


In 1975, the Mills family bought Hills House, Denham, Buckinghamshire, a 17th-century house with a four-acre (16 000 m²) garden. By 2003, it was too big and the stairs were too challenging for both Sir John and Lady Mills. They moved to a bungalow in the village in 2003. Lady Mills suffered from Alzheimer's disease and used a wheelchair in her final years. Sir John died on 23 April 2005, aged 97, in Buckinghamshire.[6] His widow died eight months later, on 1 December 2005, aged 94.


  1. ^ From staff records: "The Maritimes Customs – officers in Charge 1921 -1935)" and from verbal information provided by Mary Bell herself to Hong Kong Police Inspector P. A. Crush in 1968.
  2. ^ Axis History Forum Post Number:#1 Postby Peter H on 25 April 2009, 13:16
  3. ^ Helliker, Adam (29 August 2010). "Pete Townshend Can't Bear the Breeze". Daily Express. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
  4. ^ Hayley Bell, Mary (1962). Far Morning. Heinemann.
  5. ^ "Jonathan Mills". IMDb.
  6. ^ "Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006".


External links[edit]