Alec Mills, Cinematographer on James Bond Films ‘License to Kill’ and ‘The Living Daylights,’ Dies at 91

The Hollywood vet’s son Simon Mills announced his passing Thursday

Alec Mills cinematographer
Alec Mills working in Paris on "Moonrake" (Courtesy of Simon Mills)

Alec Mills, the longtime camera operator and British cinematographer best known for his work on the James Bond franchise, has died. He was 91 years old.

The industry veteran’s son, Simon Mills, announced his passing Thursday, saying, “Dad had been ill for some time, battling with dementia and living in a care home in Denham for the last eighteen months.”

“While it is incredibly difficult for the family at this time, there is some small consolation that at least his suffering is now ended,” Mills continued. “Suzy, his wife, was with him at the end. In truth we had been expecting this for a while, but it will still leave a big hole to be filled; as far as the camera department is concerned, it also feels like the end of an era.”

Mills worked as a camera operator on five James Bond movies: Peter Hunt’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969), Lewis Gilbert’s “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) and “Moonraker” (1979) and John Glen’s “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) and “Octopussy” (1983). He admitted in his 2014 book “Shooting 007: And Other Celluloid Adventures” that he almost didn’t take on his final Bond film.

Mills had made a career leap to cinematography, but at the time had not received steady work. He wrote, “Inevitably the ugly face of temptation arrived, with this particular devil wearing Alan Hume’s hat, tempting me to take up the handles again. Alan had phoned, casually mentioning his next film with John Glen: ‘Octopussy’. ‘John was wondering if you would be interested, Alec?’ Alan knew how serious I was about moving up to lighting – we had discussed this many times – but even so he thought I should at least consider the offer, which did not take me long”

“I remained firm. ‘Please thank John for his consideration but I have to turn down the offer. Give my best to 007!’ Happy with my resolve, if saddened at my decision, I could not foresee John and Alan ganging up to talk me out of my so-called retirement from operating the camera. It was only on John’s insistence that I agreed to meet them at the Black Horse pub in Fulmer village for lunch, hoping that I might at least get a second or third unit as cinematographer.”

Instead, Mills was brought on board because “I am a weak man and easily manipulated.” He added, “‘Octopussy’ would be my fifth James Bond film as camera operator and, if I am totally honest, I will also admit that I was a little relieved with the sudden opportunity to replenish a fast-dwindling bank balance.”

He worked with Glen again on “The Living Daylights” (1987) and “License to Kill” (1989), this time as his director of photography.

Mills also worked as a camera operator on “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1969), “Gulliver’s Travels” (1973) and “Return of the Jedi” (1982).

He was born on May 10, 1932. In an interview with David A. Ellis, Mills explained that his parents couldn’t afford to take him to the movies as a child, so he and his friends often snuck in. “Eventually we were caught and my parents were questioned by the police — leaving Dad to read the riot act to me. But this incident was a clue to where my future lay. It was Mum who took the next step to my future employment,” Mills said at the time.

Mills began working in the entertainment industry at the age of 14 when he was employed by Carlton Hill Studios. He left to serve in the U.S. Navy after three years.

Mills first worked as a camera operator in 1966 on “The Saint” series. He also worked for Disney in the same role for years throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In the same interview, Mills had nothing but praise for the “Bond” team. He told Ellis “what a wonderful company Eon Productions are to work for. Cubby, Barbara and Michael are like a family to me. Even to this day I receive Christmas cards and sometimes gifts from them. They don’t forget you even after years of retirement.”

Mills also admitted that the 10-part miniseries “Shaka Zulu” (1986) was the most difficult project he had worked on for political reasons. As he put it, “It took a year to film in a deserted backwater town called Eshowe, about three hours’ drive from Durban. It was a marvelous script by Bill Faure and Joshua Sinclair, but at times the politics of apartheid made it very difficult, especially towards the end.”

In addition to his work in the industry, Mills taught at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England, and was a founder of the Guild of British Technicians. He is survived by his wife Suzy.


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