From The Times

July 17, 2009

Hugh Millais: actor in Robert Altman's film Images | Times Online Obituary

Obituary: Hugh Millais, actor in Robert Altman's film Images

Millais with Susannah York in a scene from Robert Altman's Images (1972), one several films they collaborated on

Hugh Millais led a varied life as a film actor, yachtsman, calypso singer, oil- man, design consultant and cook. He spent much of his life travelling, and landed himself in more than one minirevolution. He was a noted raconteur who loved nothing more than to place his mighty frame � he stood 6ft 6in tall � on a high bar stool, pick up a guitar and sing. He was reckoned to drink a bottle of ros� every day of his later life.

His film career came about by accident. He was spotted in a bar at the Feria of Pamplona, and on his next visit to England was invited to meet the director, Robert Altman. First he played the butler in McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971), in which his character uses a single-shot elephant gun to shoot Warren Beatty as McCabe. During filming he adopted a phoney Texan accent, but Altman told him: �If I�d wanted an American heavy, I would have got Lee Marvin.�

He then played Marcel (Susannah York�s lecherous neighbour) in Altman�s psychological thriller, Images (1972). In 1973 he took the title role in The Samson Riddle, again with Susannah York, directed by Wolf Mankowitz at the Gate Theatre, Dublin. He was Roy Endean in The Dogs of War (1980) and Uncle Martin, an 18th-century grandee in The Wicked Lady (1983), in which John Gielgud played his butler and Faye Dunaway his niece � a highlight of an otherwise forgettable film was the scene in which Marina Sirtis ran away naked, revealing a bikini tan line hardly appropriate to the 17th century. Millais was the US Colonel in Chicago Joe and the Showgirl (1990), as well as appearing in TV shows such as Deceptions, Ruth Rendell Mysteries and Kavanagh QC.

Hugh Geoffroy Millais was born in 1929, the younger son of Raoul Millais, an equestrian painter taught by Augustus John, and his ScottishCanadian wife, Ellinor Macdonell whose father built canals in Florida. Young Hugh was, therefore, a great-grandson of Sir John Everett Millais, Bt, the Pre-Raphaelite painter, and his wife, Euphemia (Effie), formerly the wife of the author and critic, John Ruskin.

Coming from a family of artists Hugh was considered a failure as he could not paint. At 96 his father muttered: �I don�t know what poor Hughie does. He cannot even draw . . . a salary.� But his father did teach him how to shoot. Millais was educated at Ampleforth during the war, and made a deal with his housemaster. If let off games and allowed to keep his two ferrets and 24 snares, he would keep the house provided with meat. On his best day he provided 21 rabbits and a cock pheasant. Basil Hume tried to teach him to play rugby.

After his parents separated, Millais moved with his mother to Co Cork, Ireland, where he developed a passion for fishing.

Never one to seek regular employment, he and a friend sailed his boat to Venice and sold it there. They were promptly robbed, and decided to walk home to England, which involved being imprisoned as vagrants in Milan. He was then sent to Montreal to train as a Mountie, but became a reporter on The Montreal Star. Millais was hated by the editor because his uncle owned the paper. While there he housed the US folk singer, Josh White, who paid his rent by teaching him the guitar. After hitchhiking round Chile, Millais went to Mexico University to study philosophy and fell in with bullfighters. He and some friends sailed to New York and were invited to play and sing on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Soon after, in 1954, he won the Cat Key to Havana race in his yacht Benbow. Then, when sailing into Cuba, where a small revolution was taking place, he was shot through the arm and helped by Ernest Hemingway, a friend of his grandfather�s, who filled him with daiquiris and got his arm sewn up. Millais� sailing life helped him run through a considerable legacy from his mother after which he became the �token whitey� as guitarist with the Young Brigade. While eking a living writing articles in Los Angeles, he telephoned the architect Richard Neutra and said he would like to write his biography. He accompanied Neutra to the 9th International Congress of Architects in Caracas, where his article Melting the Frozen Music helped Neutra to win several important commissions. But in 1956 the President of Venezuela went into exile, taking the national budget with him, Benbow was stolen and Millais was forced to return to Oxfordshire to live with his father and stepmother.

He met his first wife, Suzy Falconnel, in Paris, where she was running a hotel. They married in 1957 and had two sons and a daughter before divorcing in 1974. Millais went to Hungary as head of Voluntary British Aid to Hungary, which was helping to feed 120,000 refugees during the Revolution, before being blacklisted. He then went to Spain to indulge his passion for bullfighting, often in the company of Hemingway. In Cadaques his workforce built a home for Salvador Dal�, their only reward being a seafood menu to be eaten with their tongues from a table on which Dal�s wife, Gala, also lay.

Hugh and Suzy lived in Andalusia for 23 years. He and some friends developed the valley of El Cuarton between Algeciras and Tarifa, commissioning Philip Jebb to build an 18th-century village, and employing Dominic Elwes to help to sell it. The plan was that the rich would buy the houses and their poor friends the flats, but the rich bought the flats. There were complaints about the inadequacy of the restaurant until they put up a notice saying �The service is non existent, the food is disgusting. But thank God it�s expensive.� Millais gave up El Cuarton in 1973. After stints in the tile and concrete business with Hugh Berridge and in the oil business with Don Munson, he took up cooking.

He met his second wife, Anne Sheffield, an interior designer, when she arrived at his rented flat in Mount Street to collect a friend and stayed to lunch. Millais thought he tricked her as he wore clothes from his films (he was allowed to keep them because of his size), and was seated at David Niven Jr�s desk with eight telephones on it.

They were married in 1988 and later settled at Kirtlington in Oxfordshire. Together they ran an interior design business, designing homes all over the world, including one in Ireland (for John Hurt) and the Bahamas.

For Millais�s 60th birthday in 1989, James Lowther persuaded 20 friends to hire a studio and record Les Deplorables, Hugh Millais�s Greatest Hits. In 2007 Millais produced Hugh�s Who: The Name-Dropper�s Cookbook, a mixture of celebrity recipes, woven in with well-honed anecdotes about Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Orson Welles, Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth.

As Herbert Kretzmer put it, Hugh showed �wisdom and acquired magnificence by not doing any one thing for too long�, while Robert Altman said: �As an actor he is an excellent cook. As a cook, he�s a fantastic actor.�

Hugh Millais, actor and adventurer, was born on December 23, 1929. He died on July 4, 2009, aged 79