The sort of entertainment that Mrs. Mills became famous for in the 1960s had been performed for centuries. Ever since the invention of the piano, people would join in with songs played on the "Old Joanna." During the '50s, Winifred Atwell and Russ Conway had made successful chart careers out of it, and then in the early '60s along came Mrs. Mills. Gladys Jordan was born in Beckton, East London, on the 29th of August, 1918. After marrying Bert Mills, she moved with him to Loughton in Essex. Her day job was as the superintendent of the typing pool in the Paymaster General's office in London, but in the evenings and weekends she was the honky tonk pianist with a semi-professional dance band, the Astorians, who played at functions around the Essex area. It was at one such dance at the Woodford Golf Club that she was spotted by a theatrical agent and talent scout, who saw a gap in the current market and realized that Mrs. Mills had the potential to sell a lot of records. She was introduced to Eric Easton, who became her manager and produced her recordings, releasing her first single, "Mrs. Mills Medley," in 1961 on the Parlophone label (which had recently been successful with another nostalgic act, the Temperance Seven). The single, which was a piano medley of the songs "I Want to Be Happy," "The Sheik of Araby," "Baby Face," "Somebody Stole My Gal," "Ma He's Making Eyes at Me," "Swanee," "Ain't She Sweet," and "California Here I Come," reached number 18 in the charts, the first Top 20 piano medley since Russ Conway during the Christmas holiday season in 1959.
Her jolly, cheerful image and happy-go-lucky personality made her a natural for both television and personal appearances, and she gave up her job to concentrate full-time on touring, playing the piano, and bringing a little sunshine into the world. However, the pop music world was changing fast -- as was Parlophone, which also had the Beatles under contract -- but over the next 15 years she released nearly 40 albums (recorded at Abbey Road Studios) with a repertoire that ranged from standards like "On Mother Kelly's Doorstep," "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," "Camptown Races," "Knees Up Mother Brown," "Carolina in the Morning," "I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time," and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" to contemporary hits "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," "Hello, Dolly!," "Yellow Submarine," "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree." Four of her albums charted in the U.K. between 1964 and 1971, all during the Christmas period, the most successful being Come to My Party, which peaked at number 17 in 1964.
The albums became as famous for their garish, adventurous covers as the music contained in the grooves. Look Mum, No Hands in 1967 featured Gladys on horseback; I'm Mighty Glad in 1966 displayed Gladys' head on a cardboard cutout in a bathing costume; Your One and Only Mrs. Mills in 1967 featured Gladys as a housemaid brandishing a feather duster; for Another Flippin' Party in 1972 she was photographed among the penguins at Chessington Zoo; and, continuing the animal themes, What a Wonderful Party featured her with chimps and Jumbo Party with an elephant. Gladys Mills readily admitted to being under 16 stone but overweight. She said "People tell me laughing makes you fat. So I'm fat." She died from a heart attack at her home on February 24, 1978. ~ Sharon Mawer