‘I fear a paper will destroy me again’: Coronation Street’s Bruce Jones on murder, trauma and tabloid intrusion

by 24britishtvFeb. 10, 2024, midnight 19
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Bruce Jones has been a lot of things in life. A Ken Loach protege, Coronation Street’s Les Battersby, a dejected wannabe stripper in The Full Monty, a tabloid regular – and now, aged 71, a professional wrestler.

So why is he stepping into the ring for Sovereign Pro Wrestling this month? “It’s a good question,” he laughs as we sit in a Premier Inn at Melton Mowbray, where he is performing in Christmas panto. Jones’s role in the wrestling was originally a cameo – being billed as Les Battersby to promote another match – “but it got out of hand”, he says, referring to the attention his announcement got. “So, they were like: ‘You don’t mind getting knocked about in the ring a bit, do you?’”

However, it soon becomes clear during our conversation that a brief, daft and unexpected foray into wrestling is not really what’s occupying Jones’s mind. Hugely wary of journalists, he firmly tells me: “I’m not going too personal or into much detail.” But within minutes, of his own accord, he is speaking openly and emotionally. “I shouldn’t be sat here,” he says at one point, with his white hair catching the winter sun seeping in through the deserted breakfast room. “I shouldn’t have been here since I was nine. For two years I was on an isolation ward due to rheumatic fever along with nine other children. I watched seven of them die. They used to wheel them past with a sheet over them. I was just waiting to die.”

Jones was born in Collyhurst, Manchester. His parents separated just before he became a teenager. After he was expelled from his first school he went to live with his grandma in north Wales, where he was encouraged to act by a teacher. It wasn’t an immediate route to success: he left school at 16 and by 18 he was married with his first child and working as a pipe fitter. Then at age 24 he witnessed something that would change his life irreversibly.

In October 1977, Jones, who co-owned an allotment in Chorlton, south Manchester, discovered the body of 20-year-old Jean Jordan, one of the Yorkshire Ripper’s victims. “I was arrested and held as a suspect for 14 hours,” he says. “They thought I was the Ripper because I had all the tools in my wheelbarrow.”

The details of Jordan’s death are unspeakably horrific. While her initial cause of death was in line with other victims – hammer blows to the head – in this case Peter Sutcliffe returned to the scene of the crime. He feared the freshly produced £5 note he had paid Jordan for sex with could be traced back to him via his company wage packet so he returned days later to retrieve it. When he couldn’t find it, he took out his frustration on the body, mutilating it. What Jones found was harrowing. “I was a fireman and I’ve seen stuff that people shouldn’t see, but this … ” he says, his head hung low and his voice dropping to a quiet croak. “I never told anyone what I saw. For a long time I saw that girl every day. I still have nightmares.”

Jones tried to move past this trauma. He continued to act on top of regular day jobs, finally breaking through when landing the lead in Ken Loach’s 1993 award-winning drama, Raining Stones. Roles followed in Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold, Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough and Shane Meadows’ Twenty Four Seven alongside Bob Hoskins.

In 1997, he joined Coronation Street as the rowdy, Status Quo-loving, double denim-wearing Les Battersby. Likable but troublesome – a wrestling-style heel serving as the arch nemesis of conservative neighbours such as Ken Barlow – Battersby remains one of the most enduring and beloved characters from the show. During Jones’s stretch, peak ratings were hovering around the 20 million mark, roughly four times that of 2023’s highest figures. “Les is a legend,” enthuses Jones. “I’m so proud of him, I really am. I made Les who he was. They’ll never get another Les, and I created someone who people love.”

But almost as soon as Jones started appearing in the soap, the tabloids started digging into his past. “I’ll never forget reading in the paper: ‘Bruce Jones’s dark secret,’” he says. “[Coronation Street producers] Granada was OK with it but I wasn’t. Going to work the next day, all the cast were looking at me. I felt like I’d done the murder.”

No matter how much Jones tried to ignore it, Jordan’s death seemed to follow him around. “I was in a pub one night and the landlord said: ‘There’s a lad crying at the bar who wants to talk to you,’” he recalls. “I went over and said: ‘Are you all right, son?’ He said: ‘I want to know how you found my mum.’ I immediately went back in my mind to the coroner’s court and remembered a baby in a pram. It was her son. I had to go home. I couldn’t go through it all again.”

When he became a victim of another tabloid splash courtesy of Mazher the “Fake Sheikh” Mahmood in 2007, Jones spiralled. He was accused of drunkenly leaking Coronation Street storylines and immediately left the show. He denies the allegations, saying a court case is still forthcoming, and insists he left the show by mutual consent. “The Fake Sheikh ended my life for years,” he says. “I wasn’t sacked but nobody would touch me after that. At that point I started to drink. I was in a bad way, but it was more out of loneliness and depression. Sitting home all day by myself with no work. You can’t drink your way out of depression.”

This period led to another seismic moment. “That’s when I made the biggest mistake in my life,” he says, visibly emotional. In 2009, Jones was in a car with his wife while drunk, and grabbed the steering wheel. “I was so down, I tried to kill us both,” he says. “I thought: ‘If I’m going to die, you’re coming with me.’ I had tears streaming down my face and I just wanted to go.” He was arrested, charged and given a suspended prison sentence. “I lost everything,” he says. Jones and his wife separated, he became bankrupt, lost his home and would later end up on benefits.

It is clear Jones remains deeply bruised by these events. “People like me aren’t supposed to make it, and all I wanted to do was act,” he says. “But the papers wouldn’t let me. There was paparazzi around the corner wherever I went. That’s no life. I still fear a newspaper will destroy me again.”

But he managed to turn things round. While he is still separated from his wife, their relationship remains strong and they see one another frequently. “I love that woman to death,” he says. “We’ll never divorce.”

In 2013, Jones starred in a one-man play, TALK!! Tackling the Taboo, about his struggles with depression, and he is working on a follow-up called Listen that deals with coming out the other side of suicidal feelings. And while his confidence took a knock – he says he shakes with fear when he’s on set – he threw himself back into the profession he fell in love with via Shakespeare as a teen. “Everything went into my acting,” he says. “All my feelings and all of my heart – I would become these characters.”

And his IMDb page is testament to this: various roles in TV and in shorts and feature films, including a recurring role in the Amazon Prime Video horror series Dark Ditties Presents, along with a return to The Full Monty, in its TV series sequel. A U-turn career shift into pro wrestling may not be imminent, but he has been offered more gigs by the wrestling company. “We’ll have to see how many bruises I get doing the first one,” he laughs.

But Jones is never more full of optimism than when talk turns towards his work. He says he’s technically retired from doing pantos, after Beauty and the Beast, but so fond is he of his cast members that he says he’d come out of retirement to work with them again. Similarly, he’s brimming with excitement at the future roles he has lined up – and has no plans to stop.

“I’d love to die on a set or stage,” he says. “I don’t want to die in bed with everyone feeling sorry for me. I’d like to deliver my last line … and drop.”

Bruce Jones makes his Sovereign Pro Wrestling debut on 18 February at Trinity Sports Club, Manchester.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected]. You can contact the mental health charity Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting mind.org.uk

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