‘I’ve seen things that people shouldn’t see… Bruce Jones.Photo: Rebecca Lupton/The Guardian
Bruce Jones has done many things in life. A protégé of Ken Loach, Coronation Street’s Les Battersby, a lonely wannabe stripper in The Full Monty, a tabloid regular – and now, aged 71, a professional wrestler.
So why is he entering the ring for Sovereign Pro Wrestling this month? “It’s a good question,” he laughs as we sit in the Premier Inn at Melton Mowbray, where he is performing in the Christmas panto. Jones’ role in wrestling was originally a cameo – billed as Les Battersby to promote another match – “but it got out of hand”, he says, referring to the attention his advert received. “So they were like: ‘You don’t mind getting hit by the ring a little bit, do you?’”
However, it soon becomes clear during our conversation that Jones’s mind is not really disturbed by a brief, impromptu pursuit of the pile. He is extremely wary of journalists, and he tells me firmly: “I’m not going too personal or too detailed.” But within minutes, of his own accord, he is speaking openly and emotionally. “I shouldn’t be sitting here,” he says at one point, his white hair catching the winter sun streaming in through the deserted breakfast room. “I shouldn’t have been here since I was nine. For two years I was in an isolation ward due to rheumatic fever with nine other children. I watched seven of them die. They used to rotate them with a sheet over them. I was just waiting to die.”
Jones was born in Collyhurst, Manchester. His parents divorced just before he became a teenager. After being expelled from his first school he went to live with his grandmother in north Wales, where a teacher encouraged him to act. It was not an immediate path 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 the age of 24 he saw something that would change his life irrevocably.
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 victims of the Yorkshire Ripper. “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 shocking. Although her initial cause of death was similar to other victims – a hammer blow to the head – in this case Peter Sutcliffe returned to the scene of the crime. He feared that the freshly minted £5 note he had paid Jordan for sex could be returned to him through his company’s pay packet and returned days later to collect it. When he couldn’t find it, he took out his frustration on the body, mutilating it. What Jones found was lateral. “I’ve been a fireman and I’ve seen things that people shouldn’t see, but this…” he says, his head hanging low and his voice dropping to a quiet croak. “I didn’t tell anyone what I saw. For a long time I saw that girl every day. I still have nightmares.”
Jones tried to overcome this trauma. He continued to act in addition to regular day jobs, finally breaking through when he landed the lead in Ken Loach’s award-winning 1993 drama Raining Stones. This was followed by roles in Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold, Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough and Shane Meadows’ Twenty Four Seven with Bob Hoskins.
In 1997, he joined Coronation Street as the rowdy, Status Quo-loving, double denim-wearing Les Battersby. Good but troubled – a wrestling-style heel who acts as the arch of a conservative neighbor like Ken Barlow – Battersby remains one of the show’s most enduring and endearing characters. During Jones’ stretch, peak ratings hovered around the 20 million mark, roughly four times the highest figures in 2023. “Les is a legend,” enthuses Jones. “I’m so proud, I really am. I made Les who he was. They’ll never get another Les, and I’ve created someone that 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: ‘The dark secret of Bruce Jones,'” he says. “[Coronation Street producers] Granada was fine with it but I wasn’t. Going to work the next day, all the staff were looking at me. I felt like I would commit murder.”
People like me aren’t supposed to do it, and all I wanted to do was act. But the papers wouldn’t let me
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 boy crying at the bar who wants to talk to you,'” he recalls. “I went over and said: ‘Are you right, son?’ He said: ‘I want to know how you found my mother.’ 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 that again.”
When he suffered another tabloid splash courtesy of Mazher the “Fake Sheikh” Mahmood in 2007, Jones emerged. He was accused of drunkenly leaking Coronation Street stories and left the show immediately. He denies the allegations, saying a court case is yet to come, and insists he left the show by consent. “The Fake Sheikh has ruined my life for years,” he says. “I wasn’t fired but nobody would contact me after that. At that point I started drinking. I was in a bad way, but it was more out of loneliness and depression. Sitting at home alone all day without any work. You can’t drink your way out of depression.”
Another seismic moment came from this period. “That’s when I made the biggest mistake of my life,” he says, visibly emotional. In 2009, Jones was in a car with his wife while she was drunk, and he grabbed the steering wheel. “I was so down with him, I tried to kill both of us,” he says. “I thought: ‘If I’m going to die, you’re coming with me.’ Tears were running down my face and I just wanted to go.” He was arrested, charged and given a suspended prison term. “I lost everything,” he says. Jones and his wife separated, he became bankrupt, lost his home and would later have benefits.
Jones is clearly still under a lot of pressure from these events. “People like me aren’t supposed to do it, and all I wanted to do was act,” he says. “But the papers wouldn’t let me. Paparazzi were around the corner everywhere I went. That’s life. I’m still afraid that a newspaper will destroy me again.”
But he managed to turn things around. Although he is still separated from his wife, their relationship is still strong and they see each other often. “I love that woman to death,” he says. “We will never divorce.”
In 2013, Jones starred in a one-man drama, TALK!! Tackling the Taboo, about his struggles with depression, and is working on a follow-up called Listen which deals with coming out on the other side of suicidal feelings. And although his confidence has taken a hit – he says he gets scared when he’s on set – he’s thrown himself back into the profession he fell in love with through Shakespeare as a teenager. “Everything went into my acting,” he says. “All my feelings and all my heart – I would be these characters.”
And this is evidenced by his IMDb page: various roles in television and in shorts and feature films, including a recurring role in the Amazon Prime Video horror series Dark Ditties Presents, as well as a return to The Full Monty, in his TV series sequence. A career U-turn into pro wrestling may not be imminent, but he has been offered more gigs by the wrestling company. “We’ll see how many bruises I get doing the first one,” he laughed.
But Jones is never more hopeful than when talk turns to his work. He says he has technically retired from doing pantos, after Beauty and the Beast, but he respects his staff so much that he says he would come out of retirement to work with them again. Likewise, he is excited about the roles he will be taking on in the future – and he has no plans to stop.
“I would love to die on set or on stage,” he says. “I don’t want to die in bed with everyone feeling sorry for me. I want to deliver my last line … and drop out.”
Bruce Jones will make his Sovereign Pro Wrestling debut February 18 at Trinity Sports Club, Manchester.
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or emailed firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact the mental health charity Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting mind.org.uk