Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance is very sorry to hear of the death of Freddie Jones, one of the institution’s most distinguished alumni.
Freddie attended the College, with a scholarship, as a mature student between 1955 and 1958. Prior to joining the College, then called Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama, Freddie had worked for ten years as a laboratory assistant at British Ceramic Research Association, in The Potteries, where he was born and raised. Freddie spent his leisure time acting in amateur theatre. He arrived at the College at the age of 28 and thrived. In his final year, in 1958, he won the College’s Lionel Bruford Prize – awarded in honour of Rose Bruford’s brother – for the best performance in a London production. Freddie had been cast as Peer Gynt in the College’s production at La Scala Theatre. According to the review in The Stage, Freddie showed ‘understanding of the various aspects of this character and delineated them with very good technique.’
Throughout his career, Freddie was a great supporter of the College. In 1984, he gave a reading at the thanksgiving service for the life of Rose Bruford at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. The College conferred a Fellowship upon Freddie in 1997, the same year as it did so upon Gary Oldman, and Simon Callow, who received an Honorary Fellowship.
The versatility of Freddie’s acting career has been much remarked upon in the appreciative comments made about his work since the sad news of his death.
On stage, following the completion of his time at Rose Bruford College, Freddie worked in repertory theatre. His first work after completing his time at the College was with the Arts Council’s Autumn 1958 tour, which ran from late September, in Middlesbrough, until late November, with a three-week run in the north east and then a seven-week tour of Wales, averaging two nights at each theatre on the tour. The two plays featured were Peter Ustinov’s Romanoff and Juliet and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Freddie’s performances in his two roles were described in The Stage review as ‘excellent and bombastic’.
Freddie became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company where he developed a reputation as an actor of considerable intelligence and perceptiveness. His work with the Royal Shakespeare Company was varied ranging from Samuel Beckett’s Act Without Words at the Aldwych Theatre London in 1964 to playing Malvolio in a touring production of Twelfth Night in 1992. In regional theatre, Freddie played the ageing actor-manager in the inaugural production of The Dresser at Manchester’s Royal Exchange in 1980, alongside Tom Courtenay. In Peter Barnes’s Sunsets and Glories at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1990, The Observer’s critic Michael Coveney declared that ‘his faith in comedy [was] restored by Freddie Jones’.
Freddie’s career in television ranged from appearances in The Avengers (1967) to a longstanding role as Sandy Thomas in Emmerdale from 2005 to 2018. Freddie’s last television appearance was nearly 60 years after his first small-screen acting credit in the series Androcles And The Lion, which was first broadcast in 1960.
His film debut was in Marat/Sade in 1967, directed by Peter Brook, and Freddie appeared in literary dramas such as John Schlesinger’s version of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) as well as the 1987 production of Vanity Fair. His big-screen career involved working with distinguished directors such as David Lynch, with whom he worked on The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984) and Wild at Heart (1990). He also appeared in several Hammer horror films during the late 1960s and 1970s, including Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969).
In 2009 Freddie and his actor son Toby Jones were interviewed on The Film Programme about being a character actor. Freddie commented that the secret of making an impression was ‘not leaving it on the page, but lifting it up and flying it a bit’.
In addition to his work as an actor, Freddie Jones was a great supporter of local theatre, particularly in Oxfordshire, where he lived for many years.
The College sends its condolences to Freddie’s family.
- Production images from the College archives of Freddie Jones performing as Peer Gynt at the Scala Theatre in 1958.
- Freddie Jones with Simon Callow and Gary Oldman at his conferral as a Fellow in 1997.