“I’ve seen things people shouldn’t see… Bruce Jones.Photo: Rebecca Lupton/The Guardian
Bruce Jones has been through a lot in life. A protege of Ken Loach, Coronation Street’s Les Battersby, a down-and-out wannabe stripper in The Full Monty, a regular in the tabloids – and now, at 71, a professional wrestler.
So why is he stepping into the ring for Sovereign Pro Wrestling this month? “That’s a good question,” he laughs as we sit in a Premier Inn in Melton Mowbray, where he is performing in Christmas panto. Jones’ role in wrestling was originally a cameo – he was announced as Les Battersby to promote another match – “but it got out of hand,” he says, referring to the attention his announcement received. “So they said, ‘You don’t mind getting beat up in the ring a little, do you?'”
During our conversation, however, it quickly becomes clear that Jones isn’t really into a short, wacky and unexpected attempt at wrestling. He is extremely wary of journalists and tells me firmly: “I won’t go into too personal or too much detail.” But within minutes he speaks openly and emotionally of his own accord. “I shouldn’t be sitting here,” he says at one point, his white hair catching the winter sun filtering through the deserted breakfast room. ‘I shouldn’t have been here since I was nine. For two years I was in an isolation ward with nine other children because of rheumatic fever. I saw seven of them die. They drove past them 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 being expelled from his first school, he went to live with his grandmother in North Wales, where he was encouraged to act by a teacher. It was not a direct 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 witnessed something that would irreversibly change his life.
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 unspeakably gruesome. While her initial cause of death was in line with that of 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 used to pay Jordan for sex could be traced back to him through his company’s pay packet, so he returned days later to collect it. When he couldn’t find it, he took out his frustration on the body and mutilated it. What Jones discovered was moving. “I was a firefighter and I’ve seen things that people shouldn’t see, but this…” he says, his head low and his voice dropping to a low 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 get over this trauma. He continued acting alongside regular jobs, eventually breaking through when he landed the lead role in Ken Loach’s award-winning 1993 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. Fun but tricky – a wrestling-style heel who serves as the nemesis of conservative neighbors like Ken Barlow – Battersby remains one of the series’ most enduring and beloved characters. During Jones’ tenure, peak ratings hovered around 20 million, about four times higher than the highs of 2023. “Les is a legend,” Jones enthuses. “I’m so proud of him, I really am. I made Les who he was. They will never have another Lesson, and I have created someone that people love.
But almost as soon as Jones appeared on the soap, the tabloids started digging into his past. “I’ll never forget reading in the newspaper, ‘The Dark Secret of Bruce Jones,’” he says. “[Coronation Street producers] Granada was fine with it, but I wasn’t. When I went to work the next day, the entire cast was looking at me. I felt like I had committed the murder.”
People like me wouldn’t make it, and all I wanted to do was act. But the papers wouldn’t let me
As much as Jones tried to ignore it, Jordan’s death seemed to haunt him. “One night I was in a pub 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 all right, son?’ He said, “I want to know how you found my mother.” My mind immediately went back 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 the victim of a new gossip campaign in 2007 courtesy of Mazher, the ‘fake sheikh’ Mahmood, Jones went into a spiral. He was accused of drunkenly leaking Coronation Street storylines and immediately left the show. He denies the allegations, says a lawsuit is still pending, and insists he left the show by mutual consent. “The Fake Sheikh took my life for years,” he says. “I wasn’t fired, but after that no one wanted to touch me anymore. That’s when I started drinking. I was in bad shape, but it was more a result of loneliness and depression. Sitting at home alone all day without work. You can’t drink your way out of depression.”
This period led to a new seismic moment. “Then I made the biggest mistake of 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 that I tried to kill us both,” he says. “I thought, ‘If I die, you’re going to come with me.’ Tears were streaming down my face and I just wanted to go.” He was arrested, charged and given a suspended prison sentence. “I’ve lost everything,” he says. Jones and his wife separated, he became bankrupt, lost his house and would later receive benefits.
It is clear that Jones remains deeply hurt by these events. “People like me couldn’t make it, and all I wanted to do was act,” he says. ‘But the newspapers wouldn’t allow that. Wherever I went, there were paparazzi around the corner. That’s not 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 remains 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 play, TALK!! Tackling the Taboo, about his struggle with depression, and he is working on a sequel called Listen, which is about coming out of suicidal feelings. And as his self-confidence took a hit – he says he shakes with fear when he’s on set – he threw himself back into the profession he fell in love with as a teenager through Shakespeare. “Everything went into my acting,” he says. “All my feelings and all my heart – I would become these characters.”
And his IMDb page is a testament to this: several roles on TV and in short and feature films, including a recurring role on the Amazon Prime Video horror series Dark Ditties Presents, along with a return to The Full Monty, in the TV sequel series. A career change to professional wrestling may not be imminent, but the wrestling company has offered him more gigs. “We’ll have to see how many bruises I get with the first one,” he laughs.
But Jones is never more optimistic than when the conversation turns to his work. He says he technically stopped making pantos after Beauty and the Beast, but he loves his cast members so much he says he would come out of retirement to work with them again. Likewise, he’s brimming with excitement about the future roles he has in mind – and he has no plans of stopping.
“I would love to die on a set or on a stage,” he says. “I don’t want to die in bed with everyone feeling sorry for me. I’d like to deliver my last sentence… and drop it.’
Bruce Jones makes his Sovereign Pro Wrestling debut on February 18 at Trinity Sports Club, Manchester.
In Great Britain you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email email@example.com. You can contact the mental health organization Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting mind.org.uk