Actor Rick Jones, who died at age 84 from cancer, rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s as a children’s television host – most notably on Play School and Fingerbobs – when his musical talents took hold. been discovered by the BBC. He later became the frontman of country rock band Meal Ticket.
In 1964, he sang and strummed the guitar at the Royal Court Theater, London, in Spoon River, a stage performance based on poems by Edgar Lee Masters about the people of a small town in Illinois. Donald Sutherland and Betsy Blair starred, and although Jones was initially annoyed that he couldn’t show off his acting and verse reading skills, he began to enjoy singing American folk songs in front of theaters. attic.
One evening, producer Joy Whitby, who was preparing a new under-five TV show, Play School, went backstage to ask her to join the show. Although he viewed the BBC as “a notoriously stingy payer,” he saw the opportunity for financial stability for his family, especially with repeated episodes daily, doubling his fees.
Jones spent a decade (1964-1973) as the host of the weekday morning show, known for its “home” windows opening up the outside world to its young viewers. He sang, told stories, and dressed for 447 episodes – with only Carol Chell, Brian Cant, Julie Stevens, Chloe Ashcroft, Johnny Ball, and Sarah Long appearing in more.
He single-handedly made a huge impression on this audience as the presenter of the 1972 series Fingerbobs. Released in the Watch with Mother Lunchtime Slot Machine, Fingerbobs was designed by Michael and Joanne Cole and featured the adventures of Fingermouse and his friends, including Scampi the Fish, Gulliver the Seagull and Flash the Turtle.
Under the guise of “Yoffy,” Jones used his gloved hands to create these and other animals like paper finger puppets, also performing songs about them – and his own character: “Yoffy holds up a finger and a mouse is there / Puts his hands together and a seagull takes to the air / Yoffy raises a finger and a lobster soars / Yoffy folds another and a turtle head appears.
Jones lost weight while filming the shows, which only lasted 13 episodes but were repeated for 12 years. “It was such a hard job to squeeze under tables with your fingers in the buttocks of little animals,” he told Garry Vaux, author of Legends of Kids TV (2009). “We finally designed a system of slings on the runners so I could sneak madly in there desperately trying to remember which character to stick which entrance to which tail.”
He was fired by the BBC when an overzealous fan, perhaps influenced by his hippie look – sparse locks, beard and bald head – mailed him two cannabis spliffs to the company’s address, well that Jones suggested that drugs were part of the culture. at the time, adding that the BBC studios were also then a hotbed of illicit sex.
Then he focused on music with country rock band Meal Ticket. He played keyboards, alternated as lead singer with Willy Finlayson and, along with Dave Pierce, wrote many of the band’s songs while they performed on the London pub circuit and released the Code of the Road albums ( 1977), Three Times a Day (1977) and to go (1978).
The BBC commissioned Jones and Pierce to write You’d Better Believe It, Babe, which Meal Ticket interpreted as the theme of the award-winning fantastic time travel The Flipside of Dominick Hide (1980) and its sequel, Another Flip for Dominick ( 1982).
Jones was born to British parents, Agnes (nÃ©e Hannon) and Frederick Jones, in London, Ontario; his parents had moved to Canada and his father served in the Canadian Army. Leaving London Central High School, he began his professional life as a forester and nickel miner.
Moving to Britain in 1957, Jones trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, London, where Terence Stamp was a friend and contemporary, then performed for three years with the Library Theater repertoire company. of Manchester (1959-62). During a hiatus in 1961 he toured the United States with Theater Outlook in productions including Coriolanus and later made his London West End debut in Fiorello (Piccadilly theater, 1962).
One of his first television appearances came as Mercutio in an ITV adaptation of Romeo and Juliet starring Jane Asher. As a resident folk singer at the Pickwick Club in London, which was popular with celebrities, he has previously performed to the Beatles.
On television, Jones also sang in Jackanory in 1966 and appeared singing and presenting in Whoosh! (1968) and editions of Play Away between 1972 and 1974, as well as episodes of The Saint (1967) and Dr Finlay’s Casebook (1969).
His vocal work included character dubbing in the French children’s series Belle et SÃ©bastien (1967-68), about a boy and his dog, as well as foreign porn films, and he wrote the English theme song for another program. produced in France, Aeronauts (1967-70).
Jones moved to the United States in 1981, when his musical Captain Crash vs the Zzorg Women Chapters 5 and 6 – written with Pierce and others – was staged at Richmond’s, a theater in Los Angeles. Later, with Roger Penycate, he developed the musical Laughing Daughter, based on songs from Meal Ticket, and performed at the Black Box Theater, Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2009.
Her 1960 marriage to Min (Marina) Ayles ended in divorce. He married Valerie Neale in 1986 and they recorded an album, Life Drawing, together in 2008. He is survived by Valerie and the daughters of his first marriage, Leaflyn and Chrysta.