‘Jonah’ Jones (s5-6)

JONAH JONES

1982-1983

LEE SPARKE  seriesfive034

In 1982 a new group of first years arrived at Grange Hill, unaware that they were set to become some of Grange Hill’s best remembered characters. Alongside Fay Lucas, Roland Browning and Zammo Maguire was Gordon ‘Jonah’ Jones, the confident ‘boy genius’ ringleader with a skill for playing tricks and getting into trouble. Jonah was played by actor Lee Sparke, but this popular character was written out after two series when producers decided to kill him off. However, before this storyline could be filmed Lee left Grange Hill,  leaving Jonah to move to Wales and never be seen again.Now living in Australia, we tracked down Lee Sparke to ask him all about his time at Grange Hill.

What lead to you becoming an actor?

My cousin answered an advertisement for “cheeky kids” in a local newspaper to get involved in acting classes with a view to auditioning for TV commercials etc.. The classes were run by Sylvia Young when she first started in a small scout hall in Wanstead. As you may know Sylvia and “Young Un’s ” are a pretty large outfit today.

What roles had you played before joining Grange Hill?

Grange Hill was my first big series. Previously I had been in plenty of adverts. My brother and myself even did a Penguin Biscuits advert in Scotland. Interestingly enough Alison Bettles mum (Fay) was my chaperone and being a little naughty I flooded the bathroom in our first 30 mins in the Hotel (accidentally of course).

What did you think of the character of Jonah? And was he in anyway similar to yourself?

Jonah was exactly me a 12 year old school boy. Obviously story lines changed as the kids grew up but we just ran about getting involved in school boy pranks.seriesfive068

Who did you get on well with from the cast?

Everyone got along brilliantly. Of course we fell out with each other occasionally but that’s normal with any relationships.

Were you disappointed to leave Grange Hill after just two series?

I was disappointed, I wanted to go through a whole experience from 1st form to leaving Grange Hill but them the breaks I suppose.

Why do you think the BBC wanted to kill Jonah off?

Just trying to come up with radical story lines I suppose; lets face it if I hadn’t of left I might have started on the crack like Zammo too!

What do you think Jonah is doing now?seriesfive0002

Probably migrated to Oz like I did. We both loved the hot weather – and summer over here compared to London, well I’m sure you get it.

Did you get much reaction to your character from the public?  The whole Grange Hill cycle was positive – occasionally you’d get hassled out by some jealous prick but you get used to it. We did some crazy stuff back then. Think one minute your a 12 year old school boy, the next you’re opening school fetes, signing autographs and having your picture taken with heaps of girls that think you’re cute! (You also get a few freaks but . . . ). Right at that point you think “how good is this” and you have to pinch yourself to see if your dreaming.

Does it surprise you that Grange Hill still has a big following today, with particular interest in the early years?  I think Grange Hill is more than a programme on kids TV it’s part of our growing up cycle – just like Eastenders and Corra. Without them what would you have to talk about on the way to school/work.

Do you think the episodes from your time on the show still stand up today?

The zoo was an absolute winner both from a making it stance and from having watched it 100 times. I know that Grange Hill did like to touch on real issues facing kids at the time but it was also good when it focused on school kids just playing up and getting themselves in ridiculous situations.

What are your favourite and least favourite memories from your time playing Jonah?

Really there are no least favourite memories the whole thing was proper from start to finish. Leaving was sad as it’s like the loosing family. By far one of the  best memories was the outside catering vans when you�re on location. In the mornings you go to the vans and can get anything you can think of stuffed in a roll and lashed with tomato sauce; egg, bacon, mushrooms beans – you name it they can source it. All the crews we worked with were pretty cool guys. They know it’s not always riveting hanging around a TV studio for a teenager so they would often take us under their wings and make the whole thing more enjoyable.

How do you look back on your time at Grange Hill?

Mum sent me the programme where some bloke tracked down Lee, Erkan, Alison, Lisa and took them all to a school disco, even though it’s been years, we spent that much time together it’s good to see they’re all ok in a way. We’re all well in our 30’s now and Grange Hill is something we all carry about with us. It’s strange but even today I get heaps of Grange Hill back lash from emails such as the one I’m replying to now, to friends sending stupid shots of Jonah, even to meeting people last year at a trade show from my area in London who recognised me and out of the blue walked up and asked ” are you Jonah Jones?”  I answered yeah and we all pissed ourselves laughing.

Do you have any children and if so what do they think of your Grange Hill episodes? 

I have 2 kids Taylor who just turned 6 and my son Mason who turns 4 next month. They haven’t seen any Grange Hill and knowing they think video is dead probably will escape having to watch any until they come out on DVD with the 50 years of Grange Hill box set.

Was it hard growing up on a very popular TV show, and would you recommend it to your own children?seriesfive060

I’d recommend it to anyone, although things are a little different these days. Reality TV may make the whole celebrity thing a little different, it’s almost reverse these days who isn’t famous. Seems the best way to start a career in telly is to go on idol or big brother!

Has Grange Hill been a help or a hindrance to your career? 

What career? – I think unless you choose at an early age that you’ll put everything you have into acting and if it doesn’t work so be it. Juggling doesn’t work. I tried to get an education, sat 9 O levels and 3 A levels, so if acting failed I’d have a career opportunity as well. Unfortunately it’s hard to do both. I did have a few goes at getting back into TV but it’s not that easy when you’ve been out of it for a while.

What else have you done since leaving Grange Hill?

It’s been 25 years so it’s more like  what haven’t I done. Post G.H I worked for Yorkshire TV on a programme called ‘Behind The Bike Sheds’. Later on I did a couple of episodes in Eastenders. In real life I started working in finance for the National Bank of Egypt then for Security Pacific National bank in Liverpool Street doing Foreign Exchange, eventually I decided I’d needed to get out there and came over to Australia for a years working holiday (I actually travelled with Lisa York {Julie Marchant} whom I was dating at the time. There’s been a hell of a lot of water under the bridge since then and I’ve had periods living in Greece, back in the U.K and eventually I finally move to Oz permanently back in 2000 and I’ve not looked back since.

Do you keep in touch with anyone from your time on Grange Hill?

Lisa York occasionally, I did get a call from Stewpot once when he came over to Oz but he was on the West Coast about 7 hrs flight time away so we never met up. When I did Eastenders I caught up with Tucker (Todd) we had a pretty good night out on the tiles in Islington so that was fun. In fact meeting all the Eastenders crew was an unbelievable experience it’s like meeting people you already know.

Recently Phil Redmond has announced plans for a Grange Hill movie, looking at what characters are doing now. Would you be interested in appearring and meeting up with your fellow cast mates again?

You better believe it “Jonah Down Under” sounds like a winner! Story line could be Zammo comes to visit his old mate Jonah while doing rehab on the Gold Coast.

THE  TRUTH BEHIND THE ‘DROWNING OF JONAH JONES’ STORY

Interview © 2006 Grange Hill Gold

Not to be reproduced without permission.

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