Today is the birthday (1920) of Peter Geoffrey Francis Jones, an English actor, screenwriter and broadcaster, known to several generations – mostly in the UK – for iconic roles. Jones was born in Wem in Shropshire and he was educated at Wem Grammar School and Ellesmere College where he performed in school plays. He made his first appearance as an actor in Wolverhampton at the age of 16 where he was fired after his first night. Subsequently he developed his acting chops in repertory in East Anglia. In 1942 he first acted on the West End stage in Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma and also in 1942 he made an uncredited film appearance in Fanny by Gaslight. His first film credit was for Peter Ustinov’s Vice Versa (1948).
Between 1952 and 1955 Jones starred alongside Peter Ustinov in the BBC radio comedy In All Directions. The show featured Jones and Ustinov as themselves in a car in London perpetually searching for Copthorne Avenue. The comedy derived from the characters they met along the way, often also played by themselves. The show was unusual for the time in that it was largely improvised—with the tape subsequently edited for broadcast by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, who also sometimes took part. Two of the more popular characters were Morris and Dudley Grosvenor, two rather stupid East End spivs whose sketches always ended with the phrase “Run for it Dudley” (or Morry as appropriate). One recording, from October 1952, survives in the BBC Sound Archive. The Grosvenor character was revived for a later radio series We’re in Business. Another notable radio role was as Mervyn Bunter in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories. He was for 29 years a regular contestant on the panel game Just A Minute, becoming much-loved for his dry, acid wit. If you are not a Brit, chances are that you do not know this show, not understand its comic absurdity. Among other things, the show relies on the distinctiveness of the voices of participants to keep your anchor in its chaotic repartee.
Jones was the voice of The Book in the original radio series of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The creators had wanted someone with a “Peter Jonesy sort of voice” and after several rejections asked Jones himself. He reprised the role for the LP and the TV series.
On television, Jones was best known for his lead role as Mr Fenner in the Classic Comedy series The Rag Trade (BBC TV 1961-63, LWT 1977-78), but he also had acting roles in the British comedy series The Goodies, the courtroom drama Rumpole of the Bailey, Holby City, Whoops Apocalypse, The Bill, Midsomer Murders, Minder and two episodes of The Avengers. Jones appears near the start of this pilot episode of The Rag Trade.
Jones plays the very middle class factory manager as a counterpoint to the working class women on the shop floor, and is normally the butt of their humor and pranks. I watched it because my family did, but the jokes based on the English class structure did not amuse me. (Socio-economic class systems do not amuse me).
From 1969 to 1971, Jones also starred (opposite Sheila Hancock) in a sitcom (for ITV, by Yorkshire Television) called Mr Digby, Darling, lasting 3 series (and 19 episodes). He also co-wrote and starred in the sitcom Mr Big (1977), with Ian Lavender, Prunella Scales and Carol Hawkins.
Jones featured in a raft of films, including Albert R.N. (1953), Private’s Progress (1956), School for Scoundrels (1960, reprising his Dudley Grosvenor character as a used-car salesman with Dennis Price), Just like a Woman (1967) alongside Wendy Craig, The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) and Chariots of Fire (1981).
Jones died of “natural causes,” aged 79, in 2000 in London. His wife, Jeri Sauvinet, a US theatre actor pre-deceased him in 1999. They had three children together; a daughter, Selena (later Carey-Jones and then Doggett-Jones), and two sons Charles Daniel Jones, and Bill Dare Jones.
Jones’s home town of Wem is close to Shrewsbury, and given that I have no information on his food likes I’ll go with Shrewsbury cakes. They are somewhat like shortbread, but are less crumbly and are flavored with rosewater. They used to accompany sweet dishes such as syllabub, but can be eaten plain with a cup of tea. They can keep a very long time in an air-tight tin.
This recipe is from, A daily exercise for ladies and gentlewomen : whereby they may learne and practise the whole art of making pastes, preserues, marmalades, conserues, tartstuffes, gellies, breads, sucket-candies, cordiall waters, conceits in sugar-workes of seuerall kindes : as also to dry lemonds, orenges, or other fruits : newly set forth according to the now approued receipts vsed both by honourable and worshipfull personages, by John Murrell (1617). You can find modern recipes online, but I like this one because of its simplicity.
Take a quart of very fine flouwer, eight onces of fine sugar beaten and cersed [sieved], twelve ounces sweet butter, nutmeg grated, damaske rosewater- work together with your hands for halfe an houre, then roule in little round cakes about the thickness of three shillings, then take a glasse and cut the cakes, then strow some flower on white papers and bake them in an oven as hotte as for manchet. If the oven be not hotte sett your lid downe until they be baked enough, for they must lokke browne not white. you may keep them halfe a yeare but new baked are best.
You have your necessary proportions here. A quart of flour is about 14 ounces. Using the rosewater you can buy today for culinary purposes, you are going to need to cut it with plain water, otherwise the cakes will be really pungent. I don’t know how thick a shilling was in the 17th century, but modern Shrewsbury cakes are quite thick. Kneading for 30 minutes, seems like a lot, but is necessary with the kind of flour 17th century cooks would have used with a high gluten content. Manchet was a sweet wheat bread, meaning you should be using a hot oven (230°C/450°F).