Freddie Jones, Actor in British Soap 'Emmerdale' and Father of Toby Jones, Dies at 91

United Artists/Photofest
Freddie Jones in 'Juggernaut'

He focused on classical theater, film and television after working as a laboratory assistant.

Freddie Jones, the British actor best known for his role on ITV soap opera Emmerdale and the father of actor Toby Jones (Infamous, The Hunger Games), has died. He was 91.

Jones died Tuesday evening after a short illness, his agent, Lesley Duff, said in a statement. "Freddie was a much loved and admired actor, known for his triumphs in classical theater, film and television," she said.

Jones played Sandy Thomas, the father of a vicar, in Emmerdale from 2005 until last year when his character flew off to Australia following the death of his son. He reappeared on the soap early this year for a final goodbye to family and friends as he began his new life away from the village in which the series is set.

"It’s about the balance of my life," he said in an interview with Radio Times magazine at the time. "I travel three hours by car, book into a hotel and then get up the next day to say maybe three sentences. And then do a three-hour journey back."

He added: "The company generously offered me another 12 months. But I just thought, 'I have no idea what I’m going to do in another bloody year!'" 

Jones played amateur theater while working as an assistant in a laboratory before deciding to act full time. After a role on TV miniseries Androcles and the Lion (1960), he worked on dramas Far From the Madding Crowd and Nicholas Nickleby. 

He also appeared in David Lynch's films The Elephant Man (1980) and Dune (1984) as well as in British crime drama Juggernaut with Richard Harris, Omar Sharif and Anthony Hopkins.

When director Lynch and producer Jonathan Sanger offered Jones the role of Bytes, the carnival freak show barker in The Elephant Man, he was reticent to take the role. "I just think that Bytes is too much a villain, too one-note. He shouldn't just exploit John Merrick, he has to love him," Sanger recalled Jones telling him in autobiography Making the Elephant Man: A Producer's Memoir. Lynch and the co-writers agreed with Jones assessment and rejigged some of his character's scenes.

On set, Jones' son was played by child actor Dexter Fletcher, the future director of Rocketman. In the 2002 publication The Complete Lynch, Fletcher recalled a decision by Jones moments before a key speech. "We're standing there ready to shoot it, and Freddie suddenly says to Lynch, 'You know, David, we're in Belgium — I should do it in French!' Lynch loved the idea. So Freddie shouts, 'READY!?' and he just launched into this speech and did it all in French. It was phenomenal." 

Toby Jones is the eldest of the three sons Freddie Jones had with wife Jennifer. Said Jones' agent of the actor: "He will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him and most especially his family."

Rhett Bartlett contributed to this report.