When Jonny was four, his family moved to Ainsdale, a small coastal village in North West England.
Village life was quaint and pedestrian. The local community was close knit. Les the butcher, Mr. Delahunty’s bike shop, the Busy Bee fish & chip shop, The Chocolate Box sweet shop; all the local village stores were run by friendly shopkeepers who everyone knew by name.
When he was nine he appeared in the Southport Amateur Operatic Society’s Silver Jubilee review show with the boys chorus performing the song ‘Consider Yourself’ from the musical Oliver.
When the boys started asking why they weren’t allowed in the next adult production, two members, Clive and Jean Morris, took note and made the decision to form a children’s group. Jonny, now eleven, impressed the audition panel with a strummed and sung rendition of ‘Mull of Kintyre’ to become a founding member of the Southport Operatic New Generation.
“I owe my career in show business to my family and friends in Southport and especially the founders of SONG, Clive and Jean Morris. They remain the most influential people in my life.”
At twelve Jonny secured his first professional job performing in a summer season at The Southport Theatre with variety artist Billy Dainty then recorded a tribute single for Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding, performing it live on local television.
At fourteen, Jonny travelled to London to audition for the musical Bugsy Malone that Mickey Dolenz of Monkee’s fame was directing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End. Ten thousand kids lined the chilly streets outside the Olympia Arena in Earls Court. Jonny joined the line and stood for hours in the bitter cold, got through the first round and after three more trips and four successful auditions he landed the role of Fat Sam.
Her Majesty’s Theatre was his home away from home for the next few months. Three hours school tutoring in the morning, three hours rehearsals in the afternoon, eight performances six days a week left only one day off and his work schedule was about to fill up completely.
After seeing him perform in the show, the manager of the kids pop group ‘Mini-Pops’ on Channel 4 invited him to spend his Sundays in the recording studio cutting tracks with the group. Jonny jumped at the chance and became a full time seven days a week child performer.
A Stage Name
At the end of his run in Bugsy Malone he returned to Ainsdale to finish high school and attended Jean Berel’s school of dance in Birkdale to study jazz, tap and modern. After a taste of the bright lights and big city and he wanted more and never lost hope he would return to the West End stage again.
Upon turning sixteen he applied to be an adult member of the actors union equity and learned that there was already an actor named Jonny Rees. He returned the membership application with twenty plus potential new names and eventually received his union card baring the professional name of Greg Ellis.
In Japanese, Kuyashii is when someone puts you down or tells you that you can’t do something, then you have this burning desire to prove them wrong.
Jonny’s First Kuyashii
Greg Ellis’ applied to attend the prestigious Arts Educational School and took the train to London to audition. His excitement at being accepted into the school was tempered by the financial reality of the expensive tuition fees and how to pay for them. Without financial assistance from his parents he prevailed on the local council for a grant. They rejected him point blank so he called in to local radio talk show personality Alan Beswick to air his plight. Beswick’s response was swift and scathing – “I don’t want my taxpayer money going to help some nancy in tights learn how to prance around a stage.”
Alan Beswick was Jonny’s first Kuyashii.
With the deadline to procure funding fast approaching and his place at drama college in serious jeopardy, a local businessman saw him perform the role of Judas in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and, upon hearing of his predicament, offered to pay his tuition fees.
Salvation for ‘nancy in tights’ — prancing on stage beckoned, at the expense of a taxpayer. Democracy in action.