I want to play a boxer, a cowboy, an astronaut but instead I’m on a landfill site in Middlesbrough ...and loving it
– Actor Jon Morrison Star of TV’S Vera is down in the dumps for new series but couldn’t be happier as he looks back on acclaimed career
an actor, Jon Morrison is still full of ambition and, while he might be looking back on 40 years of screen success, he still has dreams of making a cowboy movie or a sci-fi epic.
Instead, returning to one of his most popular TV roles has seen him ploughing through a foul-smelling rubbish dump in Middlesbrough.
But, Jon says, despite the smell, he is delighted to be back in longrunning hit Vera, playing Brenda Blethyn’s sidekick despite one episode’s noxious backdrop.
He said: “It’s easily the smelliest place I’ve ever worked. There were all sorts of gases seeping up that made it a hardcore set to work on.
“The crew had on specialist suits – but they just threw us actors out into the middle of it!”
Jon has been playing DC Kenny Lockhart since the first series but says, at 72, the show’s star remains an inspiration.
He said: “She amazes me. “She’s in almost every scene and works every day from dawn until dusk. She is totally inspirational and I’ve got a feeling she’ll still be doing it when I’m not. I think she’ll see us all out.”
But the Glasgow-born actor has himself proved inspirational to other Scots stars, as Robert Carlyle credits him with providing the impetus to pursue his performing dream.
Jon had filmed Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth, starring alongside Ray Winstone, and was at the 1998 BAFTAs where the movie won Best British Film.
“Bobby was up for The Full Monty, for which he won Best Actor,” said Jon.
“He came up to me on the night, gave me a big hug and said he wouldn’t have been an actor if it wasn’t for me.
“It was through Just Another Saturday because he said I was the first person he’d seen with just an ordinary, contemporary Scottish accent, not a posh one.
“It was somebody talking the way he did. It was very nice of him to say that.”
Just Another Saturday, from 1975, and The Elephant’s Graveyard, from the following year, were the two groundbreaking BBC Play for Today dramas that made Jon’s name.
He starred alongside Billy Connolly in the Peter McDougall films, with Just Another Saturday, with its Orange Walk background, in particular making waves.
“For a kid like me, working with Billy was a big deal,” said Jon.
“And with Billy and Peter together nobody got a word in.
“They were influential people and the sectarian subject matter in the 1970s was a taboo. We were basically thrown out of Glasgow while making it.
“The police said that they weren’t
The Big Yin got a Gibson guitar case in denim, like Levi’s jeans
happy with a scene of violence outside a pub, so locations in Edinburgh had to be recced in a day and we decamped there for the rest of shoot.”
Off set, music continues to be a passion for Jon, who takes his acoustic guitars on the set of Vera, having recovered from a bad reaction to medication that left his hands weak.
“I was in a band called The Outfit with my mate Chris Glen, from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band,” said Jon.
“I was doing that for about five years before I had this problem with my hands.
“It was really bad for about two years and I had to leave the band. I couldn’t even lift the guitar up, never mind play it.
“It was an allergic reaction and I’m in a lot better nick now since I stopped taking it.”
Jon, who is back living in Glasgow after years in London, has been in every episode of Vera bar the pilot, the only ever-present alongside Blethyn. It is one of ITV’s biggest hits, sold worldwide, and the next series will be number 10.
“Having the prospect of a 10th series is amazing as it all started in 2009,” said Jon. “I’m incredibly proud to be the only other person always there. Working with Brenda has been such a pleasure, she just makes life easier.
“Filming is the highlight of my year.”
Work on Vera takes up much of Jon’s filming schedule and while it’s his primary focus, he says he still has other acting ambitions left.
“There’s still so much on my bucket list that I haven’t achieved,” he adds.
“I’ve never been in a boxing movie, a cowboy movie or a sci-fi movie despite having read all of Philip K Dick’s books. And I’ve never really done period pieces, I don’t think I had the right look.”
In the meantime, Jon is back in the long-running ITV hit, based on the books of Ann Cleeves, which returns tonight on ITV at 8pm.
Vera’s long brown trenchcoat and hat have become her trademarks while Jon’s character DC Kenny Lockhart has his own wax jacket, which Jon has worn since the first series, dated suits and terrible ties.
He said: “They really help the character and Kenny has become more integral and useful, less of just a butt of Vera’s withering put-downs.”
Vera is back tonight on ITV at 8pm.
Cast as wandering soulmates on screen in the Elephant’s Graveyard in 1976, Jon and Billy Connolly became firm friends.
Jon, who played one of the two jobless leads who come across each other by chance while pretending to their families they are working, said of the Big Yin: “He was a brilliant character and when I was young I was immensely impressed by him.
“When we were filming The Elephant’s Graveyard he had just signed with his manager Frank Lynch.
“He said he’d told Frank that if he bought him a Gibson monotone banjo and a Gibson J200 guitar then he’d sign with him.
“Frank duly went out and bought them and Billy had the cases for them both done in denim, like Levi’s. They had wee pockets on the front and he used to stick the New Musical Express in them and swagger about.
“We had a break one weekend and he loaned me the J200 which was such a beautiful guitar.
“It was such a generous thing, letting me take it away as it was new and cost a fortune. There are great memories and reminiscences of the ’70s. It doesn’t do to forget the past.”
Jon says Big Yin’s positive attitude and mental toughness in dealing with his Parkinson’s is just what he’d expect.
“Billy does have the fight in him and that’s strength in anyone. I think he’s surprising everyone every month. It’s really good to see.”
In Just Another Saturday
Billy Connolly allowed Jon to borrow his Gibson J200
Jon and Billy in Elephant’s Graveyard