Jones was born in the town of Longton in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, the son of Ida Elizabeth (née Goodwin) and Charles Edward Jones. He became an actor after ten years of working as a laboratory assistant with a firm making ceramic products, when his hobby of acting took over. He was trained at the prestigious Rose Bruford College and became famous for his role as Claudius in the 1968 British television series The Caesars. He tends to play eccentric characters.
He narrated the award-winning video Sexual Encounters of the Floral Kind: Pollination. He played the character Sandy Thomas in ITV's soap opera Emmerdale from 2005 to 2008, and again from 2009 until 2018.
He was also something of a David Lynch regular, appearing in The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), Wild At Heart (1990), his short-lived TV series On The Air (1992) and the short film Hotel Room (1993).
Jones is the father of actor Toby Jones.
In February 2018, it was announced Jones had left the role of Sandy, due to the fact that he found the role "demanding".
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