The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show


Jonathan Bailey       Aug 24, 1944

Mac

A child actor in his native England, Jonathan Bailey appeared in a dozen film and television productions before starring in the third season serial Clint and Mac. He left acting to join the Royal Air Force, served in South Yemen during the Aden crisis, then emigrated to Canada, where he has since had careers in both law enforcement and the military.

Background

John Bailey was born in wartime London. His only sibling was a brother Richard, ten years older and a stranger to John, who was in a way an only child.

"My father wrote music for some horror films and did arrangements for such persons as Frank Sinatra, so show business was very-much part of my family... At ten I was an academic failure, so my parents sent me to Corona Academy, a stage school in Ravenscourt, London. The classes were academic until lunch and then in the afternoon - acting, dance and all the things that would equip us for a career in show business. The fees were very high but this was offset by the fact that we kids earned money as child actors. with the schools agency taking 20% of whatever we earned."

Unlike the Hollywood Professional School that some Mouseketeers and serial actors attended, Corona Academy (now the Ravenscourt Theatre School) acted as a talent agency for its students. Children would be summoned from morning classes to auditions, accompanied by a school chaperone. It was a turning point in John's young life, though his feelings about it were decidedly mixed. He enjoyed the afternoon lessons in the performing arts more than the morning classes, not surprisingly as the school had a poor academic reputation at that time.

"Corona was a terrific experience. We were very competitive. who went to what audition, who got what part and thus we learned to back-stab pretty early. Those who were successes were the school darlings and those who were not - well, so long as their parents could afford the fees... It's a good job I was fairly successful because my parents could not have afforded the fees. I was in the same grade as Francesca Annis. What a beautiful girl she was! And she was - and is - a very talented actress. Richard O'Sullivan was also in my grade, and up until about the age of fourteen he and I were neck and neck in parts - successes at auditions, but he had far more talent than I did and he went on to have a good career."

From ages ten to fourteen John was quite successful himself, appearing in both films and on television. Because there was already an established adult actor with the same name, he was sometimes billed as "Jonathan Bailey" for credited roles. Starting with Aunt Clara, The Divided Heart, and One Good Turn in 1954, he made another five films the following year, including Wee Geordie and Josephine and Men. He played Prince Kolya in a major television production of Turgenev's A Month in the Country that same year, and the following year was the guest star on a show called Adventures of the Big Man, portraying a deaf and dumb child lost in London, for an episode titled Say Hello.

"I went for many auditions and I began to have some success. I can remember getting the part of Dick in Five on a Treasure Island.... we had to meet and be approved by Enid Blyton, the author. She was a lovely person, very kind and we got on well. We had some great times shooting that, much of it on location in Dorset at Corfe castle and on the coast. I remember one scene where I was being chased by the bad-guys; I had to do this leap across a gap on the castle wall. It scared the living daylights out of me, and in retrospect I guess they took risks then that would be out of the question now. I enjoyed doing that movie more than any other. The one I liked the least was playing the young Prince Kolya for BBC television. I didn't like Margaret Leighton, she was cold and distant. But it was the only thing for which I ever got paid royalties; each time it was televised I got a cheque in the mail. The best acting part I had was at Colchester Repertory company, a good working theatre in - yes, you guessed it, Colchester. I starred in a Nativity play called The Bowl. I played the part of a young Benjamin, and the Colchester newspapers actually gave me a front page headline that read "Acting Dominated by Young Actor"."

Acting was not John's main passion in life. He would discover that at age fourteen, when he joined the Air Training Corps as a cadet, and learned enough flying skills to solo in a glider. But acting did dominate five formative years of his childhood, from ten to fifteen, though it never seemed to inflate his ego or diminish his ability to laugh at himself.

"The oddest part I played was that of an English schoolgirl in one of the Belles of St. Trinians comedy series of films. In one of the scenes a girl had to be thrown into a duck-pond - and during that gentler age, girls were NOT thrown into ponds - but a boy could and so.. I was paid £20 for each time I was chucked in - that was a lot of money in those days, about $400 today I think. Ha! My only foray into the drag world!"

Performance

John got the job for Clint and Mac through the Corona Academy agency. Interior scenes were filmed at Pinewood Studios, England's most famous movie-making facility. Exterior scenes were filmed in the Hammersmith section of London, then largely an industrial area. Though Disney had a reputation for paying lower wages than other American movie studios during the 1950's, this was a relative comparison, as one young English actor saw it.

"Working for Disney was in great contrast to working for the BBC or any British movie company. It seemed to me that Americans did things with more élan and. MONEY! If you were working for any British company, and especially the BBC, there was a great deal of penny-pinching."

"The script was about the thickness of a telephone book, and they kept making changes every two or three days. The assistant director would give us revisions on colored sheets and we had to install them in the script, which towards the end was falling apart. It was very confusing, especially when you had learned the lines for the next day's shooting, and then discovered they had made last minute changes half an hour before shooting the scene. The director [Terence Fisher] was great and he had the patience of a saint, he had to. For a kid it was pretty exhausting because not only did we have the film to shoot, we had school lessons as well."

Postwar Britain was a rather grim place economically. Though food rationing had ended around 1954, high prices still limited the selection of items available to ordinary families. Hence, John's most vivid memories of making Clint and Mac...

"Thanks to Walt Disney I had my first ice-cold Coca-Cola. In England at that time refrigerators were a rarity and a cold drink dispenser. well I had never seen one before I was at Pinewood Studios. We were in one of the hallways next to the main set and there it was. You put in sixpence (about a dime) and clunk! clunk! Out came an ICE COLD Coca-Cola. The Director must have bought me 5 or 6 of these and it made it awkward on the set because every ½ hour or so I had to head for the washroom! The food on location was the best I have seen. I know this might be hard to believe, but pork chops in those days were "rich people" food (class consciousness was rampant), while chicken was even rarer. I remember we were on location in Hammersmith, on the Thames in London and the location kitchen-on-wheels created a meal of Pork Chops and fries. I'm not joking when I say it was probably the second time in my life I had had pork chops.. And I can't remember the first. All-in-all we were treated very well indeed."

The Mickey Mouse Club wasn't shown in England during John's adolescence, so aside from the daily rushes he has never seen Clint and Mac. His memories of most of the cast are very dim, lost amidst the whirlwind pace of production and the people and events of after years. He does remember, however, that the Disney folks seemed very pleased with him.
"Walt Disney Studios wanted to sign me up, and there was great debate amongst my parents and the Corona Agency, who did NOT want to lose me, and in a great mistake Disney's offer was turned down. How I would have loved to work for them - and move to the States! Ah well, it was a dream that I missed."

And John does remember his co-star Neil Wolfe, who at fifteen was two years older. Initially reluctant to discuss their working relations, John later quite candidly confessed:

"I didn't get on well with my co-star. It was totally my fault, I was a pretty stupid kid in those days. He was a lot smarter and far-more mature than I was. Neil was also a much better actor, and perhaps I was jealous of this, especially as I was supposed to have been trained, and he was a natural. I wish I could meet him again and apologize for some of the stupid things I said, but then, hind-sight is always 20/20 vision isn't it? The first assistant director impressed me, he was very-much on the ball, and even at my young age I could sense his dedication and smarts. But alas, none of the others stuck in my mind too much. I really liked the Disney people. Very kind, very smart and they went out of their way to help me turn in a better performance. And of course, I experienced cold Coca Cola because of them!"

Aftermath

As with many child actors, John's show business career didn't survive his early teenage years. He regarded it as no big loss, for flying as an air cadet with the ATC had become the driving force of his existence.

"My first [glider] solo is something that stands out more than anything else in my memory. For the first time in my life I was on my own! It was an orgasm of liberation. By then my acting career was petering out and I made up my mind that as soon as I was old enough, I was going to join the Royal Air Force. I had blossomed academically and felt that in this, I had a future. I wanted to get away from home, it was suffocating me."

To help with the school fees, John's mother had taken a position with the academic staff of Corona Academy, becoming Headmistress when John was thirteen. She improved the school's academic reputation, but her success caused friction between his parents. Though a brilliant and talented man his father was very old fashioned and strongly believed that a woman's place was in the home and sadly her career became the source of family strife. It was with a sense of relief that John was finally able to escape from home.

"At the age of 17 ½, equipped with a letter of permission from my parents, I went to Ad Astra House (the Royal Air Force recruiting center) on Regent's Street, London and told them I wanted to join the Royal Air Force. It was amazing, liberating, I can't find adequate words to tell you how I felt. I passed the medical, and the IQ tests - I did exceptionally well and was given my choice of trades. I chose photographer. It was simple. If there was NOTHING interesting happening, they wanted pictures of it. It was a good choice. Basic Training was at RAF Bridgenorth, a former British Army Base built in 1917. The huts were the H-Block type made of wood, each 40-man hut heated by two coal stoves that no-one lit because it was a bastard to clean them! It was February 1962, and it got cold enough inside these huts that water in a mug would freeze solid, but we survived, indeed, we thrived despite the grimmest of British cooking!"

For his specialty John was sent to the School of Photography at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, then was posted to RAF Northolt near his family's home in London, but the ongoing tension between his parents made him regret it.

"One day I got a sheet asking me which three postings I would like to go to and I put down Hong Kong, Singapore and Malta. Ah, the heady days of Empire! Anyway, they sent me to Aden which is in South Yemen. Now if the world needed an enema that is where they would have stuck the tube!"

John was posted there before, and all during, the laconically-styled Aden Emergency (1964-67), an early Middle East crisis that saw the eventual withdrawal of Britain from the Arab pennisula.

"We landed at Khormaksar, and when I stepped off the aircraft I was hit by a wall of heat. Temperatures there got up to 120 degrees F. I was in Middle East Command Photographic Unit, which was a large air-conditioned building. We handled everything, from aerial recce to photographs of anything you could imagine: clandestine pictures of suspected terrorists to parties at the various messes... Mines, there were a lot of landmines in Aden. The road to a border post called Dhala had its share and I made a few trips. Even to this day I do not like driving on dirt roads... I was at Dhala one day and went into the Welsh Guard's Officers mess, a big tent really, and inside on a large, long, highly polished table was the Regimental Silverware! By God, when the British Army go to war they do it in style. There were also gruesome moments, quite a lot really..."

John learned to speak passable Arabic, and made friends among the local Arabs, which his superiors found useful in ways that he is still reluctant to discuss. After Aden, John decided to emigrate to Canada in 1968. He arrived in Toronto with a suitcase and $200, enrolled in Willowdale Police College, then joined the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force, where he served for many years. John, who now goes by Aaron, and his wife Rachel, reside in St Johns, Newfoundland, where he works for the Canadian Defense Forces.

"While my early life may have been somewhat rotten I have to say that, as of the last twenty years, I am the luckiest man alive. I am married to a very-intelligent lady who happens to be rather pleasing to the eye and is my best friend, and I have a job I honestly love and there's too few who can say that!"

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