Growing up in London during the Swinging Sixties, Terry Jones appeared in the original West End stage version of Lionel Bart’s celebrated musical Oliver! and met such celebrities as Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix.
But in 2007, he was sleeping rough on the streets of the capital, spending any money he was given on alcohol. He decided to flip a coin: tails meant he would keep drinking until he died, heads meant he would seek help.
It came up heads, prompting Mr Jones to make contact with Veterans Aid through its drop-in centre near Victoria Station. He later said the charity, one of two being supported by The Independent’s appeal for Homeless Veterans, “quite literally saved my life”.
Mr Jones, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2011 aged 59, recorded the story of his remarkable life in a documentary for Veterans Aid, which he hoped would provide an inspiration to other former servicemen and women at rock bottom.
“Two years ago I was a hopeless alcoholic,” he says on the film. “I asked for help from Veterans Aid which saved my life. I got two-year’s extension. Time to put a lot of things right. Not many people get that chance.”
In the 1960s, he landed a part as a child actor in Oliver! at the New Theatre, playing the understudy to Leonard Whiting’s Artful Dodger.
Mr Jones gave up acting and joined the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. He later joined the Merchant Navy and went to the Falklands before spending nine years in the Territorial Army. Later in life, he moved to Tenerife to run a bar – where he began drinking heavily.
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
1/20 Glynn Barrell
Glyn Barrell is among the veterans hoping to benefit from the self-build scheme in Plymouth
2/20 Rachel Holliday
Rachel Holliday is converting a police station into a hostel
3/20 Androcles Scicluna
Veteran Androcles Scicluna says performing boosted his confidence
4/20 Christopher Cole
Christopher Cole, 51, from London, spent three years in the Army but left in 1982
5/20 Maurillia Simpson
Former servicewoman Maurillia Simpson with the medals she won at last year’s Invictus Games
Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
6/20 Martin Rutledge
Head of The Soldiers’ Charity, Martin Rutledge, says charities sometimes allow emotion to dictate their choices
7/20 Ben Griffin
Ben Griffin wants to open people’s eyes to the cycle of political violence
8/20 Robin Horsfall
Robin Horsfall, who fought in the Falklands and helped end the Iranian embassy siege
9/20 Mark Hayward
A bed for the night and food helped Mark Hayward out of misfortune
10/20 Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser, who served in the RAF, at the Veterans Aid hostel in east London
11/20 Dave Henson
Britain's Invictus Games captain Dave Henson says veterans’ charities helped rebuild his life
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
12/20 Hugh Milroy
Hugh Milroy dispels myths about war-zone veterans through his work as the CEO of Veterans Aid
13/20 Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor
Former soldiers Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull under a covenant connecting veterans with employers
14/20 Mark McKillion
Mark McKillion's experience of living on the street eventually left him feeling as though the only way to escape was to end his life. He survived his desperate jump from Westminster Bridge, and VA's help has restored his "faith in humanity"
Nigel, a navy veteran, remembers living on the beach in the run-up to Christmas, when it rained every day for a week. He slept on a bench for seven years whilst suffering from Parkinson's disease.
16/20 Keith Cooper
Before Keith Cooper had his place confirmed at Avondale House in Newcastle, he was working out whether he could afford to buy a tent to live in
17/20 Simon Weston
Simon Weston, a Falklands War veteran, said even something as simple as a cup of tea can be an important step in getting the life of a homeless veteran back on track.
18/20 Ian Palmer, professor of military psychiatry
Ian Palmer, the first professor of military psychiatry to the British Armed Forces, says that the depiction of all ex-service personnel having post-traumatic stress disorder may stop people who really need help from getting it
19/20 Douglas Cameron
Evgeny Lebedev with Douglas Cameron, who had a hernia operation while serving in Burma
Johnnie Shand Kidd
20/20 Veterans Aid
General Sir Mike Jackson, President of ABF The Soldiers' Charity, called for donations to the Homeless Veterans appeal
“He used to go out to take the dog for a walk early in the morning so he could go to a bar,” his sister Sheila recalled.
After seeking help from Veterans Aid, Mr Jones was given a room at the charity’s New Belvedere House hostel in Stepney, east London.
The charity put him through rehab and later found him a flat in Bow. He became a regular volunteer, becoming a mentor for many other veterans.
“I just can’t say enough good things about Veterans Aid,” his sister said. “When he had cancer, he always said he’d been given two extra years because he’d been through rehab. Those two extra years were amazing – he became this nice bloke that you wanted to spend all your time with. It was like he was a whole different person.”Reuse content