Francis Jones, star of the BBC3 fly-on-the-wall documentary Rent a Cop, is often portrayed as a comical and outlandish character. Here his cousin, freelance journalist Simon Smith, provides an insight into how ‘Franny the Rat’ turned Spartan warrior
When the BBC3 series Rent A Cop aired five weeks ago, I became fixated on the show’s main character, Francis Jones.
The former welterweight boxer is a mixture of Mickey “D’ya like dags?” O’Neil and Jack Sparrow with the demeanor of Ronald Kray. He’s also my cousin.
Francis owns Sparta Security – a Darlington-based private security firm. The fly-on-the-wall show documents the exploits of Franny and his staff as they attempt to make the town a safer place.
An individual like Francis is a producer’s dream – I know Francis, so I knew the BBC had unearthed a gold mine of eccentricity, crudeness and balls to, if not to engage, then entertain.
As the series got under way it wasn’t long before Twitter was awash with judgments made about the show and my cousin. I visited Francis in August for a separate piece I was writing on boxing. Filming for Rent A Cop was in full flow at that time.
The conversation I had with cousin Francis could provide some much-needed counter balance to the character onscreen, whether he believes it himself or not. While many find Francis’ outlandish and hilarious comments to be the main attraction of the show, I would like to answer an as yet unasked question: How did 34-year-old Francis Charles Jones become Darlington’s go-to cop for hire? The answers, put simply: bullying, boxing, and the Bible.
It’s no revelation that Francis was bullied as a teenager. He’s spoken openly about his experience, even offering advice and protection for those going through the same thing.
As he said to me: “I got bullied at school both verbally and physically. It were a horrible feeling walking home after school with people after me. I hated it. I was lonely so I thought What can I do to stop this feeling?
He told me that a friend in the year below had a reputation as a good boxer.
The boy suggested a scrawny Francis come down to a local boxing gym to try his hand.
“I’d get asked to spar and I felt the same fear as the bullying. I used to get beat up. I kept on going because it was making me tougher but I used to hate going to the boxing gym.”
But by 18, however, Francis had his SIA license and began working the doors around town: “I was about 11-stone ringing wet when I first started on the doors. I was blonde haired, blue-eyed like a little schoolboy. I was telling people you can’t come in tonight. They’d always pick on the smallest. I’d tell them, Sorry Sir, that’s just how it is. They’d try and attack me. Out of self-defence I’d have to sedate them.”
At Christmas gatherings, Francis would captivate the family with accounts of taking on several punters at once. In a party environment, with his quirky mannerisms and anecdotes, he is the ultimate performer.
By his early twenties, he’d begun his metamorphosis into a no-nonsense, Bruce-Lee-type juggernaut.
Francis had shed the nickname referencing his slight frame, “Franny The Rat,” – there is, however, still a tattoo of the moniker across his back.
“I was game because of the bullying. I’d never be bullied again even if it killed me.”
If he saw someone who’d tried to assault him the night before, he would jump out of his car wherever he was in town and make sure he received a sober apology. It didn’t matter how big they were.
“I turned into a guy called ‘Fearless’ Francis Jones. I’d never back down. Whether he was twenty stone of pure muscle, growled at me like a lion and was the hardest man in the world, if he put it on my toes, he’d get smashed.”
In 2007, Francis fought Kevin Anderson for the British Title.
Whereas Anderson has since hung up his gloves, Francis still plans to be world number one. Ten years on he is wiser and less volatile but is still Fearless. The conditioning of bouncing and boxing go a long way in explaining why the cop-for-hire is comfortable sneaking up on armed burglars at 3am. It’s the cocktail of raw adrenaline mixed with protecting the vulnerable that is so appealing.
As he says in the show, “I am like the doctor to the burglars, I give them the medicine.” Though in the context of the tongue-in-cheek show it’s comical, Francis does see himself as a modern day Spartan warrior.
Francis is also a born-again Christian, a quality that is broached in the show but only fully understood after spending a day with him. All conversations start or finish with Jesus.
In fact, Francis is so devoted to his faith that, when he asked for a world title in 2011, God instructed him to switch from his orthodox boxing stance to southpaw. Though he’d been boxing orthodox since the age of 16 he obliged.
With a massive 5,000 Facebook friends list, Francis knows he has a lot to live up to. He’s often posting videos dressed as Batman warning burglars that he’s on their trail. It’s all in jest until you suggest otherwise.
Whether he’s staked out in the bushes in camouflage, or telling MP Jenny Chapman that he has a solution to a neighborhood problem, it’s clear this rent-a-cop is all about making an impact. “I’m sure there’s millions out there that are better and stronger but if you ask me to protect your house for £3.50 a week and the mafia rock up then you’re having your house protected.”
There’s a deep-seated desire to not only be the good shepherd, but a reassuring presence. It’s easy to see, then, how he’s made the transition from elite boxer to well-liked private security officer.
The Sparta Security slogan reads “Directed by God, Managed by Jesus.” and with the confidence of a king Francis sees himself as part servant, part savior.
Four episodes in and I called Francis to speak about the show. He was concerned that those outside of Darlington weren’t seeing how appreciated he was in his hometown.
“I know the TV camera is on my face. I know it’s comedy gold. But I’m about helping people and showing love to people and trying to do the best I can. I do help Darlington. I’d like the major of the town to knighthood me and address me as Sir Francis of Darlo.”
This article first appeared on The Northern Echo