Despite their obvious debt to the Beatles, the Monkees were one of the most successful and well-loved pop groups of the late 1960s. Their only British member was Davy Jones, a former child actor, who has died after a heart attack, aged 66.
The independent producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider came up with the idea of a television series featuring the antics of a pop group that would issue singles and albums in tandem with the show. Auditions were held in Hollywood for "four insane boys", and Jones was one of the first in line. He was eventually chosen, along with three Americans: Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith were accomplished rock guitarists, while Micky Dolenz, like Jones, had been a child actor.
Clearly inspired by the Beatles, and in particular their 1964 film A Hard Day's Night, The Monkees quickly climbed the television ratings in the US after the show's launch in 1966. The misgivings of critics were partly assuaged by the quality of the songs provided for the group by the cream of New York's pop composers, including Neil Diamond and Carole King. Each Monkee was given some personality traits, with Jones playing the cheeky chappie, with an accent that most Americans could mistake for Liverpudlian.
The accompanying singles were equally successful and there were six million-sellers in less than two years. Lead vocals were shared, with Jones giving his best performance on Daydream Believer, composed by John Stewart, from the 1967 album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. This was to be the artistic and commercial peak for the group, as the second television series attracted fewer viewers and the Monkees' attempt at artistic freedom, The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees (1968) impressed neither critics nor record buyers. The band also toured the US, but their enthusiasm for Jimi Hendrix, whom they invited to open the show, was not shared by their fans, who booed him off stage.
The group made an ambitious anti-war comedy film, Head (1968), with Rafelson and Jack Nicholson, but soon afterwards they began to fall apart. Both Tork and Nesmith left in 1969, leaving Jones and Dolenz to record the final album, Changes, in 1970. The group was finally dissolved in 1971.
Jones was born in Openshaw, Manchester. He showed early talent as an actor and at 14 he was chosen to join the cast of Granada TV's soap opera Coronation Street. Jones played Colin Lomax, the chirpy grandson of the matriarch Ena Sharples. This role led to three small parts in the police series Z-Cars. Jones then pursued a career as an apprentice jockey, but returned to the stage after successfully auditioning to take over the part of the Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart's musical Oliver!
He was in the cast when the London production transferred to Broadway in 1963. In February 1964 a "Brit" edition of the Ed Sullivan Show included the cast of Oliver! alongside the Beatles. Jones later told an interviewer that the adulation that greeted the Fab Four gave him the ambition to become a pop star. The Sullivan show led to a contract with Screen Gems, the small-screen subsidiary of Columbia Pictures. Jones appeared in two television series and made an album for the in-house record label before Screen Gems bought in to the concept of the Monkees.
In the early 1970s, he continued to perform as a solo singer and in 1975 he briefly formed a new group with Dolenz, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the composers of the Monkees' theme song. During the following decade he occasionally returned to the stage, playing in a 1977 London production of The Point!, by the singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson. He traded on his Monkee heritage with cameo roles in episodes of several US TV series and also appeared in revivals of Oliver!, this time as Fagin.
In the years after the demise of the Monkees, demand grew for a reunion. Jones was the most enthusiastic about a new tour, while Nesmith was obdurate in his refusal. Finally, in 1987, MTV broadcast the original series, albums were reissued and Jones, Dolenz and Tork played a series of concerts. A new album, Pool It! appeared in 1988 and a further tour took place shortly afterwards. A 45th anniversary reunion tour went ahead last year, and Jones was still happy to be performing: "Wherever I go, people still shout out: 'Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!'," he said. "And I never tire of that."
Jones is survived by his third wife, Jessica, and four daughters from his two earlier marriages.
• David Thomas Jones, actor, singer and songwriter, born 30 December 1945; died 29 February 2012
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