In the scorching summer of 1978, Jeremy Jones was sitting in Rome's notorious Regina Coeli prison when he was visited by a man from the British Embassy.

Jeremy, an executive assistant to EMI's managing director in Italy, had been arrested driving back from a party. The MD's son was in the passenger seat of Jeremy's Alfa. It was in the early hours of the morning, Jeremy was drunk, and he had a stash of weed in the car.

It wasn't the wisest thing to do. Aldo Moro, Italy's Prime Minister, had been kidnapped. Security was tight. As Jeremy swept around a corner, he ran straight into a road block and was pulled over. "I said 'this is my EMI briefcase. This is my British passport. This is my weed,'" he recalls.

After being processed, he was taken to Regina Coeli. The man from the embassy who came to see him was wearing a three piece tweed suit despite the heat.

Jeremy can't help giggling as he recalls what happened next.

"He said 'Jones, is it? All right for underpants, are you? Jolly good!'"

To be fair to the man from the embassy, he also contacted Jeremy's former girlfriend, who got a lawyer on his case.

So Jeremy wasn't in prison for long. He did lose his job with EMI, though. "Despite the fact I saved the MD's son from prison!" he says indignantly.

Most people will know Jeremy as the outspoken chief executive of York-based rough sleepers charity Arc Light.

He's been with it since the very beginning. Jeremy was in charge when Arc Light opened its original hostel in a former railway manager's building in Leeman Road in 1999.

York Press:

Jeremy Jones talking to a rough sleeper at the original Arc Light hostel in Leeman Road in 2000

He led the search for a permanent site for the hostel, and oversaw Arc Light's move to its present location at Union Terrace.

From the beginning, he has always been at home with rough sleepers; happy to banter and share stories, treating the people who turn to Arc Light for help just as he would treat anyone else - as individuals deserving respect.

From the very earliest days, there were no hard and fast rules at Arc Light - simply policies, which which were agreed between hostel staff and guests. They were pretty simple: no violence, no aggression, drink and drugs to be checked in on arrival and not consumed on the premises.

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Jeremy Jones, left, with Arc Light residents in 2003

That philosophy of trusting the residents and involving them in policy-making is one of the things that has made Arc Light special. And it survives to this day. There is no CCTV inside the Arc Light building, Jeremy says.

Now, after 17 years in charge, he is hanging up his hat. He's almost 65, he points out - time to retire. He and his wife Jan have bought a house in Sant'Angelo Pontano in the Marche region of Italy. The house has 15 acres of land in a small valley, and 29 olive trees. There's nothing more therapeutic than running your hands down the branches to cause the ripe olives to cascade onto a net during picking season, he says.

No one would begrudge him a peaceful retirement.

But how on earth did this man who once found himself in an Italian prison discussing underpants with a British Embassy official ever get to become the head of a rough sleepers' charity in York?

It was a long and colourful road...

Jeremy's background was comfortable enough.

His father Tony ran his own electronics company. Jeremy grew up in Chalfont St Peter in Buckinghamshire, and went to Winchester College, a top public school.

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Winchester College

One of his masters there was a Russian emigré count who sparked his interest in languages. After flirting with the idea of becoming a barrister, he decided on languages instead, and went to Queen Mary's College, London, to study Russian.

It involved spending several weeks in Moscow and Leningrad. It was 1971, and the Soviet Union was grim for a young British student. The buildings were dull and brutalist - and foreigners weren't much liked. "We were spat at," he says. There were lighter moments, though. Once, sitting in a Moscow park, he struck up a conversation with a Russian woman - who refused to believe he was English.

It was the era of the original BBC adaptation of The Forsyte Saga. "You're not English!" she told him, firmly. "I can see the Forsyte Saga, and you don't look anything like that."

After university, he found himself aimlessly driving a van around, wondering what to do next. As a child, he'd often holidayed in Italy: so when a girlfriend suggested they go to Cortina in northern Italy, he agreed. She spent a few weeks there: he was there for three and a half years.

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Cortina, Italy

Much of that time, he spent working as a DJ. He then worked briefly as a technical translator on an arms magazine based at Lugano in southern Switzerland - before belatedly realising it was a 'front for an arms dealer'.

He returned to the UK and decided that he wanted to break into the music business.

In those days, EMI had two main divisions, he says - music, and electronics. He sat down and wrote a 'completely spurious' letter to the chairman of EMI's electronics division, reminding the man of his friendship with Jeremy's father, and recalling how the EMI boss once used to bounce him on his knee. He also mentioned that he was hoping to get into the music industry.

It was all complete fiction. "I calculated that he would either be embarrassed that he had forgotten, or he'd think 'this guy has got balls'" Jeremy says.

It worked. Jeremy got an interview with the MD of EMI's music division in London - and ended up going to Italy as the executive assistant to EMI's Italian MD.

Then, a few years later, came that drugs arrest. He returned to the UK, worked for a while for the A&M record label; spent some time in Paris working for CBS; married to his first wife Shelagh (Paul McCartney's PA); then returned to England, where he set up as a freelance music business fixer, or 'gun for hire'.

He was a job he did for years - once memorably getting members of the Marley family together in Rome for a reunion concert ten years after Bob Marley's death.

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Legend: Bob Marley

He was contacted by Vittorio Sbardella, an aide to the mayor of Rome who gloried in the nickname Lo Squalo, 'the Shark'. There was some money for a festival of Caribbean music, he was told. Could he fix it?

He did - even though everyone told him there was no way he'd get all the Marleys together. He flew to Jamaica, wangled a meeting with Marley's widow Rita at a late-night recording session, and was invited to meet her the next day at her house.

When she learned what he wanted, she pointed out that her husband had once performed in front of 100,000 people at the San Siro.

"The Pope only drew 80,000 people!" she told Jeremy. "We will come!"

By the early 1990s, his marriage to Shelagh was over, though they remained friends. Looking around for something to do at Christmas, he decided to volunteer for charity Crisis at Christmas.

He did that every Christmas for the next six or seven years. He met his second wife Jan, and when she announced she was coming north to Ampleforth to work, he came with her, pledging to find something useful to do.

He met Paul Wordsworth, Arc Light's founding chairman. And the rest, as they say, is history.

He has loved his years working for Arc Light. But it is time to move on, the 64-year-old says.

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Jeremy Jones

The York-based charity recently merged with Gateshead-based Changing Lives, a national charity which works with homeless people and drug addicts, and which runs Oaktrees, the substance misuse recovery service in York.

It is an uncertain time for organisations working with rough sleepers in York (see panel). But with Changing Lives on board, and a new Arc Light director lined up in Changing Lives' Eileen Ronan, Jeremy is confident the organisation he has led for so long will be in good hands.

As for himself - he's looking forward to picking those olives...

What now for Arc Light?

THE way services are provided for rough sleepers in York is changing.

On April 28, City of York Council's cabinet is expected to approve a new proposal which will invite organisations to bid to provide a range of services for rough sleepers, addicts and young people at risk of homelessness or addiction.

Arc Light, along with Changing Lives, the charity with which it has just merged, is part of one consortium bidding to provide services - though there will be other bidders.

Bids will be invited from May 12 - with the deadline for tendering likely to be the end of June. Contracts will be awarded at the beginning of September, with the successful organisations taking over the running of services from February 1 next year.

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The Arc Light building today

This is an uncertain time for organisations like Arc Light, therefore.

The charity employs 35 staff and typically has 39 residents at any one time. Since it began almost 20 years ago, more than 2,250 homeless men and women have passed through its doors.

With Changing Lives on board, however, Jeremy Jones believes Arc Light is now in a better position to weather the changes ahead.

Whatever the outcome of the tendering process, he says, the merger with Changing Lives - which provides support for thousands of homeless people and addicts across the north of England every month - is the 'best possible solution' for Arc Light.

"I can go away now with far more confidence that what I have helped create is in good hands," he says.