Alongside singing, Leyton's acting career saw him appearing in television and films throughout the 1960s. His films included The Great Escape, Guns at Batasi, Von Ryan's Express and Krakatoa, East of Java. In 2009 he also had a small part in the film Telstar, a biopic based on Joe Meek's life in which Leyton himself was portrayed by Callum Dixon.
Leyton went to Highgate School and after completing his national service, he studied drama, paying his way through drama school with bit-part roles in films and on television. His first major acting role was his portrayal of Ginger in a 1960 Granada TV adaptation of Biggles, which earned him a large following of young female fans and led to the formation of a John Leyton fan club.
Following the success of Biggles, Leyton was persuaded by his manager, Robert Stigwood, to audition as a singer for record producer Joe Meek, and subsequently recorded a cover version of "Tell Laura I Love Her", which was released on the Top Rank label. In 1961 though, the Top Rank label was taken over by EMI who then issued Leyton's records on their HMV label. EMI had already released Ricky Valance's version of the same song. Leyton's recording was withdrawn from sale, whilst Valance's version reached Number 1 in the UK chart.
A second single - "The Girl on the Floor Above" - was released on the HMV label, but was not a success. His first big hit, "Johnny Remember Me", coincided with his appearance as an actor in the popular ATV television series Harpers West One, in which he played a singer named Johnny Saint Cyr. Leyton performed "Johnny Remember Me" during the show (backed by the Outlaws), and the single subsequently charted at Number 1. His next single, "Wild Wind", reached number 2 in the UK Singles Chart, and later singles also achieved lower chart positions. On 15 April 1962, Leyton performed at the NME Poll-Winners Concert at London's Wembley Pool. But in 1963, Meek and Goddard's association with Leyton ended; that circumstance, combined with the British beat boom, cast Leyton adrift immediately, although he found a lot of acting work in television and film to keep him busy. Despite trying to give Leyton's music more of a 'group' sound by giving him a backing group, 'The LeRoys', his chart career faded out by the beginning of 1964.
Leyton was a familiar face in film and television during the 1960s. He played himself in the 1962 Dick Lester film It's Trad, Dad!, performing his latest single "Lonely City" in a radio studio. In The Great Escape (1963) he played tunnel designer Willie Dickes, one of the only three characters who successfully make it to freedom. Leyton also cut a single with lyrics to Elmer Bernstein's theme to the film. He also appeared in Guns at Batasi in 1964; Every Day's a Holiday (aka Seaside Swingers in the United States) and Von Ryan's Express starring Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard in 1965. In Krakatoa, East of Java, in 1969 he played the designer of a diving bell.
From 1966 to 1967, Leyton played the lead role as SOE Royal Navy Lieutenant Nicholas Gage, an expert in demolitions, in Jericho, an American TV series about espionage in the Second World War.
He returned to Britain in the early 1970s and unsuccessfully attempted to re-launch his singing career, signing to the York record label in 1973. A single, "Dancing in the Graveyard c/w. Riversong (York SYK 551) & an L.P., "John Leyton" (York FYK 416) was released that year. A year later (1974) Leyton's cover version of the Kevin Johnson hit, "Rock 'n' Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life c/w. Highway Song. York YR 210.)" was issued in the UK but without success. In the mid 1970s, Leyton starred in the ITV television series, The Nearly Man. Acting roles became fewer and farther between during the 1970s, and by the early 1980s, he was no longer active in show business.
In the 1990s, however, he began performing in the 'Solid Gold Rock 'n' Roll Show', appearing with artists such as Marty Wilde and Joe Brown. The autumn 2004 tour featured Leyton, Showaddywaddy, Freddy Cannon and Craig Douglas. Leyton has also returned to acting, with a cameo appearance in the 2005 film, Colour Me Kubrick starring John Malkovich.
In May 2006, Leyton released "Hi Ho, Come On England", a re-working of Jeff Beck's "Hi Ho Silver Lining", to coincide with the World Cup in Germany. During the summer of 2007 he filmed a cameo appearance for the Nick Moran film, Telstar. Leyton also topped the bill at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, along with 1960s stars Jess Conrad and Craig Douglas at a concert named "'60s Icons".
Leyton continues to tour the UK and Scandinavia performing his hits (sometimes backed by the Rapiers) and can boast an internet following with his official website. In 2014 John continues to tour with his band the Flames, featuring John James on guitar, Ray Royal on drums and Dale Corcoran on bass guitar.
† - Billed as John Leyton and the LeRoys1962 - John Leyton (Top Rank JKP3016) - "Wild Wind" / "You Took My Love for Granted" / "Johnny Remember Me" / "There Must Be"1962 - The John Leyton Hit Parade (His Master's Voice 7EG8747) - "Lone Rider" / "Son This Is She" / "Lonely City" / "It Would Be Easy"1964 - Beautiful Dreamer (His Master's Voice 7EG8843) - "Beautiful Dreamer" / "On Lovers Hill" / "I'll Cut Your Tail Off" / "Lovers Lane"1964 - Tell Laura I Love Her (His Master's Voice 7EG8854) - "Tell Laura I Love Her" / "The Girl on the Floor Above" / "Johnny Remember Me" / "Wild Wind"1977 - John Leyton (EMI 2699) - "Johnny Remember Me" / "Son This Is She" / "Wild Wind" / "Cupboard Love"1961 - The Two Sides of John Leyton (His Master's Voice CLP497)1963 - Always Yours (His Master's Voice CLP1664)1973 - John Leyton (York Records FYK416)1997 - John Leyton Is BackDanger Within (1959) - Prisoner (uncredited)I'm All Right Jack (1959) - Recruit to Detto (uncredited)It's Trad, Dad! (1962) - HimselfThe Great Escape (1963) - Flt. Lt. William Dickes "The Tunnel King"Guns at Batasi (1964) - Private WilkesEvery Day's a Holiday (1964) - Gerry PullmanVon Ryan's Express (1965) - OrdeThe Idol (1966) - TimothyKrakatoa, East of Java (1969) - RigbyFern the Red Deer (1976) - Mr. GordonSchizo (1976) - Alan FalconerDangerous Davies, the Last Detective (TVM, 1980) - Dave BootColour Me Kubrick (2005) - Lord Charles BensonTelstar: The Joe Meek Story (2008) - Sir Edward