Bill Owen (actor)

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Bill Owen

Bill Owen.jpg
William John Owen Rowbotham

(1914-03-14)14 March 1914
Acton, Middlesex, England
Died12 July 1999(1999-07-12) (aged 85)
Westminster, London, England
Resting placeSt John the Evangelist Churchyard, Upperthong, West Yorkshire, England
OccupationActor, songwriter
Years active1941–1999
    Edith Stevenson
    (m. 1946;div. 1964)
      Kathleen O'Donoghue
      (m. 1977)
Children2, including Tom Owen

William John Owen Rowbotham, MBE (14 March 1914 – 12 July 1999) was an English actor and songwriter. He was the father of actor Tom Owen. He is best known for portraying Compo Simmonite in the Yorkshire-based BBC comedy series Last of the Summer Wine for over a quarter of a century. He died on 12 July 1999, his last appearance on-screen being shown in April 2000.



Born at Acton Green, London to a working-class family (his father a staunchly left-wing tram-driver), [1] [2] Owen made his first film appearance in 1945, but did not achieve lasting fame until 1973, when he took the co-starring role of William "Compo" Simmonite in the long-running British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine . Compo is a scruffy working-class pensioner, often exploited by the bossy characters played by Michael Bates, Brian Wilde, Michael Aldridge and Frank Thornton for dirty jobs, stunts and escapades, while their indomitably docile friend Norman Clegg, played by Peter Sallis, follows and watches with a smirk. He wore a woollen hat and spent much of his time lusting after dowdy housewife Nora Batty. The series, starting in 1973 and finishing in 2010, is today the world's longest-running comedy series. Owen became an icon, a darling of its audience and central to its success and episodes for 26 years, right until his death. [3] The threesome of Compo, Clegg and Foggy (this third character was initially Blamire, played by Michael Bates, and when Brian Wilde's Foggy took a hiatus, replaced by Michael Aldridge's, Seymour Utterthwaite) remains the most popular group of three the show ever produced. Foggy was replaced in 1997 by Frank Thornton's character Herbert 'Truly' Truelove, who remained in the show until its final episode in 2010.

Owen served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps during World War II, where he was injured in an explosion during a battle training course.

During the 1960s, Owen had a successful second career as a songwriter, with compositions including the hit "Marianne", recorded by Cliff Richard. At this time he also collaborated with songwriter Tony Russell on the musical The Matchgirls about the London matchgirls strike of 1888. He co-starred as Spike Milligan's straight man in the West End hit Son of Oblomov in 1964. Owen also recorded a novelty song with Kathy Staff in 1983 called "Nora Batty's Stockings".

Owen was a regular in the early Carry On films ( Sergeant , Nurse , Regardless and Cabby ). He also had a cameo appearance in Brideshead Revisited as Lunt, Charles Ryder's scout during his days at the University of Oxford. He also featured in several Lindsay Anderson films including O Lucky Man! (1973) and In Celebration (1974).

Peter Sallis has claimed that Owen's left-wing views contrasted so much with the right-wing opinions of Michael Bates that Last of the Summer Wine was almost not made because of their arguments. [4] Owen was a founding member of the Keep Sunday Special campaign group. He was awarded the MBE in 1977.

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1980 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in Trafalgar Square.[ citation needed ]

Bill Owen's grave in the churchyard of St John's Parish Church, Upperthong Lane, Holmfirth Bill Owen's grave.jpg
Bill Owen's grave in the churchyard of St John's Parish Church, Upperthong Lane, Holmfirth

While filming the Last of the Summer Wine French special for the millennium of 2000, Owen fell ill but insisted on continuing despite being in pain; when he got back to England, he was confirmed as having pancreatic and bowel cancer.

He continued working right up to his death from pancreatic cancer in Westminster, London, [5] on 12 July 1999, [6] coincidentally, the birthday of co-star Kathy Staff, who played his love interest Nora Batty on Last of the Summer Wine. Owen is buried in the churchyard of St John's Parish Church, Upperthong, near his beloved town of Holmfirth in Yorkshire, the home of Last of the Summer Wine. His co-star Peter Sallis was buried next to him after his death aged 96 in June 2017. [7]

Selected television roles

1963 to 1964 Taxi! Fred Cuddell
1971Coppers EndSergeant Sam Short
1973 to 1974 Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? George Chambers
1973 to 2000 Last of the Summer Wine Compo Simmonite 185 episodes
1982 Tales of the Unexpected Meakins"The Moles" S5 E6

Selected filmography

Related Research Articles

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Last of the Summer Wine is a British sitcom created and written by Roy Clarke and originally broadcast by the BBC from 1973 to 2010. It premiered as an episode of Comedy Playhouse on 4 January 1973, and the first series of episodes followed on 12 November 1973. From 1983 to 2010, Alan J. W. Bell produced and directed all episodes of the show. The BBC confirmed on 2 June 2010 that Last of the Summer Wine would no longer be produced and the 31st series would be its last. Subsequently, the final episode was broadcast on 29 August 2010. Since its original release, all 295 episodes, comprising thirty-one series—including the pilot and all films and specials—have been released on DVD. Repeats of the show are broadcast in the UK on BBC One, Gold, Yesterday, and Drama. It is also seen in more than twenty-five countries, including various PBS stations in the United States and on VisionTV in Canada. Last of the Summer Wine is the longest-running comedy programme in Britain and the longest-running sitcom in the world.

Brian Wilde British actor (1927–2008)

Brian George Wilde was an English actor, best known for his roles in television comedy, most notably Mr Barrowclough in Porridge and Walter "Foggy" Dewhurst in Last of the Summer Wine. His lugubrious world-weary face was a staple of British television for forty years.

Peter Sallis British actor (1921–2017)

Peter John Sallis was a British actor. He was known for his work in television.

Upperthong Village in West Yorkshire, England

Upperthong is a village approximately 807 feet (246 m) above sea level, near the town of Holmfirth in Holme Valley, approximately 7 miles (11 km) south of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England.

Compo may refer to:

<i>First of the Summer Wine</i>

First of the Summer Wine is a British sitcom written by Roy Clarke that aired on BBC1. The pilot originally aired on 3 January 1988, and the first series of episodes followed on 4 September 1988. The show ran for two series of six episodes each, with the final episode airing on 8 October 1989. The pilot episode was produced and directed by Gareth Gwenlan. Both series of episodes were produced and directed by Mike Stephens. The BBC has never shown repeats of the show, although repeats do occasionally appear in the UK on satellite station Gold. The show was broadcast in Australia on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation network in the early 1990s.

Nora Batty is a fictional character in the world's longest-running sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine. Nora became a national icon, recognised by her wrinkled stockings, pinny and distinctive style of hair curlers. She appeared in 245 of the 295 episodes.

Norman Mitchell

Norman Mitchell Driver, known professionally as Norman Mitchell, was an English television, stage and film actor.

Thomas William Stevenson Rowbotham, known professionally as Tom Owen, is a British actor best known for playing Tom Simmonite in the world's longest-running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. He is the son of Bill Owen, who played William "Compo" Simmonite in the show.

The Funny Side of Christmas is a Christmas special broadcast by BBC1 on 27 December 1982.

William Simmonite, better known by his nickname of Compo, was a character in the world's longest-running sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine.

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<i>Last of the Summer Wine</i> (series 1) Season of television series

Last of the Summer Wine'sfirst series originally aired on BBC1 between 4 January 1973 and 17 December 1973. All episodes from this series were written by Roy Clarke and produced and directed by James Gilbert.

<i>Last of the Summer Wine</i> (series 3) Season of television series

Last of the Summer Wine'sthird series originally aired on BBC1 between 27 October 1976 and 24 December 1976. All episodes from this series were written by Roy Clarke and produced by Sydney Lotterby Five episodes were directed by Sydney Lotterby but two: the two-parter, "The Great Boarding House Bathroom Caper" and "Cheering Up Gordon", were directed by Ray Butt.

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"Of Funerals and Fish" is the pilot episode of the world's longest running sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine (1973–2010), written by Roy Clarke. It was first aired on 4 January 1973 and became the first of 295 episodes. It was aired as a Comedy Playhouse episode. The plot involved the trio going around discussing life and death.


  1. Last of the Summer Wine: The Inside Story of the World's Longest-Running Comedy Series, Andrew Vine, Aurum Press, 2011
  2. Barker, Dennis (13 July 1999). "Bill Owen". Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  3. "Index of /nom/nominations/last-of-the-summer-wine-1". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  4. "Argument 'threatened Summer Wine'". 17 May 2009. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  5. "Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006". Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  6. Dennis Barker (13 July 1999). "Bill Owen". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  7. "Last of the Summer Wine star Peter Sallis is laid to rest next to co-star Bill Owen in Holmfirth". Huddersfield Examiner . Trinity Mirror Group. 2 January 2018. Retrieved 28 May 2018.