Bill Owen (actor)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Bill Owen
Bill Owen.jpg
William John Owen Rowbotham

(1914-03-14)14 March 1914
Died12 July 1999(1999-07-12) (aged 85)
Westminster, London, England
Cause of deathPancreatic cancer
OccupationActor, songwriter
Years active1941–1999
Spouse(s)Edith Stevenson (1946–64) (divorced)
Kathleen O'Donoghue (1977–99) (his death)
Children2, including the actor Tom Owen.

William John Owen Rowbotham, MBE (14 March 1914 – 12 July 1999), known professionally as Bill Owen, 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 27 years. He died in July 1999, his last appearance on-screen being shown in April 2000.


Born in London, Owen made his first film appearance in 1944, but did not achieve lasting fame until 1973, when he took the starring role of William "Compo" Simmonite in the long-running British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. Owen's character 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. As Compo, Owen saw off several co-stars. 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.[1] 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.

Owen served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps during World War II, where he was injured in an explosion during a battle training course. In 1958, Owen presented a music panel/programme titled Dad You're A Square for ATV. It ran for one series, and only one episode exists in the archive of ITV. In the series Floyd on TV – the follower to Clive James on Television, presented for one series by TV chef Keith Floyd, then becoming Tarrant on TV with Chris Tarrant – Floyd showed viewers a clip from the show (leaving the audience to work out who the "to be" scruffy presenter was).

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. He also had a cameo appearance in Brideshead Revisited (TV serial) 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).


Bill Owen's grave in the churchyard of St John's Parish Church, Upperthong

Owen was an active supporter of the Labour Party; 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.[2] Owen was a founding member of the Keep Sunday Special campaign group. He was awarded the MBE in 1976.

Owen was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1980 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in Trafalgar Square.

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. The 2008 produced 'It's Never Ten Years' episode remembering the Compo character, showed several clips including nine minutes on the ferry and around Dunkirk and Bray-Dunes.

He continued working right up to his death from pancreatic cancer in Westminster, London,[3] on 12 July 1999,[4] 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 in June 2017.[5]

Bill Owen was a major supporter of the Newhaven Boys Club in the 1960s; he wrote lots of plays and they toured the UK. He became friends with David King who was a youth leader at Newhaven. David King became Youth Leader at Heatham House Youth Centre in Twickenham, London in 1968. There he started Heatham House Youth Theatre which Bill Owen was a great supporter attending most productions. The group was one of the first amateur groups to perform Bill's musical "Matchgirls" which he helped to direct and produce. He also wrote short plays for the group including The Laundresses by Degas based on the famous painting and The Beach Trouville by Monet where the painting's characters came to life. His son Tom Owen also directed a play for the group.

Selected television roles[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1963 to 1964 Taxi! Fred Cuddell
1971 Coppers End Sergeant Sam Short
1973 to 1974 Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? George Chambers
1973 to 2000 Last of the Summer Wine Compo Simmonite (Last appearances)

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ Last of the Summer Wine Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "Argument 'threatened Summer Wine'". 17 May 2009. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  3. ^ "Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006". Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  4. ^ "Bill Owen". Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  5. ^ "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.

External links[edit]