Bill Owen (actor)

This article refers to the British actor. For a list of other persons with the same name, see Bill Owen.

William John Owen Rowbotham MBE (14 March, 191412 July, 1999), better known as Bill Owen, was an English actor and songwriter.

Born in London, he made his first film appearance in 1945 but only achieved lasting fame in the 1970s when he took the starring role of Compo Simmonite in the long-running British sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine. Owen's character is a scruffy working-class pensioner, often made use of by the characters played by Michael Bates, Brian Wilde, Michael Aldridge and Frank Thornton for dirty jobs, stunts and escapades, while his indomitably docile friend 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, 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 27 years, right until his death. 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, by Michael Aldridge's Seymour Utterthwaite) remains the most popular group of three the show ever produced.

During the 1960s, Owen had a successful second career as a songwriter, with compositions including the hit, Marianne, recorded by Cliff Richard. He at this time also collaborated with songwriter Tony Russell on musical The Matchgirls about the London matchgirls strike of 1888.

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

Bill Owen also had a cameo appearance in Brideshead Revisited as Lunt, Charles Ryder's scout, during his college days at Oxford University. He also starred in several Lindsay Anderson films including O Lucky Man! and In Celebration.

He continued working right up to his death from pancreatic cancer on 12th July 1999 (his son Tom Owen's 50th Birthday) His actor son, Tom Owen, was written into the series after his death. The storyline was that Compo knew he was terminally ill but chose not to tell Truly and Clegg, instead writing to his son with whom he has lost contact. The son however does not make it in time to his father's funeral but remains in the area afterwards. Bill is buried in the churchyard of St John's Parish Church, Upperthong, in his beloved town of Holmfirth in Yorkshire, the home of Last of the Summer Wine.

Selected Television Roles

Year Title Role
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


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