Bill Owen, 1914 – 1999
Bill Owen will always be remembered for his role as Compo in Last Of The Summer Wine, a role he played from 1973 up until his death in 1999.
Born William John Owen Rowbotham, on 14th March 1914, at Acton Green, London. He was the son of a tram driver and laundress. He married his first wife Edith Stevenson to whom he has a son; Tom. they divorced in 1964 and Owen would marry again to Kathleen O’Donoghue in 1977, he remained with until his death in 1999.
During World War 2 Bill Owen served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, where he was injured during a battle training course.
Owen was an active member of the Labour Party, so much so that fellow star Peter Sallis 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. Owen was also one of the founding members of Keep Sunday Special campaign group. He was awarded the MBE
in 1976 for his steadfast work for the National Association of Boys Clubs and for his role as chairman of the Performing Arts Advising Panel. He was also awarded an honorary degree by Bradford University in 1998.
Whilst 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 until his death on 12th July 1999. He is buried in the churchyard of St John’s Parish Church, Upperhong, near his beloved town of Holmfirth in Yorkshire.
During the 1960’s, 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 appearing: in Carry On Sergeant, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Regardless and Carry on Cabby. He also had a cameo appearance in Brideshead Revisted as Lunt, Charles Ryder’s scout during his days Oxford University. He also featured in several Lindsay Anderson films including O Lucky Man! (1973) and In Celebration (1974).
He became a regular fixture in Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? playing George Chambers, Thelma’s Father.
However it would be as Compo Simmonite in the long running sitcom Last Of The Summer Wine for which he would be best remembered. Appearing in the pilot episode and every episode thereafter, right up until his death in 1999.