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This article refers to the British actor. For a list of other persons with the same name, see Bill Owen.
Bill Owen
Born William John Owen Rowbotham
14 March 1914(1914-03-14)
London, England
Died 12 July 1999 (aged 85)
London, England
Years active 1941 - 1999

William John Owen Rowbotham MBE (14 March 1914 – 12 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.[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, by Michael Aldridge's Seymour Utterthwaite) remains the most popular group of three the show ever produced.

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. On the series Floyd On TV - the one-series follower to Clive James On Television - 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. He at this time also collaborated with songwriter Tony Russell on musical The Matchgirls about the London matchgirls strike of 1888. He starred as Spike Miligan's straight man in the West End hit Son of Oblomov in 1964.

Owen was an active supporter of the Labour Party and indeed 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.

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 featured in several Lindsay Anderson films including O Lucky Man! (1973) and In Celebration (1974).

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



  1. ^ Last of the Summer Wine [1]
  2. ^ Argument 'threatened Summer Wine'
  3. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006
  4. ^ Bill Owen (I)

External links



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