Tea Time Tidbits
Last of the Summer Wine's Bill and Tom Owen
Week of October 6, 2014
Bill and Tom Owen
Tom Owen (center) with Peter Sallis and Frank Thornton.

We've all got our favorite Last of the Summer Wine character; mine is the scruffy, but ultra-lovable Compo, played by Bill Owen. It was a sad day for LOTSW fans when his character was written out of the series after Owen's death in 1999 at the age of 85 from pancreatic cancer.

Owen's look-alike son, Tom, soon joined the show, in the role of Compo's long-lost son, Tom Simmonite. He was cast after Roy Clark saw his photograph in a newspaper where he'd been photographed at his father's funeral standing next to Owen's good friend and fellow LOTSW cast-mate, Peter Sallis. Clark was struck by the strong family resemblance and decided that the younger Owen might be just the right person to fill Compo's mucky wellies.

Bill and Tom Owen
Bill Owen, son Tom and grandsons, dressed as "Compo."

Although Owen had acted in his youth, it had been several years since he'd had a full-time acting job. At the time of Clark's proposal he was teaching drama and working for Tom Owen Productions; a company he'd set up with his father producing conferences, exhibitions and events. No one of course could ever replace the older Owen. He was one of a kind, but despite some initial misgivings his son took on the challenge.

"It was a very peculiar experience", Owen recalled in a newspaper interview after the series was cancelled. "Losing a father and then being cast as his fictional son, but I just blanked out my feelings. It was a great job and good money."

Bill Owen had played Compo for 26 years and as much as people tried to convince the younger Owen that his dad would have loved the idea, he wasn't too sure, believing instead that his father may have thought he was "encroaching on his territory".

Bill and Tom Owen
Bill Owen with Tom in 1965.

It seems that father and son weren't particularly close. According to Owen, his father for instance never once hugged him or took the time to share a family holiday. In fact, the only activity he can remember doing with his dad was fishing off of Brighton Pier. As for helping his son break into show business, Owen let him find his own way. Except for once, when his son was starting out and he got him a job as a student assistant stage manager; earning the grand sum of a guinea (one pound one shilling - about $1.70) a week.

Although initially only contracted for four seasons of the show, Tom Owen stayed with LOTSW for 11 years, until its conclusion. Since then, he has kept the show's memory alive through his one-man show, Last of the Summer Wine - Treading the Boards, which he has toured around the country for a number of years. The show is based on his life, his father's career and the series they both loved so very dearly.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

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