Image of Bill Owen

Bill Owen

This Britisher was born of humble, working class beginnings and became well-known for playing the same kind of blokes on both film and TV. Born William Rowbotham, he was the son of a tram driver and laundress. He knew early on that entertaining was the life for him. He worked in odd jobs as a printer's apprentice and band vocalist to make do and, when he became of legal age, started playing drums in London nightclubs and toured music halls with his own cabaret act to pay for acting classes. He entertained at Butlin's holiday camps and performed in repertory, joining the Unity Theatre where he attained respect as a stage producer. His career was interrupted by military service with the Royal Army Ordinance Corps and was injured in an explosion during battle training course. Returning to acting, he was taken to post-war films after notice in a play. He started making a blue-collar character name for himself in such films as Johnny in the Clouds (1945), Secret Flight (1946), When the Bough Breaks (1947), Maniacs on Wheels (1949), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), The Square Ring (1953) and PT Raiders (1955). He continued to perform in the theatre limelight and peaked in roles with Katharine Hepburn in "As You Like It" in 1950, and with "The Threepenny Opera" and "The Mikado", which made sturdy use of his musical talents. A writer at heart, he penned songs, musicals and plays over the years. Partnered with Mike Sammes, he wrote songs recorded by Pat Boone, Harry Secombe, Engelbert Humperdinck and Sir Cliff Richard, who made a hit of his 1980 song "Marianne". In the 60s he produced the stage musical, "The Matchgirl", and focused heavily on film slapstick with the 'Carry On' series, adding also to the lowbrow fun found in the comedy Operation Snafu (1961). TV stardom and a sense of renewed career came late after copping the role of Compo in the BBC's "Roy Clarke's Last of the Summer Wine" (1973)series in 1973, his scruffy, mischievous charm endearing audiences for decades. 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. For the rest of his life, Bill would be identified with the lovable scamp Compo, complete with wooly hat and threadbare jacket. Most fittingly, when he died of pancreatic cancer in 1999, he asked to be buried in the Yorkshire village of Holmfirth, where the TV series was filmed and the townspeople had taken him close to their hearts. Married twice, his actor/son Tom Owen joined the "Last of the Summer Wine" series in 2000.

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Mar 14, 1914
Movie/TV Credits:
First Appeared:
In the movie Tank Patrol 1941-06-16
Latest Project:
Movie Laughterhouse 1985-10-01
Known For
Poster of Laughterhouse
Poster of In Celebration
Poster of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?
Poster of Once a Jolly Swagman
Movie Laughterhouse Amos 1985-10-01
Series Brideshead Revisited Lunt 1981-10-12
Movie The Comeback Mr. B 1978-06-16
Series Angels Unknown 1975-09-01
Movie In Celebration Mr. Shaw 1975-03-17
Series Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? Unknown 1973-01-09
Series Last of the Summer Wine William 'Compo' Simmonite 1973-11-12
Movie O Lucky Man! Supt. Barlow / Insp. Carding 1973-03-25
Movie Unfair! Worker 1970-11-15
Movie Mischief 1969-12-01
Movie Headline Hunters 1968-09-01
Series Man in a Suitcase Unknown 1967-09-27
Movie Georgy Girl Ted 1966-08-04
Movie The Fighting Prince of Donegal Officer Powell 1966-10-01
Movie Kiss Me Kate Gangster 1964-04-20
Movie Carry On Cabby Smiley Sims 1963-06-01
Movie The Hellfire Club Martin 1961-02-03
Movie Carry On Regardless Mike Weston 1961-04-04
Movie On the Fiddle Cpl. Gittens 1961-10-10
Movie Carry On Nurse Percy 'Perc' Hickson 1959-03-10
Movie Davy Eric 1958-01-02
Movie Carry On Sergeant Corporal Bill Copping 1958-08-15
Movie Carve Her Name with Pride N.C.O. Instructor 1958-02-18
Series The Buccaneers Unknown 1956-09-19
Series This Is Your Life Unknown 1955-07-29
Movie The Ship That Died of Shame Birdie 1955-04-19
Movie The Rainbow Jacket Sam 1954-05-27
Movie There Was a Young Lady Joe 1953-01-01
Movie The Square Ring Happy Burns 1953-07-13
Movie A Day to Remember Shorty Sharpe 1953-11-10
Movie The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men Stutely 1952-05-26
Movie Hotel Sahara Private Binns 1951-12-31
Movie The Girl Who Couldn't Quite Tim 1950-01-01
Movie Diamond City Pinto 1949-09-20
Movie Once a Jolly Swagman Lag Gibbon 1949-02-02
Movie Trottie True Joe Jugg 1949-09-29
Movie Daybreak Ron 1948-05-18
Movie My Brother's Keeper Syd Evans 1948-08-19
Movie Easy Money Mr. Lee 1948-01-20
Movie Trouble in the Air 1948-11-01
Movie The Weaker Sex Soldier with Chicken 1948-10-11
Movie Dancing with Crime Dave Robinson 1947-06-25
Movie When The Bough Breaks Bill Collins 1947-11-19
Movie School for Secrets Paratroop Sergeant 1946-12-23
Movie A City Reborn 1945-01-01
Movie The Way to the Stars Sgt. 'Nobby' Clarke 1945-06-16
Movie Tank Patrol Geordie 1941-06-16
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