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Tom Simmonite: Tom Owen

The hardest moment in Tom Owen's life was also one of the proudest.

The hardest moment in Tom Owen's life was also one of the proudest. When Tom's father Bill Owen, the actor who played Compo, died suddenly, Tom had little time to grieve.

Within a week of his father's death, the series' producer and director, Alan Bell, offered Tom a remarkable challenge.

Tom Owen (smiling) 118

Bill had lost the battle to cancer of the pancreas, with four episodes of what would be the 27th series yet to film. It came as a total surprise to Tom when he was asked to play the long lost son of Compo in this, the UK's longest running comedy. His private life was set to collide with his professional life.

"Just like my Dad, I've been an actor throughout my life but despite my experience in the profession, nothing could prepare me for this new role. Not only was I replacing my father's definitive role as Compo, playing his son but I was about to work on a world renown comedy and be judged by a huge audience of die hard fans."

After the stress of the funeral, Tom and his wife Mary booked a holiday, only to be interrupted by the all important call from the BBC asking him to consider the role of "Tom Simmonite".

On returning from his break, Tom would have only two weeks to prepare for the hardest role in his life. "Few actors aged 50 are offered such an amazing opportunity," continued Tom, "so I ignored any reservations that I might have had and went for it."

"It was only as I was about to walk on set for the first time that the enormity of the task in hand hit me. How could I step onto Dad's patch; what would established actors like Peter Sallis and Thora Hird think of me and could I ever live up to the memory of my Dad?"

But as the tributes flooded in, Bill Owen's death left some painful but practical problems for his grieving colleagues too. Bill had fallen ill unexpectedly, while filming the Last of the Summer Wine Millennium Special in France.

Despite putting up a spirited fight, the cancer over took him and his health deteriorated rapidly. Bill's relatively sudden death, shocked the cast and crew, who were like a second family to him.

"Not only did the team have to cope with the sudden death of a close friend and to some, a colleague of 27 years, everyone had to start reworking the final four episodes.

The series' writer Roy Clarke had to turn around the scripts in under two months which incorporated Compo's death and funeral and my character's entrance.

It was all a bit close to home but it was a testament to Roy's writing talent, Peter Sallis' performance and Alan Bells' direction that the rapidly reworked final episodes managed to inject gentle comedy into the funeral scenes. "

Tom went on to film the final four episodes of the series and is currently filming his second full series, which is due to be aired later in the year. He is married to Mary a careers advisor and has two children. James, 24 is a regional organiser for the Labour party and William, 22 has won a scholarship to study drama at the Mountview Theatre School.

Budding thespian William is the third generation of Owens to appear in the Last of the Summer Wine as he made his screen debut last year as an extra.

Tom has been an actor all his life and has tackled both screen and stage roles in a variety of productions including The Bill, Minder, Goodbye Mr Chips along side Peter O'Toole and Queenie with Kirk Douglas.

When not acting, Tom lectures in speech and drama at Thames Valley University where he also sits on the Examining Board.

As a lifelong Labour supporter, Tom canvassed for the party in the last two elections and also organised rallies and lectures for Neil Kinnock.


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