When Compo dies this weekend, a little piece of Yorkshire will die with him. Phil Gould spoke to actor Tom Owen, whose father Bill Owen played the mischievous character in Last Of The Summer Wine until his death last summer

Walking into the hotel bar it is easy to pick out actor Tom Owen from the other guests milling around.

His silver grey hair is swept back, he is wearing spectacles and, despite the absence of wrinkles, it is obvious he is the son of Compo.

In fact, it was this startling similarity to his late father, actor Bill Owen which proved his good fortune, although it came in the most tragic of circumstances.

The actor found himself in the running when the search was launched to find a replacement for Compo in the popular series Last Of The Summer Wine following the death of Bill Owen.

For more than 26 years Owen had played the loveable rogue - a man who became a legend in his own wellies. Then last June while filming the latest series of the show he was taken ill and died of stomach and bowel cancer a month later.

The BBC had already filmed three episodes of the new series and writer Roy Clarke was left with the dilemma of whether to stop filming or find a new character.

"There was a picture of Peter Sallis and myself at dad's funeral in Holmfirth," explains the 50-year-old actor. "I understand that Roy looked at it and thought: 'Good God, he looks just like Bill'.

"So that started him thinking on how he could complete the current series."

The first Owen knew of Clarke's search for a new Compo was when he received a phone call from the show's producer Alan Bell.

"It was two or three days after dad had died," says Owen. "Obviously my mind was on other things like organising the funeral and it hadn't occurred to me at all that I would be approached to play Compo's long-lost son.

"Alan suggested the idea to me and I thought about it for two seconds before saying yes."

Bill Owen loved Yorkshire and had many links with the Bradford area.

Among his last public appearances were a visit to Bradford University to be given an honorary degree and a trip to Ilkley to open an art show just a month before he died.

And little did most viewers know that many of the wacky stunts performed by Compo in the series were in fact done by his stand-in double Len Fox, from Bradford.

Tom Owen plays nomadic northern traveller Tom Simmonite, Compo's son. Simmonite arrives in the village after receiving a letter from his father, who knowing he was ill had written to the son he had never met.

But as fate would have it Simmonite arrives in the Yorkshire village too late as Compo's funeral has already taken place.

"At first when I arrived on set it was very odd," reveals Owen. "It was emotional, but very early on I decided the only way I could tackle it was by being a professional.

"I was very aware of how wary the other cast members might be of me. They had all been through a traumatic shock when Dad died. They had known him for all those years as well.

"Dad loved the show and I think he would be very proud that it is going to continue and in a way it's continuing in his memory. I think he would be very happy that I've taken his place."

Owen readily admits that playing the son of his real-life dad had its advantages. "It's a gift as I don't have to do anything to try to walk or talk like Compo as I am his son.

"My character will be a physical sort of comedian like he was but without trying to copy or emulate what dad did, as that would be a disaster."

Owen, who lives in Acton, west London got into acting after leaving school. "I was a total dunce at school so I never had any academic ambitions," he says.

His dad was instrumental in landing him his first job as an assistant stage manager at Leatherhead Theatre, Surrey. After spending 12 months there he moved on to take up a similar job at the Westminster Theatre.

"The stage manager was writing a new television series called Freewheelers and I got the lead part. I was totally green and inexperienced but it all took off from there."

Owen says that despite the public perception of his father, he had little in common with his on-screen character,

"There wasn't really any similarity between dad and Compo. He would get on the train at King's Cross looking dapper in his trilby hat and then would end up getting off at Wakefield to be transformed into Compo."

He says his father came to love the area around Holmfirth, where the series is filmed and came to look on it as home.

"Yorkshire was his love, he loved Yorkshire ever since day one of the show.

"I knew he would go on working until the end," adds Owen. "Even though it was in tragic circumstances, I'm very proud that he has left me such a wonderful legacy.

"And I think it's important for Dad's memory that I give the best performance that I can."

lLast Of The Summer Wine is on BBC1 tomorrow at 6.15pm.

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