Summer Wine On-line

Welcome to the official web site of the Summer Wine Appreciation Society, in partnership with Holmfirth Web. This is our tribute to the world's longest-running TV comedy series which is filmed in the Holme Valley, and surrounding villages.

 

 

 

Tom Owen

Tom Owen from Summer WineAs I write this, it is two days after the first anniversary of my father's death. It has been the most extraordinary year of my life - full of so many emotions. As I watched dear Dad dying in his hospital bed, I had absolutely no idea what lay ahead.

Unfortunately, I was not allowed any input in the funeral arrangements. I know that he would have loved his coffin to be carried through the streets of his beloved Holmfirth giving access to those thousands of people to pay their last respects.

I also know that he would have wanted the cast of "Last of the Summer Wine" to be in attendance at the funeral service. Alas, this was not to be.

I have been an actor all my life. I worked solidly from the age of 16 in 1966 to 1978. I played the lead role in many children's TV series including "Freewheelers", "Wreckers at Deadeye" and "Tottering Towers".

I was in the West End, a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, featured roles in many films including "Goodbye Mr Chips" with Peter O'Toole and "Queenie" with Kirk Douglas. In addition, I spent many years in one, two and three weekly repertory - in my opinion, the best training ground for any actor.

Around 1978/79, the work began to cease. No longer was I "flavour of the month." Our profession is very fickle! I've always been a worker, never one to just sit round waiting for the phone to ring. I have worked at a variety of jobs one of which was as a barman at Lambton Squash Club in West London. It was there that I met Mary, who was to become my wife, and ten people who became very close friends and remain so to this day.

To skip through the years - with no acting work coming in and having just got married - I had to realise the fact that I could not afford the luxury of being an out of work actor and I had to turn my mind to other career possibilities. I ran the bar at Wimbledon Squash Club before Mary, James, William and I moved out to Billericay in Essex where I was to manage the Havering Squash Club.

After four years, we were asked by two close friends if we would be interested in running a wine bar in West London. This seemed ideal as we were looking for an excuse to return to London. Unfortunately, the wine bar did not work out and I started teaching drama. I was totally unqualified but it seemed my personality coupled with the vast experience I had gained in the earlier years lent itself to teaching drama. Mary and I opened our own fringe theatre in Acton where we lived (Dad was born in Bridgman Road, Acton) and I was enjoying my teaching. This was very spasmodic and I needed a more stable income. After showbusiness, politics was my next love. Like my father, I am a socialist and in 1991, I went to work at Walworth Road for the Labour Party as an assistant exhibitions organisers.

After three years I left and Dad and I set up Tom Owen Productions, a company that would produce conferences, exhibitions and events. It is still going today but I could never lose the love that I have for the theatre. I directed many plays and am now a lecturer in Speech and Drama at Thames Valley University.

The reason that I have written these accounts is to underline just how much of a shock it was when Alan phoned me that morning and asked me if I wanted to play Compo's long lost son.  Suddenly, after all these years, I was back in business doing what I loved. What tragic circumstances though - it took my father's death to propel me into the world's longest running TV comedy series in a leading role.

I think Alan and Roy Clarke initially thought of me as coming into the series on a temporary basis.  After all, although they new that I was an actor, they didn't know if I was any good. Neither did the cast and crew all of whom were traumatised by Dad's death. Who was this unknown coming into "Summer Wine"? I don't think that either Roy or Alan knew if the BBC would commission another series and I think they were as nervous as I was as I travelled up to Holmfirth for my first days filming in early September.

Me going to Holmfirth? That was dad's patch! Over 27 years, I only ever went up there twice and once was to play a minuscule role in one episode.  Little did I know then what the future held. I confess to feeling a little paranoid, not only about whether the cast and crew would accept me but how the people of Holmfirth would react for they loved him as much as he did them.

I remember walking through the town that first day when I felt a touch on my arm. It was a little old lady. "We loved your Dad and we wish you all the luck in the world. We're just thrilled that the series is carrying on," she said.  In all the time I have spent in Yorkshire over the past year, I have never heard it said that the series should end as Compo has gone. Everyone has been so positive, so supportive, so kind. I understand now why he loved this county and in particular this little town.

It has not been easy. I have trod the same paths that he trod. I have filmed in the same locations. I have looked out across the moor at the same views that he saw. I have worked with the same people that he worked with for over a quarter of a century. It is a comfort to know that he is buried in St John's Church, Upperthong.

I feel he is around us all in the show when we are filming and there are times when I can feel him on my shoulder.

I, nor anyone else, will ever be Compo. He is irreplaceable and it would be a mistake of the largest order for anyone to try and copy his definitive performance. However, I am my father's son - there are mannerisms that are very similar.  These are not contrived - we are the same blood. I hope that because of this and, I hope, because of my performance as Tom Simmonite, that I am able to bring some comfort to the millions who enjoy "Last of the Summer Wine" and I hope that the show continues for many years to come.

It is difficult to single out people who have been so particularly kind and supportive to me over the past year but I feel that I should mention the following:

Alan Bell, our director for giving me a second bite of the cherry and having faith in me as an actor. Roy Clarke, our writer for the same reasons. Peter Sallis for just being there and for all his input into the London Tribute. Andrew and Alison Bray, two very close friends of Dads and now of mine for helping with the million and one things that needed to be done when I was not up in Holmfirth. Clive, Margaret and all the members of The Summer Wine Appreciation Society for their backing, loyalty and for educating me into twenty seven years of LOSW! All the townspeople of Holmfirth for their kindness and understanding. Finally, my family - Mary, James and William for their unswerving support and love through a very difficult time.

Christine at the LOSW Exhibition and Joe and Hazel at Compo's Café collected £2,700 last year which is going towards a Memorial Garden leading up to my dad's grave. It is with sincere thanks to everyone who donated and the garden will be a place where people can be alone with him. Any monies left over will be donated to a young person's charity.

I strongly support the idea of a statue of Dad. No matter what others may say, I KNOW that he would be absolutely thrilled to be honoured in such a way.  Donations towards a Memorial for Dad are being collected throughout the town and I shall be drawing the raffle at Compo's Café in August. I have a cost for a bronze full-life statue and I hope that a prolific sculptor and friend of Dads - John Alder - will be given the commission. I do hope the people of Holmfirth will allow us to proceed. If so, we will apply for a Lottery Grant and work will start as soon as possible.

Thank you all for supporting "Last of the Summer Wine" over so many years. Thank you for supporting and loving my father and thank you for welcoming me. I shall try not to let you down.

With love to you all.

Tom


Read the Tom Owen interview September, 1999.


© 2000 Area5. The Summer Wine On-Line web site brought to you by Area5 Public Relations, Holmfirth. Thanks to everyone who has contributed material to this web site, including Colin Frost, of Side's Café, Holmfirth.