‘He’s not suitable!’ Last of the Summer Wine writer originally refused to cast Compo star
5th March 2022

Last Of The Summer Wine: Bill Owen becoming Compo

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Channel 5 viewers were taken back in time on Saturday night as they tuned in to watch Last of the Summer Wine: 30 Years of Laughter. The documentary looked into the history of the beloved show which is the longest-running sit-com having been on the air for a total of 37 years. However, the documentary programme revealed one of the comedy’s most popular stars almost wasn’t cast.

Last of the Summer Wine was first broadcast by the BBC in 1973 and quickly became a hit with viewers.

The original line-up saw Bill Owen star alongside Peter Sallis and Brian Wilde.

However, Saturday night’s documentary revealed Bill almost missed out on his iconic role of Compo.

Tom Owen, Bill’s son, spoke on the documentary and revealed his father was first sent the script for the character in the post.

He explained: “I was living with him at the time in his flat in Marylebone High Street and an envelope came through the door.

“He opened it and I think he read the first scene or first couple of scenes.

“I always remember him saying to me ‘Son, this is pure gold’,” Tom said.

However, despite Bill’s enthusiasm for the part, the show’s writer Roy Clarke wasn’t keen on him playing Compo.

Morris Bright, author of Last of the Summer Wine The Finest Vintage, explained that Roy insisted Bill wasn’t the right star to play the comical character.

He said: “The BBC auditioned Bill Owen who was actually a Londoner and straight away Roy Clarke said ‘No’.

“‘He’s not suitable. He’s not suitable for Compo, this sort of out of work lazy Yorkshire lad. That’s not how I see him’,” Morris explained.

“Roy was kind of adamant ‘No Bill Owen’,” Tom added.

However, Tom revealed his father eventually secured the role when Roy was shown footage of him acting with a Yorkshire accent.

He commented: “The original producer said, ‘Just watch this tape’ which he had of Bill where he played a Yorkshireman.

“It was a very dramatic role, there was no comedy in it. Roy watched it and he said, ‘That’s Compo’,” Tom remarked.

Bill played Compo on Last of the Summer Wine between 1973 and his death in 1999.

The actor sadly didn’t see the show till its end as he died of pancreatic and bowel cancer.

As a result, Bill’s final scenes in the sitcom were broadcast in 2000.

Last of the Summer Wine continued until 2010 when its 37-year run came to an end.

Last of the Summer Wine: 30 Years of Laughter is available to stream on My5.

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