Now as the series ends for ever, Tom Owen himself a veteran of the epic comedy paints a revealing picture of his father Bill and asks: Why couldn't the BBC commission a decent final episode? Tom Owen with his father Bill and sons James, 7, and William, 5, all dressed up as Compo for a joke in Yet by his own admission, Tom was never close to his 'brilliant but strange' father, who died from pancreatic cancer in , aged There was no real bond between us.
My father would have been hopping mad, although I daresay he wouldn't have expressed it quite like that. A newspaper photograph of Tom at his father's funeral alongside Peter Sallis, who plays Cleggy, caught the eye of Roy Clarke. He thought that introducing a son would be a neat solution to filling Compo's famously turned-down wellington boots. It was a great job and good money.
Knowing him as I did, I think he would have thought I was encroaching on his territory. A lifelong Labour Party supporter, he nevertheless packed off his son to Dorset House, a preparatory school in West Sussex, when he was six and then to Lancing College, near the family home in Brighton.
Tom, centre, as Compo's son, alongside Peter Sallis, left, and Frank Thornton 'I hate the principle of private education but I have to admit that it did instil a survival instinct in me,' Tom says now. It was to be a useful skill, especially as his parents' marriage was not a happy one.
One fault line was the social gulf between Bill and his wife Edith, who came from a prosperous middle-class Scottish family and who loved the raffish showbusiness world in Brighton. They never operated as a unit. But then you could never have described him in any sense as a hands-on father. I can't ever remember him putting his arms around me. In many ways, I never really knew my father.
For example, living in Brighton, I would see other families on holiday together but we never went away on a family holiday. I'm certain he loved his grandsons sons but he either couldn't or wouldn't get close to them. I don't think he knew how. I quite quickly worked out that I was alone and just had to get on with it. I was a little guy, not particularly goodlooking, who wore glasses and who had a famous father. I compensated by telling gags, by becoming the class clown. At home, I'd mix with working-class kids from Newhaven and Rottingdean but I never felt comfortable with them.
Bill hated all of that. Compo and his old flame Nora Batty and, above right, Tom with his faithful friend It is evidence of the distance between father and son that Tom speaks of him as though he were simply a friend.
She was brought to the party by David Jacobs, the leading showbusiness lawyer of the day. She was tiny, birdlike. I was 14 at the time and frightened to shake her hand because I thought she would shatter into a million pieces. She was just so frail. Referring to the break-up of his parents' marriage, Tom says: And, once again, I was expected to deal with the situation on my own. I lived there for a while when I got my first job as a lift attendant at Hamleys toy shop in Regent Street.
His wife, Vera, was one of those people who was a good shoulder to cry on and I remember pouring my heart out to her. She was the only woman who really understood how complicated he was.
Part of the problem, I think, was that he'd been happy to accept her money on the one hand but he'd felt guilty doing so on the other. Mind you, Edith could be very dismissive of him. When he was cast as Compo in , I remember her saying to me, "I don't know why he's doing rubbish like that. In the end, she committed suicide. She planned it down to the last detail, writing to her GP the night before she swallowed the pills that killed her.
But I suspect by that stage she was proud of what Bill had achieved by being part of a TV institution. He also wrote the book and lyrics for the stage musical The Matchgirls.
He was far from ideal father material, though. He was too bound up in himself. He was a driven man, something I have to acknowledge I inherited from him. I haven't always been successful in my relationships and the underlying reason, I think, is because I'm selfish.
I have to be. And, if that's your game, that's the way you have to play it. It's something, consciously or not, I learned from my father. We're all caught in the genetic trap, to a greater or lesser extent. By common accord, Bill was a difficult man. She was sitting in the canteen one day, unaware that Bill was behind her at the next table. He was desperately in love with her but from afar. Anyway, she was with Spencer-Tracy so Bill knew he'd never get a look-in. But he was only 5ft 4ins or so and it just didn't work.
He was a superb comedy actor who went on to make more than 60 films. But that wasn't his way except in Holmfirth. He loved it there and the people loved him. But she wouldn't budge. And there were so many people who would have liked to pay their last respects to Bill but who weren't allowed anywhere near the church. I thought that was sad. I now do a one-man show based on my life and my father's career and I've found out so much just from studying old footage of him.
But he never showed any interest in what I was doing or how I was getting on in the same profession as him. Bill came to see my production of All About Eve. Afterwards, he muttered something like, "Well done, son," but that was it. He was a very contained man, shut off in many ways. It had taken him many decades to talk to me like that and it felt strange because he'd never shared any intimacies with me. Perhaps he now felt more relaxed since I, too, was a grown man.
How does he explain the gentle comedy's longevity? Also, there's no swearing and no smut, so grandad and grandson can watch it together. It's Men Behaving Badly but full of old geezers with conkers in their pockets. And then there's the scenery. It's an expensive show to make. But somehow it survived.
We filmed this new series last year and they said they'd wait until they saw the audience reaction before they came to a decision about whether it would carry on. But they weren't telling the truth because they've already decided it's not coming back.