The beloved UK character actor Peter Sallis has died at the age of 96. He was best known as the voice of Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit films from Aardman studios, but was also very popular in the UK for his appearances in popular TV sit-coms and movies.
Sallis was an English actor who was born and brought up in London, although he often played roles that required him to adopt accents and mannerisms from other parts of the UK. He became a stage actor in London during the 1950s and 1960s, and appeared in productions like Cabaret. He also appeared in many successful British films of the 1960s and 1970s, including some classic examples from the Hammer film studios (Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Curse of the Werewolf ), and dramas like Wuthering Heights and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. One of his most famous roles however was as the thoughtful Norman “Cleggy” Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine, which was the longest-running comedy program in Britain and one of the longest-running sitcoms in the world. He appeared in the first show in 1973 and stayed in the cast right up until its final episode in 2010, making him the only actor to appear in all 295 episodes.
However Sallis undoubtedly achieved global recognition for his unforgettable vocal work for Wallace, the eccentric inventor who owned the intelligent (but mute) dog Gromit, with whom he embarks on many wacky adventures. The stop-motion films from Aardman were hugely popular around the world, and the pair are repeatedly voted into lists for the best animated movie characters. There are four short films (A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, and A Matter of Loaf and Death) and one feature-length movie (Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) which became the second highest-grossing stop motion film on record, and currently holds 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. Sallis was integral to the quirky voice and actions of Wallace. It’s impossible to imagine the wide-mouthed character saying “Cracking cheese, Gromit!” and not hearing the distinctive vocals of Sallis pronouncing the words.
Nick Park (the director of the Wallace and Gromit films), released a statement regarding the actor via the Aardman website, and paid tribute to his memory:
“When I look back I’m so blessed and fortunate that he had the generosity of spirit to help out a poor film school student back in the early 1980’s, when we first recorded together, when neither of us had any idea what Wallace & Gromit might become. Peter’s unique, charming quality, together with oversized vowels and endearing performance, helped me fashion Wallace from the beginning; the way he first said “We’ve forgotten the Crackers Gromit” and “Cracking toast Gromit” or just “Cheeeese!” soon lead to Wallace’s enormous ‘coat-hanger mouth’. They don’t come along very often like Peter Sallis – he was a unique character, on and off screen, and an absolute honour to have known him.”
Sallis had retired from acting, and had not appeared nor voiced on film or television from 2010 onwards. It was confirmed today that he died peacefully with his family by his side on Friday, June 2. Many actors and friends have subsequently taken to social media to praise his work and personality. He leaves a large body of work and accomplishments behind him, but for many people he will always be the voice of the lovable inventor who could never get enough cheese. He will be missed.