On June 2, 2017, Peter Sallis, best known for voicing Wallace in the Wallace & Gromit animated films, passed away. He was 96 years old. His agent confirmed he died peacefully with his family by his side.
Peter Sallis was born on February 1, 1921 in Twickenham, Middlesex, England. Following the outbreak of WWII, Sallis joined the Royal Air Force but was unable to serve as aircrew because of a serum albumin disorder. He later became a wireless mechanic and went on to teach radio procedures at RAF Cranwell. Later, one of his students offered him the lead in an amateur production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. The success he received from this role inspired him to become an actor after the war. Sallis was awarded a Korda scholarship and began training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
His first professional appearance on the London stage happened in 1946 in The Scheming Lieutenant. Additional stage roles for Sallis included Moby Dick—Rehearsed, The Trial, Cabaret, She Loves Me, Baker Street, and Inadmissible Evidence. In the U.K., Sallis was a much-loved face on British television. Throughout his career, he appeared on Samuel Pepys, The Culture Vultures, Danger Man, Doctor Who, and The Persuaders. He also starred in all 295 episodes of the British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, as the mild-mannered Norman Clegg.
He also appeared in countless British films, including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Doctor in Love, The Curse of the Werewolf, The V.I.P.s, Charlie Bubbles, Scream and Scream Again, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Wuthering Heights, The Incredible Sarah, and Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe. But it was his vocal work as the cheese-loving inventor, Wallace, in Nick Park's award-winning animated films that gave him a global legacy. Sallis voiced the eccentric character in the 1989 BAFTA-winning A Grand Day Out, followed up by the Oscar-winning films The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit - a role which also won him an Annie Award for best voice acting in an animated feature production.
In 2008, Sallis voiced a new Wallace & Gromit adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death. His final performance as Wallace was in the 2010 film, Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention. “He was always my first and only choice for Wallace. 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,’” Park once said.
Sallis later retired due to ill health, leaving Ben Whitehead to take over the iconic role. He was married to actress Elaine Usher in 1957, and had one son, Crispian Sallis, in 1959. Sallis and Usher were separated several times and eventually divorced in 1983. Crispian, who survives Sallis, went on to become an Oscar-nominated film set designer.