Peter Sallis

Peter John Sallis, OBE[1] (1 February 1921 – 2 June 2017) was an English actor, known for his work on British television. He was the voice of Wallace in the Academy Award-winning Wallace and Gromit films and played Norman "Cleggy" Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine from its 1973 inception until the final episode in 2010, making him the only actor to appear in all 295 episodes. He was also in First of the Summer Wine as Norman Clegg's father.

Peter Sallis

Sallis in October 2008
Peter John Sallis

(1921-02-01)1 February 1921
Died2 June 2017(2017-06-02) (aged 96)
Resting placeSt John the Evangelist Churchyard, Upperthong
Years active1946–2010
Notable work
Wallace and Gromit,
Last of the Summer Wine
Elaine Usher
(m. 1957; div. 1965)
ChildrenCrispian Sallis

Although Sallis was born and brought up in London, the characters of Wallace and Clegg were both Northerners. He also voiced Rat in The Wind in the Willows, appeared in Danger Man in the episode "Find and Destroy" (1961) as Gordon; the BBC Doctor Who serial "The Ice Warriors" (1967) as renegade scientist Elric Penley and in an episode of The Persuaders! "The Long Goodbye" (1971). Other appearances include The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970).

Early life

Peter John Sallis[2] was born on 1 February 1921 in Twickenham, Middlesex, the only child of bank manager Harry Sallis (1889–1964) and Dorothy Amea Frances (née Barnard; 1891–1975).[3][4] After attending Minchenden Grammar School in Southgate, North London, Sallis went to work in a bank, working on shipping transactions. After the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the RAF. He was unable to serve as aircrew because of a serum albumin disorder and was told he might black out at high altitudes. He became a wireless mechanic instead and went on to teach radio procedures at RAF Cranwell.[5]

Early career

Theatre work

Sallis began his career as an amateur actor during his four years with the RAF when one of his students offered him the lead in an amateur production of Noël Coward's Hay Fever.[1] After his success in the role, he resolved to become an actor after the war, winning a Korda scholarship and training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He made his first professional appearance on the London stage in September 1946 in a walk-on part in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Scheming Lieutenant (1775).[5]

Sallis then spent three years in repertory theatre before appearing in his first speaking role on the London stage in 1949.[5] Other roles followed in the 1950s and 1960s including Orson Welles' 1955 production of Moby Dick—Rehearsed.[1] In his autobiography, Fading into the Limelight, Sallis recounts a later meeting with Welles where he received a mysterious telephone call summoning him to the deserted Gare d'Orsay in Paris where Welles announced he wanted him to dub Hungarian bit-players in his cinema adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial (1962). Sallis wrote that "the episode was Kafka-esque, to coin a phrase". Later, he was in the first West End production of Cabaret in 1968 opposite Judi Dench.[6]

Sallis appeared in the Hal Prince-produced musical She Loves Me in 1963.[7] Though not a success it led to him making his Broadway debut the following year. Prince was producer of a musical based on the work of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes called Baker Street. Sallis was asked by Prince to take the role of Dr. Watson to Fritz Weaver's Sherlock Holmes. The show ran for six months on Broadway.[7] Just before Baker Street ended he was offered the role of Wally in John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence, which had been played by Arthur Lowe in London with Nicol Williamson reprising the lead role. The production was troubled with Williamson hitting producer David Merrick with a bottle and walking out before being persuaded to continue. The show was a minor success and ran for six months in New York, opening at the Belasco Theater before transferring to the Shubert Theater.[7] Sallis reprised his role in the 1968 film adaptation.[8]

Television and films

Sallis' first extended television role was as Samuel Pepys in the BBC serial of the same name in 1958.[5] He appeared in Danger Man in the episode "Find and Destroy" (1961) as Gordon.[9] He appeared in the BBC Doctor Who story "The Ice Warriors" (1967), playing renegade scientist Elric Penley;[10] and in 1983 was due to play the role of Striker in another Doctor Who serial, "Enlightenment", but had to withdraw.[11]

He appeared as schoolteacher Mr Gladstone in an episode of the first series of Catweazle in 1970. He was cast in the BBC comedy series The Culture Vultures (1970), which saw him play stuffy Professor George Hobbs to Leslie Phillips's laid-back rogue Dr Michael Cunningham.[12] During the production, Phillips was rushed to hospital with an internal haemorrhage and as a result, only five episodes were completed.[13]

Sallis acted alongside Roger Moore and Tony Curtis in an episode of The Persuaders! ("The Long Goodbye", 1971).[14] He appeared in many British films of the 1960s and 1970s including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960),[15] Doctor in Love (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961),[15] The V.I.P.s (1963),[15] Charlie Bubbles (1967),[15] Scream and Scream Again (1969), Taste the Blood of Dracula, Wuthering Heights (1970),[15] The Incredible Sarah (1976)[15] and Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978).[16] Additionally in 1968, he was cast as the well-intentioned Coker in a BBC Radio production of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids.[17]

He played a priest in the TV film Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), and the following year he played Mr Bonteen in the BBC period drama The Pallisers.[8]

Later career

Sallis was cast in a pilot for Comedy Playhouse which became the first episode of Last of the Summer Wine (retrospectively titled "Of Funerals and Fish", 1973), as the unobtrusive lover of a quiet life, Norman Clegg.[1] The pilot was successful and the BBC commissioned a series. Sallis had already worked on stage with Michael Bates, who played the unofficial ringleader Blamire in the first two series. Sallis played the role of Clegg from 1973 to 2010, and was the only cast member to appear in every episode. He also appeared, in 1988, as Clegg's father in First of the Summer Wine,[8] a prequel to Last of the Summer Wine set in 1939.

He appeared in the children's series The Ghosts of Motley Hall (1976–78), in which he played Arnold Gudgin, an estate agent who did not want to see the hall fall into the wrong hands,[8] and he played Rodney Gloss in the BBC series Murder Most English (1977).[18] In the same period, he starred alongside Northern comic actor David Roper in the ITV sitcom Leave it to Charlie as Charlie's pessimistic boss.[19] The programme ran for four series, ending in 1980. Sallis also played the part of the ghost-hunter Milton Guest in the children's paranormal drama series The Clifton House Mystery (1978).[20]

Sallis was the narrator on Rocky Hollow (1983), a show produced by Bumper Films, who later produced Fireman Sam, and alternated with Ian Carmichael as the voice of Rat in the British television series The Wind in the Willows (1984–89), based on the book by Kenneth Grahame and produced by Cosgrove Hall Films. Alongside him were Michael Hordern as Badger, David Jason as Toad and Richard Pearson as Mole. The series was animated in stop motion, prefiguring his work with Aardman Animations. Also in 1983 he played the lead character Jim Bloggs, alongside Brenda Bruce as Hilda, in a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Raymond Briggs' When the Wind Blows.[21][22] Sallis appeared in the last episode of Rumpole of the Bailey (1992)[23] and he later starred alongside Brenda Blethyn, Kevin Whately and Anna Massey in the one-off ITV1 drama Belonging (2004).[24]

Sallis also narrated a few stories of the children's television series Postman Pat for audio cassettes when the original voice actor Ken Barrie wasn't available at the time and also voiced Hugo in the animated series Victor and Hugo: Bunglers in Crime (filling in for The Wind in the Willows co-star David Jason who was the usual voice of Hugo, although Jason's voice of Hugo can still be heard in the opening and closing theme songs) for audio cassettes as well.

While a student in 1983, animator Nick Park wrote to Sallis asking him if he would voice his character Wallace, an eccentric inventor. Sallis agreed to do so for a donation of £50 to his favourite charity.[25] The work was eventually released in 1989 and Aardman Animations' Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out went on to win a BAFTA award.[25] Sallis reprised his role in the Oscar- and BAFTA Award-winning films The Wrong Trousers in 1993 and A Close Shave in 1995.[1]

Though the characters were temporarily retired in 1996, Sallis returned to voice Wallace in several short films and in the Oscar-winning 2005 motion picture Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, for which he won an Annie Award for Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production.[1] In 2008, Sallis voiced a new Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death.[1] After the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Sallis's eyesight began to fail as a result of macular degeneration and he used a talking portable typewriter with a specially illuminated scanner to continue working.[1] His last role as Wallace was in 2010's Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention.[1] Sallis then retired due to ill health, with Ben Whitehead taking over the role.[1]


In 2006, Sallis published an autobiography entitled Fading into the Limelight.[26] Roger Lewis in The Mail on Sunday commented that "though Sallis is seemingly submissive, he has a sly wit and sharp intelligence that make this book a total delight".[27] As well as his 36 years in Last of the Summer Wine, Sallis also recounts the early era of his relationship with Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park when it took six years for A Grand Day Out to be completed. He says that his work as Wallace has "raised his standing a few notches in the public eye".[28]

Personal life

Sallis married actress Elaine Usher at St. John's Wood Church in London on 9 February 1957.[29][3][30] However, it was a turbulent relationship, with Usher leaving him sixteen times before they divorced in 1965 on grounds of desertion and adultery.[5] They were eventually reconciled and continued to live together until 1999; Sallis remained close to Usher until her death in 2014.[1][31] They had one son, Crispian Sallis (born 1959), who went on to become an Oscar-nominated film set designer.[1]

Sallis suffered from macular degeneration,[1] and in 2005 recorded an appeal on BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Macular Society of which he was a patron.[32] He also recorded on behalf of the society a television appeal, which was broadcast on BBC One on 8 March 2009. Following his diagnosis of the disease, Aardman produced a short animated film for the society.[33]

Sallis was awarded the OBE in the 2007 Birthday Honours for services to Drama.[1] On 17 May 2009, he appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs, selecting Sibelius' Symphony No. 5 in E-flat major as his favourite.[34]


Sallis died at the Denville Hall nursing home in Northwood, London, on 2 June 2017 at the age of 96.[35][36] He was buried next to fellow Last of the Summer Wine actor Bill Owen in the churchyard of St John's Parish Church, Upperthong, near the town of Holmfirth in Yorkshire, the home of Last of the Summer Wine.[37]




1958The Diary of Samuel Pepys[5]Samuel Pepys
1961Danger ManJohn GordonEpisode: "Find and Destroy"
1964The AvengersHal AndersonEpisode: "The Wringer"
1967Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors[8]Penley6 episodes
1970 Catweazle Stuffy Gladstone
1970The Culture VulturesProfessor George Hobbes
1971The Persuaders![8]David Piper
1971Public EyeEddie Meadows
1973–2010Last of the Summer Wine[8]Norman Clegg295 episodes (final appearance)
1973Frankenstein: The True StoryPriest
1974The Pallisers[8]Mr. Bonteen
1974Who Killed Lamb?[8]Lloyd
1974The Capone InvestmentWheatfield
1976–1978The Ghosts of Motley Hall[8]Mr Gudgin
1978The Clifton House Mystery[8]Milton Guest
1978She Loves MeLadislav SiposTV Movie
1978–1980Leave It To Charlie[8]Arthur Simister
1984–1990The Wind in the Willows[8]Rat (voice)65 episodes
1987The New StatesmanSidney Bliss
1988–1989First of the Summer Wine[8]Mr David Clegg
1989–2010Wallace and Gromit Wallace (voice)
2010Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention[1]Wallace (voice)


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