R.I.P. Peter Sallis, Star of ‘Wallace and Gromit’ (1921-2017)

Peter Sallis hailed from a generation of British working actors who managed to appear on TV and in movies consistently throughout the course of his 60-odd-year career. In his native England, he may be most celebrated for his work on the long, long, long-running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, which ran from 1973 to 2010, and on which Sallis played the character of Norman “Cleggy” Clegg throughout its entire run of 295 episodes.

In America, however, Sallis may be most recognized for playing the voice of Wallace in Nick Park’s Oscar-winning series of short films Wallace & Gromit.

Peter Sallis’ friendly face and plummy voice made him instantly approachable and even familial. He was expert in playing approachable kooks and humane, funny humans. A long-working supporting player, Sallis cropped up on episodes of Doctor Who and The Persuaders!, as well as in well-regarded horror films like Frankenstein: The True Story (made for the BBC), Scream and Scream Again, and the fifth of the Hammer Dracula films, Taste the Blood of Dracula.

Wallace, however, is easily the most recognized of Sallis’ characters worldwide, and the Wallace & Gromit shorts and films, which began in 1989 and continued sporadically until 2008. Wallace was and on-and-off inventor who lived in a typical British suburb with his mute dog Gromit, who was an accomplished engineer. Innocent, feckless, and usually very happy, Wallace represented a childlike indomitability of spirit, while Gromit frequently had to bring him back down to Earth. The delight of the Wallace & Gromit films was often celebrated by the Academy Awards, and each film of theirs was at least nominated for an Oscar, and three of them (The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, and the feature film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) won.

Sallis retired from acting in 2010 when his eyesight deteriorated, and he was unable to play the roles he wanted to. On June 2, 2017, BBC reports, he died in a nursing home, surrounded by family, at the age of 96.

The Many Adventures of Wallace & Gromit

The first big-screen appearance of Wallace & Gromit was this gentle 1989 adventure about a man and his dog who, seeking vast amounts of cheese, trek to the moon. Once there, they face off with a mysterious coin-operated robot who dreams of skiing. 

Image: The National Film School Distribution Company

In the 1993 follow-up to A Grand Day Out, Wallace and Gromit find themselves with a new lodger - a penguin - who may have dark plans for Wallace's new invention; techno-trousers. 

Image: BBC

In 1995, Wallace and Gromit found themselves on the wrong end of a wool shortage, and an underground ring of sheep rustlers. A Close Shave was also the first appearance of Shaun the Sheep (say it with a Sallis accent to get the joke), who would eventually get his own series and feature film. 

Image: DreamWorks Home Entertainment

The first feature length Wallace & Gromit adventure came in 2005 with this big-budget mystery about a vegetable-eating monster.

Image: DreamWorks

Wallace, an inventor of some renown, hosted a series of 10-minute TV shorts in 2002, showing off his bizarre widgets and weird ideas. 

Image: BBC

In 2008, Wallace & Gromit returned to the short theatrical film format for a romance between Wallace and a mysterious bakery pin-up model who may be up to no good. 

Image: BBC

The 2010 TV documentary miniseries featured Wallace, acting as host, teaching his audience about real-life inventions, with the production aid of Gromit. 

Image: BBC
Top Image: Aardman

Witney Seibold is a longtime contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and the TV podcast Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia, Nerdist, and Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.