Thursday, June 8, 2017

Peter Sallis Passes On

Peter Sallis, who played Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and First of the Summer Wine, and who provided the voice of Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" films, died on June 2 2017 at the age of 96.

Peter Sallis was born on February 1 1921 in Twickenham, Middlesex. He attended Minchenden Grammar School in Southgate, North London before going to work as a bank clerk. During World War II he joined the Royal Air Force and served as an instructor at the radio school at Lincolnshire's Royal Air Force Station. It was a student there who asked Mr. Sallis to play the lead in a local production of Hay Fever by Noël Coward. He liked the experience so much that he decided to take up acting.

After the war Peter Sallis attended and graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He made his professional acting debut in London in September 1946 in a walk-on part in The Scheming Lieutenant by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He made his television debut in 1947 as Quince in a production of A Midsummer's Night Dream. In the Fifties he appeared on the television series The Heir of Skipton and The Widow of Bath. He played the lead in the series The Diary of Samuel Pepys. He guest starred on the shows The March of the Peasants, Strange Experiences, The Black Arrow, The Invisible Man, and BBC Sunday-Night Theatre. He made his film debut in Stranger from Venus in 1954. He appeared in the films Child's Play (1954), Anastasia (1956), The Doctor's Dilemma (1958), The Scapegoat (1959), Doctor in Love (1960), and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).

In the Sixties Mr. Sallis appeared on the TV shows Ameilia, A Chance of Thunder, Crying Down the Lane, and The Chem. Lab. Mystery. He guest starred on such shows as ITV Television Playhouse, Danger Man, Maigret, BBC Sunday-Night Play, It Happened Like This, The Avengers, Sergeant Cork, Z Cars, Doctor Who, and Catweazle. He appeared in such films as The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Mouse on the Moon (1963), The Third Secret (1964), Clash by Night (1964), Inadmissible Evidence (1968), Scream and Scream Again (1970), and Wuthering Heights (1970).

It was in 1973 that Peter Sallis first played Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine. Last of the Summer Wine ran until 2010, and he would continue to play Clegg for the entirety of its run. In the Seventies he also appeared on Bel Ami, The Moonstone, The Pallisers, The Capone Investment, Yanks Go Home, The Ghosts of Motley Hall, and Leave It to Charlie. He guest starred on the shows Paul Temple, Public Eye, Justice, The Persuaders!, Callan, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Raffles, Crown Court, and Tales of the Unexpected. He appeared in the films The Night Digger (1971), The Reprieve (1972), The Incredible Sarah (1976), The Haunting of Julia (1977), and Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978).

It was in 1989 that Peter Sallis first voiced Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" short "A Grand Day Out". He would voice Wallace in three more shorts ("The Wrong Trousers" in 1993, "A Close Shave" in 1995, and "A Matter of Loaf and Death" in 2008), as well as the feature film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). In the Eighties he continued to appear as Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and also played the role in the prequel series First of the Summer Wine. He provided the voice of Rat in the animated series The Wind and The Willows and Oh! Mr. Toad. He appeared in the shows Strangers and Brothers, The New Statesman, and The Bretts. He appeared in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of Witness for the Prosecution.

In the Nineties he continued to appear as Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and he continued as the voice of Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" shorts. He guest starred on Rumpole of the Bailey. In the Naughts he continued as Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and voiced Wallace in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and "A Matter of Loaf and Death". He guest starred on Doctors and Kingdom. He appeared in the film Colour Me Kubrick (2005).

Peter Sallis was a great talent with a particular gift for comedy. As Norman Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine he was a bit of cynic and also a bit neurotic. He always wore several layers of clothing and, even though he had a driver's licence, the thought of driving would send him into a panic attack. He longed for a nice, peaceful retirement, only to find himself dragged into one of  Foggy and Compo's schemes more often than not. Wallace of the "Wallace and Gromit" films was in many respects far from Clegg. Wallace is kind-hearted and an eternal optimist. He also has a love of cheese, crackers, and tea. Although constantly inventing things, his inventions are generally overly complex devices of the Rube Goldberg type. Peter Sallis played both characters perfectly, to the point that it is very difficult to picture anyone else in the roles.

Of course, Peter Sallis played other roles besides Clegg and Wallace, often roles that were very different. In the Avengers episode "The Wringer" he played  Hal Anderson, John Steed's friend and fellow agent who is suffering from both shock and amnesia. In the Doctor Who serial "The Ice Warriors" he played scientist Penley. Over the years Peter Sallis played a wide variety of roles, from solicitors to preachers to military officers. Some were comic, while others were dramatic. Regardless of the role, he played all of them well.

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