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Peter Sallis
Born Peter Sallis
1 February 1921 (1921-02-01) (age 88)
Twickenham, England, UK
Occupation Actor
Years active 1947 – present
Spouse(s) Elaine Usher (1957-present; 1 son, Crispian Sallis)

Peter Sallis OBE (born 1 February 1921) is an English actor and entertainer, well-known for his work on British television. Although he was born and brought up in London, his two most notable roles require him to adopt the accents and mannerisms of a northerner.

Sallis is best known for his role as the main character Norman Clegg in the long-running British TV comedy Last of the Summer Wine, set in a Yorkshire town. He is the longest serving cast member.

He is also famous for providing the voice of Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit films, utilising another northern accent.

Contents

Early life

Sallis was born 1 February 1921, Twickenham (then Middlesex now Greater London), England. After attending Minchenden Grammar School in North London, Sallis went to work in a bank. After the outbreak of World War II he joined the RAF. He failed to get into the aircrew because he had a serum albumin disorder and he 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.

Sallis started as an amateur actor during his four years with the RAF when one of his students offered him the lead in an amateur production. His success in the role caused him to resolve to become an actor after the war, and so he trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, making his first professional appearance on the London stage in 1946.

Career

Sallis became a notable character actor on the London stage in the 1950s and 1960s, appearing alongside theatrical legends such as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Orson Welles, Judi Dench and Patrick McGoohan. He also appeared in character parts in British films of the time, including a few Hammer Films. In 1968, he was cast as the well intentioned Coker in a BBC Radio production of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids'.

His first notable television role was as Samuel Pepys in the BBC serial of the same name in 1958. He appeared in the Doctor Who story The Ice Warriors in 1967, playing renegade scientist Elric Penley; and in 1983 was due to play the role of Striker in another Doctor Who story, Enlightenment before having to withdraw.

In 1970 he was cast in the BBC comedy series The Culture Vultures, which saw him play stuffy Professor George Hobbs to Leslie Phillips' laid-back rogue Dr Michael Cunningham. During the production, Phillips was rushed to hospital with an internal haemorrhage and as a result, only five episodes were ever made.

Sallis was cast in a one-off pilot for Comedy Playhouse entitled Last of the Summer Wine in 1973 as the unobtrusive lover of a quiet life, Norman Clegg. Sallis had already worked with Michael Bates, who played unofficial ring-leader Blamire in the first two series, on stage. The pilot proved popular and the BBC commissioned a series.

Today, Sallis is still playing the role of Clegg, and is one of only two cast members remaining from the original Comedy Playhouse pilot, along with Jane Freeman who plays Ivy, the cafe owner. In 1988 he appeared as Clegg's father in First of the Summer Wine, a prequel to Last Of The Summer Wine set in 1939. Between 1976 and 1978 he appeared in the children's series The Ghosts of Motley Hall, in which he played Mr Gudgin, an estate agent who did not want to see the eponymous Hall fall into the wrong hands. In 1977 he played Rodney Gloss in the BBC series Murder Most English.

In 1978 he starred alongside Northern comic actor David Roper in the ITV sitcom Leave it to Charlie as Charlie's pessimistic boss. The programme lasted for four series, ending in 1980. Also in 1978, he played the part of the ghost hunter Milton Guest in the children's paranormal drama series The Clifton House Mystery.

In 1983 he was the narrator on Rocky Hollow a show produced by Bumper Films for S4C. Between 1984 and 1990, he alternated with Ian Carmichael as the voice of Rat in the British television series The Wind in the Willows, based on the book by Kenneth Grahame. 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.

Sallis achieved great success when, in 1989 he voiced Wallace, the eccentric inventor in Aardman Animations' Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out. This film won a BAFTA award and was followed by the Oscar-winning films The Wrong Trousers in 1993 and A Close Shave in 1995. Though the characters were temporarily retired in 1996, Sallis has returned to voice Wallace in several short films and in the Oscar-winning 2005 motion picture Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Most recently Sallis starred in a new Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death, in 2008.

Sallis was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 2007 for services to Drama. On 17 May 2009 Sallis appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. [1][2]

Autobiography

In 2006 Sallis published a well-received autobiography entitled, with typical self-deprecation, Fading Into the Limelight. Reviewing in The Mail on Sunday, Roger Lewis' review stated "Though Sallis is seemingly submissive, he has a sly wit and sharp intelligence that make this book a total delight."

Sallis starred with Orson Welles in Welles' stage play, Moby Dick Rehearsed and tells of a later meeting with him where he received a mysterious telephone call summoning him to the deserted and spooky Gare d'Orsay in Paris where Welles announced he wanted him to dub Hungarian bit-players in his cinema adaptaion of Kafka's The Trial. As Sallis says "the episode was Kafka-esque, to coin a phrase."

Despite his nearly 37 years in Last Of The Summer Wine, this is far from the main focus of the book, in which 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 admits that his work as Wallace has "raised his standing a few notches in the public eye".

Personal life

Sallis suffers from macular degeneration and in 2005 recorded an appeal on BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Macular Disease Society. He recorded a television appeal on behalf of the society which was broadcast on BBC One on 8 March 2009.

Television roles

Year Title Role
1973 to present Last of the Summer Wine Norman Clegg
1976 to 1978 The Ghosts of Motley Hall Mr Gudgin
1978 to 1980 Leave It To Charlie Arthur Simister
1987 The New Statesman Sidney Bliss
1988 to 1989 First of the Summer Wine Mr Clegg
1989 to present Wallace and Gromit Voice of Wallace
2009 to present Kingdom Cyril

References

  1. ^ Desert island discs
  2. ^ BBC website

External links

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