English actor Peter Sallis, OBE was born on 1 February 1921 in Twickenham, Middleseafter 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 failed to get into 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. Following this He decided to become an actor and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, making his first professional appearance on the London stage in 1946. Sallis married Elaine Usher at St John’s Wood Church in London on 9 February 1957; Their son, Timothy Crispian Sallis, was born in 1959.
Sallis worked on the London stage in the 1950s and 1960s. His credits include the first West End production of Cabaret opposite Judi Dench in 1968. He also appeared in many British films of the 1960s and 1970s 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?. 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.
His first notable television role was as Samuel Pepys in the BBC serial of the same name in 1958. In 1961, he appeared as Gordon in the “Find and Destroy” episode of Danger Man and 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”. He was Doctor Watson to Fritz Weaver’s Sherlock Holmes in the Broadway musical Baker Street in 1965. He introduced what the critics considered the show’s best musical number, “A Married Man”. In 1970, he was cast in the BBC comedy series The Culture Vultures portraying stuffy Professor George Hobbs to Leslie Phillips’s laid-back rogue Dr Michael Cunningham.
In 1971 Sallis appeared alongside Roger Moore and Tony Curtis in an episode of The Persuaders! entitled “The Long Goodbye” as David Piper, a former clerk in a company who was elevated to a substantially higher position and salary as his reward for installing an explosive device in an aeroplane that killed its pilot. The pilot was a noted scientist whose research would have been detrimental to the company that employed Piper. In 1973 he played a priest in the TV film Frankenstein: The True Story, and the following year he played Mr Bonteen in the BBC period drama The Pallisers. Between 1976 and 1978 he appeared in the children’s series The Ghosts of Motley Hall, in which he played Arnold Gudgin, an estate agent who did not want to see the hall fall into the wrong hands. In 1977 he played Rodney Gloss in the BBC series Murder Most English.
Sallis was cast in a one-off pilot for Comedy Playhouse entitled “The Last of the Summer Wine” (retrospectively titled “Of Funerals and Fish”; 1973), as the unobtrusive Norman Clegg. Subsequently The BBC commissioned a series. Last of the Summer Wine was created and written by Roy Clarke and the first series of episodes followed on 12 November 1973. From 1983 to 2010, Alan J. W. Bell produced and directed all episodes of the show. Last of the Summer Wine was set and filmed in and around Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, England, and centred on a trio of old men and their youthful misadventures; the membership of the trio changed several times over the years. The original trio consisted of Bill Owen as the mischievous and impulsive Compo Simmonite, Peter Sallis as easy-going everyman Norman Clegg, and Michael Bates as uptight and arrogant Cyril Blamire. When Bates dropped out due to illness in 1976 after two series, the role of the third man of the trio was filled in various years up to the 30th series by the quirky war veteran Walter “Foggy” Dewhurst (Brian Wilde), who had two lengthy stints in the series, the eccentric inventor Seymour Utterthwaite (Michael Aldridge), and former police officer Herbert “Truly of The Yard” Truelove (Frank Thornton). The men never seem to grow up, and they develop a unique perspective on their equally eccentric fellow townspeople through their stunts. Although in its early years the series generally revolved around the exploits of the main trio, with occasional interaction with a few recurring characters, over time the cast grew to include a variety of supporting characters and in later years the cast grew . Each of these recurring characters contributed their own running jokes and subplots to the show and often becoming reluctantly involved in the schemes of the trio, or having parallel storylines.
After the death of Owen in 1999, Compo was replaced at various times by his real-life son, Tom Owen, as equally unhygienic Tom Simmonite, Keith Clifford as Billy Hardcastle, a man who thought of himself as a descendant of Robin Hood, and Brian Murphy as Young-at-heart Alvin Smedley. Due to the age of the main cast, a new trio was formed during the 30th series featuring somewhat younger actors, and this format was used for the final two instalments of the show. This group consisted of Russ Abbot as a former milkman who fancied himself a secret agent, Luther “Hobbo” Hobdyke, Burt Kwouk as the electrical repairman, “Electrical” Entwistle, and Murphy as Alvin Smedley. Sallis and Thornton, both past members of the trio, continued in supporting roles alongside the new actors.
Last of the Summer Wine was praised for its positive portrayal of older people and family-friendly humour. Many members of the Royal Family enjoyed the show. The programme was nominated for numerous awards and won the National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Programme in 1999. There were twenty-one Christmas specials, three television films and a documentary film about the series. Last of the Summer Wine inspired other adaptations, including a television prequel,several books and stage adaptations. Sallis played the role of Clegg from 1973 to 2010, and was the only cast member to appear in every episode. 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.
The final episode of the series was broadcast In 2010. Tom Owen criticised the BBC for not permitting a special final episode. Roy Clarke, however, stated that he was fully aware this was the last series, and preferred the show to have a quiet ending. The final line was said by Peter Sallis, the longest serving actor.Since its original release, all thirty-one series—including the pilot and all Christmas specials—have been released on DVD. Repeats of the show are broadcast in the UK on Gold, Yesterday, and Drama. It is also seen in more than twenty-five countries,including various PBS stations in the United States and on VisionTV in Canada. Last of the Summer Wine is the longest-running comedy programme in Britain and the longest-running sitcom in the world.
In 1978, Sallis also starred alongside comic actor David Roper in the ITV sitcom Leave it to Charlie as Charlie’s pessimistic boss and also portrayed 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, who later produced Fireman Sam. Between 1984 and 1989, 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 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. He appeared in the last episode of Rumpole of the Bailey in 1992 and he later starred alongside Brenda Blethyn, Kevin Whately and Anna Massey in the 2004 one-off ITV1 drama Belonging.
Sallis achieved great success in 1989, when 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, for which he won an Annie Award for Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production. In 2008, Sallis voiced a new Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death. Most recently, in 2010 he provided the voice for Wallace in the TV show Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention. After Sallis retired from the role, he passed the voice of Wallace to Ben Whitehead. Sallis was awarded the OBE in the 2007 Birthday Honours for services to Drama. On 17 May 2009 he appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs.
Sallis retired from acting, in 2010 and had not appeared nor voiced on film or television since. Sallis died peacefully, with his family by his side, at the Denville Hall nursing home in Northwood, London, on 2 June 2017, aged 96 and will be sadly missed.