A toast was raised by Last of the Summer Wine and Wallace and Gromit fans everywhere to the memory of Peter Sallis after it was announced by his agent that he had died at the grand old age of 96.
Although he was born and raised in Middlesex, the two roles he was best known for – as the ‘unobtrusive lover of a quiet life’ Norman Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine and Wallace in Wallace and Gromit – saw him adopt a northern accent, and he was the only member of the Last of the Summer Wine cast to appear in every episode from 1973 to 2010.
However, to most of us, he will be best remembered, and most loved for his portrayal of Wallace, a cheese-loving eccentric inventor, with his best friend – and constant saviour – Gromit at his side.
While a student in 1983, animator Nick Park wrote to Sallis asking him if he would voice the character Wallace. Sallis agreed to do so for a donation of £50 to his favourite charity. Park has now posted the following beautiful tribute to him on the Aardman website.
“I’m so sad, but feel so grateful and privileged to have known and worked with Peter over so many years. He was always my first and only choice for Wallace. I knew him of course from the very popular long running BBC series Last of the Summer Wine. He brought his unique gift and humour to all that he did, and encapsulated the very British art of the droll and understated.
“Working with Peter was always a delight and I will miss his wry, unpredictable humour and silliness – that started the moment he greeted you at the door, and didn’t stop when the mic was switched off. He had naturally funny bones and was a great storyteller and raconteur off stage too and would keep us amused for hours. He could make the simplest incident sound hilarious – just by the way he said it.
“When I look back I’m so blessed and fortunate that he had the generosity of spirit to help out a poor film school student back in the early 1980s, when we first recorded together, when neither of us had any idea what Wallace and Gromit might become.
“Peter’s unique, charming quality, together with oversized vowels and endearing performance, helped me fashion Wallace from the beginning; the way he first said “We’ve forgotten the crackers Gromit” and “Cracking toast Gromit” or just “Cheeeese!” soon lead to Wallace’s enormous “coat-hanger mouth”.
“They don’t come along very often like Peter Sallis – he was a unique character, on and off screen, and [it was] an absolute honour to have known him.”