Yesterday we learnt that Peter Sallis – the man who was the voice of Wallace from the excellent Wallace and Gromit series – passed away on Friday 2nd June aged 96. Sallis was known for his performance as Cleggy in Last of the Summer Wine, Penley in the 1967 Ice Warriors episode of Doctor Who and the voice of Rat in the 1980s Wind in the Willows series but for many millennial’s and baby boomers, he was the cheese-loving inventor with a heart of gold.
Wallace and Gromit was a quintessentially British franchise about a man and his dog’s adventures tied in to some mad caper Wallace had landed them in. Its influence has grown so much it’s hard to believe the origins of the series. Wallace and Gromit first took form whilst Park was studying at the National Film and Television School but it wouldn’t be until he’d joined Aardman Studios in Bristol that he would finally see this project come to fruition in the form of the debut film A Grand Day Out. With Sallis on board as the voice of Wallace very early on, A Grand Day Out went on to win a BAFTA. This spawned more films featuring the Northern duo including The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The franchise has, among accolades, three Oscars, and Sallis was often quoted as saying how glad he was to have such success with the series later in his life.
The legacy of Wallace and Gromit isn’t merely confined to the screen. As someone who grew up in Bristol, Aardman and their work were almost inescapable. Not that you’d want to – who could hate such a benign and friendly series? There is a continued sense of pride knowing that a powerhouse of animation and creativity is in your hometown. Away from the screen, the characters are the figureheads of two charities. One is the Wallace and Gromit Children’s Foundation which supports children’s hospices and hospitals in the United Kingdom. The other is the Wallace and Gromit Grand Appeal, the charity of the Bristol Children’s Hospital. They have raised millions towards children in hospital through a variety of charity initiatives. You may remember the 80 giant fibreglass decorated sculptures of Gromit that were distributed around Bristol in July 2013 or the 2015 Shaun the Sheep sculptures around London – those were created in order to raise money for the Grand Appeal. It’s touching to know that the people behind the franchise have done so much to raise money for the audience members who watch their movies and tv show spin-offs the most.
Now that Sallis has passed away, what does the future hold for the beloved Wallace and Gromit franchise? It is likely to continue – as late as last month Park was speaking of potential future projects involving the duo. Ben Whitehead took over the role of being Wallace’s voice in 2011 after Sallis retired from acting, so there is every chance that we’ll see more. What will always be remembered is the iconic and gleeful need for cheese that helped spark a franchise that transcends audience demographics.
Let’s all toast to the memory of this wonderful actor with a plate of Wensleydale cheese!