Peter Sallis was born in Twickenham, Middlesex, the only child of Harry Sallis, a bank manager, and Dorothy Amea Frances. After attending Minchenden Grammar School, in Southgate, Middlesex, Sallis went to work in a bank, working on shipping transactions. After the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the RAF where he became a wireless mechanic and went on to teach radio procedures at RAF Cranwell.
Sallis began as an amateur actor during his four years with the RAF when one of his students offered him the lead in an amateur production of Noël Coward's Hay Fever. After his success in the role he resolved to become an actor after the war, winning a Korda scholarship, and training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He made his first professional appearance on the London stage in September 1946 in a walk-on part in Sheridan's The Scheming Lieutenant (1775).
He then spent three years in rep before appearing in his first speaking role on the London stage in 1949. Other roles followed in the 1950s and 1960s including Orson Welles' 1955 production of Moby Dick—Rehearsed.
His first extended television role was as Samuel Pepys in the BBC serial of the same name in 1958. In the years to follow he appeared in various television series' such as Danger Man (1961), Doctor Who (1967), The Culture Vultures (1970), and The Persuaders! (1971).
He also appeared in many British films of the 1960s and 1970s including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Doctor in Love (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The V.I.P.s (1963), Charlie Bubbles (1967), Scream and Scream Again (1969), Taste the Blood of Dracula, Wuthering Heights (1970), The Incredible Sarah (1976) and Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978).
Sallis greatest television role came about when he was cast in a pilot for Comedy Playhouse which became the first episode of Last of the Summer Wine (retrospectively titled "Of Funerals and Fish", 1973), as the unobtrusive lover of a quiet life, Norman Clegg. He played the role of Clegg from 1973 to 2010, and was the only cast member to appear in every episode.
Sallis first work in animation was as the narrator on the stop motion series Rocky Hollow (1983), a show produced by Bumper Films, who later produced Fireman Sam, and alternated with Ian Carmichael as the voice of Rat in the British television series The Wind in the Willows (1984–89), based on the book by Kenneth Grahame and produced by Cosgrove Hall Films. The series was animated in stop motion, prefiguring his work with Aardman Animations. Yet his greatest work in animation and what would make him internationally renowned to animation lovers around the world was yet to come.
While a student in 1983, animator Nick Park wrote to Sallis asking him if he would voice his character Wallace, an eccentric inventor. Sallis agreed to do so for a donation of £50 to his favorite charity. The work was eventually released in 1989 and Aardman Animations' Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out went on to great success winning a BAFTA award. Sallis reprised his role in the the Oscar and BAFTA Award winning films The Wrong Trousers in 1993 and A Close Shave in 1995.
Though the characters were temporarily retired in 1996, Sallis 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. After the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Sallis's eyesight began to fail as a result of macular degeneration and he used a talking portable typewriter with a specially illuminated scanner to continue working. His last role as Wallace was in 2010's Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention.
Sallis was awarded the Order Of The British Empire by Her Imperial and Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the 2007 Birthday Honours for services to Drama.
Animation Hall Of Fame CEO, Chairman, and Co-founder Hal Miles recounts: "From the very first time, and the one hundred plus times that I've seen Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out, and all of the other wonderful Wallace and Gromit films, I'm not only taken away with the wonderful and magical storytelling, animation, and artistic craftsmanship, but also the absolutely perfect voice characterization talent that Peter Sallis brought to Wallace. The single word "Cheese", especially Wensleydale, spoken by him with such enthusiasm in each of the films is cherished by not only myself, but by animation and film fans throughout the world."
We express our deepest condolences to his family and friends.