The British actor Peter Sallis, who enjoyed an acting career across eight decades, has died at the age of 96. He was a fixture on British TV screens for most of his life, appearing on Last of the Summer Wine for 37 years, but achieved global fame as the voice of the crackpot Yorkshire inventor Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit animations.
Sallis was born in 1921 in Middlesex, the only child of a bank manager and a housewife. He caught the acting bug while serving as an RAF mechanic in the Second World War, and made his stage debut in 1946.
In 1973 he was cast as the quietly spoken straight-man Norman "Cleggy" Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine. The show, which became intrinsically linked with Sunday nights in many British households, achieved huge audiences throughout its run, one of the lengthiest in TV history. Sallis appeared in every episode of the show, up until its conclusion in 2010.
In 1989 he became the voice of Wallace in A Grand Day Out. He provided the voice for the character up until 2010, when failing health meant he had to pass it on to Ben Whitehead.
Though he was born and bred in London, Sallis most famous roles both saw him adopt the accent of a Yorkshireman.
After a career on the London stage in the 1950s and 1960s – which included a West End production of Cabaret opposite Judi Dench in 1968 – his first notable television role was as Samuel Pepys in the BBC serial of the same name in 1958.
He starred in other shows including Doctor Who before landing a role on the comedy series The Culture Vultures as Professor George Hobbs in 1970. The show, in which he starred alongside Leslie Phillips, was subsequently wiped and is believed lost.
In his role as Cleggy in Last of the Summer Wine, Sallis played the role from 1973 to 2010, making him the only cast member to appear in every episode.
But his greatest success, arguably, was the voice of gormless yet lovable Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit short films and the Oscar-winning 2005 motion picture, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. He won an Annie Award for Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production.
He continued playing the voice of Wallace for the 2008 adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death, and the 2010 TV show Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention before passing the role onto Whitehead.
Sallis was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 2007 for services to drama due to his highly successful career.
His health issues came to light in 2005 when he went public about his battle with macular degeneration. He subsequently recorded an appeal on BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Macular Disease Society. In May 2014, it was reported that Sallis was "not too well" and that problems with his eyes were worsening.
Sallis was married to English actress Elaine Usher from 1951 until her death 2016 at the age of 84, and is survived by their only child Crispian Sallis, 57, who is an Academy Award-nominated art director.