Health of Sallis puts Wallace and Gromit in doubt

It's been a cracking run, Gromit! Nick Park shows off his famous creations in Edinburgh. Picture: Colin Hattersley
It's been a cracking run, Gromit! Nick Park shows off his famous creations in Edinburgh. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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THEY are two of Britain’s best-loved comedy creations, whose animated adventures have kept generations of children and adults entertained for a quarter of a century.

But Wallace and Gromit’s Oscar-winning creator has admitted he may not produce further forays without the veteran actor Peter Sallis on board.

Four years after their last appearance on television, Nick Park has revealed that he would like to bring them back, saying he could make films with the much-loved pair “till the cows come home”.

But speaking during a visit to Scotland, the acclaimed animator – who created the eccentric inventor voiced by Sallis and his silent but smart dog when he was a student – said it may be too difficult to do so without the man who has been inextricably linked with them since their first appearance. The 93-year-old actor Sallis, who suffers from the eye condition macular degeneration, has not voiced the character since the BBC broadcast the Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention series, with another actor imitating his voice for other recent projects such as a live show at the Proms and a computer game.

Preston-born Park, an internantionally revered stop-motion animator who has won four Academy Awards, lifted the lid on his dilemma during a visit to Edinburgh to help mark 25 years of Leith School of Art. He brought along models of Wallace and Gromit wrapped up inside a Co-op carrier bag.

Park, 55, who was brought up a Catholic, told the audience his religious beliefs had helped influence his famous creations and their “world view.”

During an “in conversation” event with broadcaster Sally Magnusson at the Dovecot Arts Centre yesterday, he recalled how he had approached Sallis, long-time star of Last of the Summer Wine, to provide the voice for Wallace for A Grand Day Out, his graduation project at the National Film and Television School.

The actor agreed to take on the job, despite being offered just £50 by Park, who famously took six years to complete the project.

It went on to to be nominated for an Oscar, but lost out to another short by the film-maker, Creature Comforts.

Sallis was born in Middlesex despite playing a northerner in his two most famous roles. He appeared in all 295 episodes of Last of the Summer Wine until the series ended in 2010 – also the year Sallis last voiced Wallace.

Park said “He’s not too well. It’s a big question for us, whether to keep going. We have got an understudy who has stepped in sometimes, Ben Whitehead, a young actor in London.

“He actually started off doing the stuff Peter didn’t want to do, like video games, or if we needed a voice for an exhibition.

“He was doing some of the voices on The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and stood in for Peter sometimes.

“He’s quite convincing. Some people have spotted it and have said he doesn’t really sound like him [Wallace], but he’s getting good.

“Whether he will stand in eventually, I’m not sure. There’s nothing planned at the moment.” He added: “I’d love to do more Wallace and Gromits in the future. I’ve been toying with ideas. They are always there.

“I could make more films with them till the cows come home. I love thinking up situations with them.”

Park also revealed that he has created a brand new set of characters for a planned feature film which he has spent around two years trying to get off the ground.