Peter Sallis: How Last of the Summer Wine star ‘cheated death’

Peter Sallis stars in BBC's Last Of The Summer Wine

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The late British actor is famous for voicing Wallace in the Oscar-winning ‘Wallace and Gromit’ films. The London-born star returns to the nation’s screens tonight for ‘Last of the Summer Wine: 30 Years of Laughs’. The Channel 5 programme looks back at the long-running BBC sitcom set in Yorkshire, which kept the nation entertained for 37 years. Peter played Norman ‘Cleggy’ Clegg, one third of the much-loved comedy’s mischievous central trio.

Norman is the retired, mild-mannered, former lino salesman, who is roped into the antics of Foggy and the other characters.

Tonight’s programme, which features previously unseen interviews with the cast and crew, will relive some of Peter and his co-stars’ best moments from ‘Last of the Summer Wine’.

Peter, who died in 2017, was the only cast member to appear in all 295 episodes, after first being cast in the sitcom’s pilot in 1973.

The actor’s longevity as a star of the comedy began more than three decades after his first foray into the acting world.

The former Barclays bank clerk, who spent four years with the RAF teaching radio procedures, once revealed how he “cheated death” in 1943.

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The actor narrowly avoided an attack by the German Luftwaffe during World War 2, he claimed in his 2014 memoir, ‘Summer Wine And Other Stories: My Autobiography’.

He wrote: “In 1943, we were in the thick of it: the Blitz, the Battle of the Atlantic.

“Picture the scene. A young corporal, Frank Webb, was playing gramophone records to the music society in Hut 300 at the huge Royal Air Force station at Cranwell, Lincolnshire.

“The audience were possibly asleep when, outside the hut, came the most horrendous clattering and banging.

“Corporal Webb lithely turned up the volume.

“It was only later discovered that a German bomber, on its way back to the Fatherland, had spotted the base and let loose however many rounds of ammunition it still had.”

Despite the harrowing moment, Peter also attributed his time with the RAF in Lincolnshire to his long and successful acting career.

In his autobiography, he described the moment one of his students offered him the lead part in an amateur play.

He said: “I was a corporal instructor at the number one radio school.

“And not only did I cheat death that night but it was there that I was first persuaded to try my hand as a performer.

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“After one of my lessons, a young man, Peter Bridge, asked me if I’d ever done any acting and if I’d like to be the leading man in Noël Coward’s ‘Hay Fever’.

“I thought for a second and said, ‘Yes’. When I went on stage and spoke the lines, people laughed.

“That night, in my bunk, I couldn’t sleep. I determined that after the War, if I survived it, I would become an actor.”

Once the war was over, Peter trained at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada).

Before he joined ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, he carved out a career as a theatre actor, and moved into TV.

‘Summer Wine And Other Stories: My Autobiography’ was written by Peter Sallis and published by John Blake Publishing in 2014. It is available here.

‘Last of the Summer Wine: 30 Years of Laughs’ airs on Channel 5 tonight from 8:30pm-10pm.

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