Wallace: Hey up lad, she’s writing an article about us for that internet contraption thingy.
Me: It’s for my blog – Charlie’s Mum’s Blog. I thought I’d do an article in an interview style, sort of makes you come ‘alive’ for the readers. I mean you are, after all, made of clay you know.
Wallace: Charlie’s Mum’s what? Are people going to read this blog thing on those iPads, mobile phone thingamajigs then – give me a good old fashioned newspaper any day. Hang on a minute, what do you mean come alive? Did you hear that lad, she thinks we’re not real. How am I talking to you then Mrs?
Me: Good point. But you’re a figment of my imagination, for the purpose of this article.
Wallace: Ah figments, very nice biscuits them. Talking of biscuits, fetch us a nice cup of tea Gromit lad will you?
Me: You’re also a figment of Nick Park’s imagination, and he recently said there may not be another Wallace and Gromit film.
Wallace: Ooh crikey! Who’s this Nick Park fellow then?
Me: Put the tea on and I’ll tell you.
Nick Park was born on December 6th 1958 in Preston, Lancashire. I’ll just mention here that Walt Disney was born on December 5th 1901. Of course this would be more remarkable if they’d been born on the same day, but it’s still pretty coincidental don’t you think, oh alright, it’s tenuous I agree. But surely I’m not going to compare Mickey Mouse and the magic kingdom to you and Gromit? No, but I am going to say that Nick Park is probably as important and ground breaking to the British film animation industry, as Disney was in America – he’s just not as cool. And that’s your appeal, you’re simply not cool.
Wallace: I once turned into a were-rabbit you know, that was pretty cool. Not as cool as a werewolf I grant you…
That’s your main attraction though. You and Gromit take us back to more innocent times; to a land of two up-two downs, tea cosies, doilies on the table, grinning garden gnomes and slippers by the fire. Quintessentially British, your humour ‘nods’ to the comic slapstick of The Beano and Dandy, to the garrulous Norman Evans chatting over the garden wall, even to the quiet, nostalgia of Last of the Summer Wine. And that brings me to Peter Sallis, the voice of Wallace.
Wallace: What’s garrulous when it’s at home? Hang on a minute, what do you mean the voice of Wallace? I use my own voice thank you very much.
Me: No, you’re voiced by a very good actor who’s now 93.
Wallace: Bimey, Well fly me to the moon!
Me: You went remember, back in 1989.
Peter Sallis played Clegg, the philosophical, long suffering character in Last of the Summer Wine. A character very much like Gromit, so it’s rather ironic that Nick Park chose him to voice the over enthusiastic, accident prone Wallace.
Wallace: Who’s she talking to now Gromit, thought she was telling us about this Nick Park fellow.
Me: I’m addressing my readers directly now, so you’ll have to excuse me.
Choosing Sallis (who agreed to do the first short A Grand Day Out for £25, as a favour to a struggling young film student) was a stroke of genius. His dulcet northern tones (Sallis himself is from London) brought Wallace instantly to life, and even went on to shape Wallace’s wide, grinning mouth, after Nick Park heard the first audio.
Nick Park is nothing if not a stickler for detail. He began work on A Grand Day Out in 1982, whilst studying at the National Film and Television School, and completed it SEVEN years later. Considering that this film lasts just 24 minutes, its completion time demonstrates the attention to detail that Nick Park brings to every project.
He realised, when making this film, that Wallace’s primary characteristic (inventing things) was subconsciously based on his father, who had loved tinkering about in his garden shed. Wallace loves inventing contraptions in the style of W Heath Robinson, and his enthusiasm for building things is matched only by his ability to cock things up, and this is where the faithful Gromit comes in.
In a recent interview Nick Park explained that Gromit began life as a cat. Park however soon realised that ‘sausage’ shapes were easier to mould in plasticine, and the cat became a dog. Gromit was originally going to have a mouth, but Park found this too much work, animation-wise. He found that Gromit could ‘say’ everything just by raising his eyebrows, and a classic character was born.
In 1985 Park was employed by the Aardman Animation Studios in Bristol, after they saw footage of A Grand Day out, and he completed this first W &G short at Aardman. Park also worked on commercials and music videos for Aardman during this time, most notably the Sledgehammer video for Peter Gabriel in 1986, in which Park animated some peculiar headless, featherless, dancing chickens, which were nowhere near as recognisably Nickparkian as the stars of Chicken Run.
Once Park had established his two main characters he was off and running – even if he was off and running very slowly. Fans had to wait years between each film short. A Grand Day Out and Creature Comforts attracted notice in 1989, The Wrong Trousers followed in 1993, A Close Shave in 1995 and A Matter of Loaf and Death in 1998. Because Park’s chosen medium was clay, his short films took a very long time to make, involving hundreds of animators working with multiple sets. Park himself has said that he sometimes becomes tired of his own work, as it can be such a time consuming and frustrating process.
After Wallace and Gromit took off (quite literally when they rocketed to the moon), Nick Park made an equally successful foray into feature films. Chicken Run and Curse of the Were Rabbit enjoyed huge success, as have Nick Park’s many other ventures – Shaun the Sheep, Timmy Time, Wallace and Gromit’s Cracking Contraptions and numerous adverts for TV.
Nick Park has won 4 Oscars, 6 Baftas and numerous other prestigious awards. However he remains an elusive, quirkily British film giant, despite the fact that Wallace and Gromit are seen all over the world. Of his two famous clay characters he most resembles Gromit, the long suffering, hard working, quiet genius behind Wallace’s foolhardy exploits. Their success transcends their humble, clay beginnings. They are iconic; as famous a double act as Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise, Tom and Jerry or Martin and Lewis. One of the few British entertainment exports capable of conquering the planet, so I raise a nice cup of tea to you Nick Park and, PLEASE, could we have just one more grand day out with Wallace and Gromit.
Me: Well that’s done, what do you think Wallace?
Wallace: Didn’t know that Nick Park fellow was such a big cheese! That reminds me – pass the Wensleydale Gromit!
(Although Gromit remained silent throughout this entire discussion, he would like it to be known that he is in fact a close friend of Nick Park, he just hasn’t told Wallace)