Wallace was born in London and went to school at Charterhouse. He soon became known at school as someone who was good at making people laugh. He learned to sing lots of songs and accompanied himself on the banjolele.
When he wanted to study at university he applied for a choral scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge, but he was not offered a place there, so he went to Trinity Hall. There he studied law and was known for the jokes that he played on people. He also had singing lessons.
He took a long time to get better. Gradually he started working in music theatre and then he got a chance to sing in opera. His voice was a bass baritone. He sang with the New London Opera Company in operas such as La bohème and The Barber of Seville. From 1948 to 1961, he regularly sang at Glyndebourne. He usually sang comic parts (known as “buffo roles).
In 1948 he married Patricia Black. It was a long and happy marriage. The couple adopted two children.
The Glyndebourne season took place in the summer, so he had plenty of time to do other things the rest of the year. He sang in operas in the BBC studios and often appeared in pantomimes. Then he started to take part in a radio programme called “My Music”. Together with Frank Muir, Dennis Norden, David Franklin and Steve Race he made this programme extremely popular. It was a kind of lighthearted quiz programme with lots of stories and laughter. Wallace was particularly known for singing a song called “The Hippopotamus” by Flanders and Swann.
Wallace continued to sing in opera in the mid-1960s. He sang the roles of Leporello (in Don Giovanni) and Pistol (in Verdi’s Falstaff). He acted on television and in films and appeared at many charity events. He was always very cheerful and friendly and he was liked by a lot of people.
He wrote two autobiographies: Promise Me You'll Sing Mud and Nothing Quite Like It.
- Ian Wallace- Obituary: The Independent 15 October 2009 p.38