Peter Sumner: That Aussie Bloke in the first Star Wars flick

It was only a small part, but even recently Peter Sumner’s few words in "A New Hope" were still resonating, somewhat in jest, regularly on Sydney radio. Sometimes at the tail of Jonesy and Amanda’s WSFM breakfast show,  his voice would be heard saying, “I’m Peter, and I still don’t know why TK-421 has left his post.”

I first saw Peter perform live in Celluloid Heroes at Sydney’s Theatre Royal in 1981. By then he was already a very well established and respected actor. It was a thrill to see his performance live after watching him on TV for so many years…and of course, he was the only Aussie in the first Star Wars film.

Travelling through the UK at the time, his agent in Britain put him forward for the small role, shooting over two days, at £60 for each day. “I’ll take it!” he said.

Australian-born but educated in the U.K., Peter developed an impressive line-up of both production and performing credentials. Working during the sixties for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in radio as a writer and program assistant, he soon moved to ABC-TV as a writer, producer and director of over a hundred studio programs.

During the eighties and nineties he became a household name for his roles in productions such as “Spyforce” (with Jack Thompson) “Certain Women”, “Heartbreak High”, and “The Dismissal” where he played a cracker version of Bill Hayden. And of course, the pre-schoolers loved him on PlaySchool.

Peter was one of the great performers, not only because of his talent, but because his broad production experience meant he understood the ‘engine room’ of the business. Few know that apart from playing Lt Pol Treidum in Star Wars, he also had an uncredited role off screen, controlling the Dianoga Monster - the garbage compactor monster.

Like all great actors, he had a terrific vocal range, a talent not lost on advertising agencies and documentary makers who put his pipes to good use. His voice was in high demand particularly during his later years, and agencies across Australia did what they could to keep him on their books.

Audio recordings are great legacies, and apart from an immense catalogue of TV and Film credits, his voice will forever remain distinctive, inspiring and engaging, as heard in this compilation:

Peter Sumner: 29 January 1942 – 23 November 2016

SMH Obituary