Although encouraged by his father, the MP Sir John Wallace, to study law, Ian Wallace seemed destined for the stage. His abilities were noticed while he was at Cambridge, and after serving in the Royal Artillery during World War II, he began to perform, at first for the benefit of fellow servicemen who had been wounded or invalided out of the army.
His first professional engagements came in straight plays in London and Glasgow, then in 1946 he was engaged by Alberto Erede for the first season of the New London Opera Company. Wallace found himself singing with Mariano Stabile and Margerita Grandi, and during the two years of the company’s activities, he developed sufficiently to be engaged by Glyndebourne. There, and at the Edinburgh Festival, he sang many roles, later appearing in Italy and Austria.
Wallace’s comic skills, so evident in parts such as Bartolo in Il barbiere di siviglia or Masetto in Don Giovanni, found a new outlet when he began to appear in revue, singing songs by Flanders and Swann, especially "The Hippopotamus" (“Mud, mud glorious mud”), his recording of which was seemingly never off the air in the 1950s and ‘60s. His one-man show An Evening with Ian Wallace proved immensely popular, and his appearances on the long-running radio quiz My Music brought him an even wider public.
His many recordings include Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Le Comte Ory, Bartolo in both Le nozze di Figaro and Il barbiere di Siviglia, all conducted by Vittorio Gui, The Mikado, Iolanthe and The Beggar’s Opera, all with Malcolm Sargent and Busoni’s Arlecchino with John Pritchard. His memoirs, published in 1975, are entitled Promise You’ll Sing Mud. He was made an OBE in 1983.