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Sooty with Harry CorbettThis well known puppet character has been appearing on our screens since 1952. He was a handpuppet bear operated by Harry Corbett (nephew of Harry Ramsden of the famous fish and chip chain) who found him in a novelty shop on the end of Blackpool Pier for 7s 6d. Their first appearance was in a show called Talent Night and then in Saturday Special with Peter Butterworth, but they soon went on to earn their own show. Although Sooty was mute to the audience, he could communicate with Harry. His antics always included some form of slapstick, always at Harry's expense. One of the joys of watching was figuring out how the puppet was being held by Corbett whilst he stands at a desk.

Ouch!Later on (1957), Harry introduced a chum for Sooty called Sweep, a dog with long ears and a red nose. Sooty played the xylophone and did magic with oofle dust and spells of "Izzy wizzy, let's get busy" and Sweep always had an endless supply of bones. Much later Harry also introduced Soo, a black and white female bear and further characters followed, such as Kipper the cat, Butch the dog and Ramsbottom, a snake with a broad Northern accent.

A particularly favourite memory of the programmes for many is the weary "Bye bye everyone! Bye bye!" that Corbett uttered at the end of each show after yet another hammering or dousing.

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The words to the Sooty theme begin as follows:
Sooty - ever so naughty,
Sooty - never gets caught,
He is a little rascal,
In trouble all the while. . .

Izzy Wizzy let's get busy,
Is his magic spell,
What will happen when he says it,
one can never tell
One can never tell !!!!

Sooty at Home with Harry Corbett

'Sooty, put that jam spoon down! Sooty, please, put that jam spoon away !' pleaded Harry Corbett.

And Sooty, following instructions, put the spoon down--right on top of his master's head. Sooty at home, I discovered, was no different from, the Sooty we know on the television. Naughty, mischievous, yet nice. Sooty has been part of the Corbett household for six years now. Ever since the day Mr. Corbett took his first son, David, to Blackpool, and met Sooty in a joke shop on the North pier. He fell in love with him, and bought him to amuse David.

Sooty, did not speak, but just nodded his head in approval as Mr. Corbett told me the story.

At this time Mr. Corbett was becoming well known as a conjuror at local shows in his hometown of Guiseley, Yorkshire. He decided to introduce Sooty into the show. Together, with Sooty's reluctant co-operation, they worked out a five minute act, with Sooty doing card tricks. This spot with Sooty became the highlight of the show, and Mr. Corbett decided to specialize with him.

Sooty interrupted the story to throw some cutlery on the floor. His master told him' 'Now, Sooty, if you don't behave I'll have to put you to bed.' Sooty nodded. He would behave.

Mr. Corbett continued: 'I built Sooty his own conjuring table, picked out a few card tricks he could do and he became the star magician, with myself relegated to assistant.' Sooty and Mr. Corbett were a great success at local functions and eventually they got an appearance on the amateur final night of the Radio Exhibition at Manchester in 1952. 'Sooty was immediately acclaimed a success by the national Press,' said Mr. Corbett.

Sooty, who had been sitting quietly, immediately perked up at this statement, and beamed with pride.

The offer of a series of shows was made to Mr. Corbett, and he was faced with the decision whether to give up his job as an electrical engineer. With the approval of his wife, Marjorie, he took the plunge, and in October 1952 started professionally on a fortnightly Saturday spot in the show 'Saturday Special' with Peter Butterworth.

At this point Sooty, gazing hard at his master, picked up a spoon, and began banging the table. 'Oh, yes,' said Mr. Corbett, 'I forgot to tell you how we got that TV appearance at Manchester.' Sooty stopped banging.

'On my own initiative I went down to see Barney Colehan in Leeds to ask if there was any chance of getting on television. The radio exhibition was at that time running at Manchester, and Barney said that if I had been a little earlier he could have arranged an audition, perhaps, on the closed circuit there. 'However, this was Wednesday of the last week and although he telephoned the organizers there and then, the answer was that it could not be fitted in during the last three days. 'The following day, Thursday, May Forbes rang up from Manchester asking me to take Sooty over there on the Friday morning to let them see the show. I skipped work and went over, expecting to be back for lunch, but Sooty took their fancy and was immediately put into the closed circuit show in the afternoon at 6 o'clock. Eric Fawcett, who was presenting the live show on the Saturday night, had just arrived from London. He saw our closed circuit show and immediately we had finished he came over and booked us to be in the following night's live programme. On the Saturday we were on the air, having seen a camera for the first time in our lives, the day before.'

Since then Sooty has appeared in 'Sooty Introduces'; 'Whirligig', with H. L. and Mr. Turnip; 'Sugar and Spice', and in January, 1955, he got his own spot. Sooty has also made several appearances on adult programmes, 'This is Show Business' with Vic Oliver; 'Christmas Party', and 'Sooty Stays Up' his own half hour. Sooty and Mr. Corbett are recognized all over the country--on one occasion by a policeman who was about to admonish him for parking in the wrong place.

Sooty grinned wickedly at this remark.

The two stock questions everyone asks are:'What happens to all the suits?' and 'Does Sooty's hammer hurt.' I explained to Sooty that I did not want a demonstration to find out if the hammer did hurt. Mr. Corbett's two children--David now 10, and Peter aged 7--are very fond of Sooty, and accept him as one of the family.

Sooty agreed that he was equally fond of them.

David and Peter sometimes suggest ideas for Sooty. One of their ideas was the sequence where Sooty was put to bed. Sooty insists on appearing at their parties, and celebrates his birthday half-way between David's and Peter's.

Sooty showed me some of his fan-mail, mostly from children, but quite a lot from mothers, fathers, and grannies, too. One wife wrote to enroll her 16-stone, six-feet-two-inches-tall husband in Sooty's Magic Circle as, she said, each appearance reduced .him to the state of a giggling five-year-old. The letters Sooty showed me were many and various. They included requests for photographs, loan of a magic wand (as one six-year-old put it cryptically 'urgent, to make something disappear'), scripts for would-be puppeteers, and advice on how to clean their own grubby Sooties. Children often write to ask for Sooty's autograph, and one little girl added: '... and one from your father, too !'

Sooty spends hours over his fan-mail. A great many letters from children are unaided efforts, and Sooty has quite a time deciphering them. Mr. Corbett assists him. One boy in Edinburgh requested that Sooty and Mr. Corbett should 'keep up a steady correspondence with him'. The next items that Sooty brought out were the presents which children have sent him. He is very proud of them. When he was trying to sing 'My Tiny Paw is Frozen' on his Sunday show he received a minute pair of mittens from two admirers.

Sooty would not allow me to touch these, they are 'extra special'.

Sooty has also a black velvet magician's cloak, with his name in sequins. This delightful gift was sent by a little girl. This was another of Sooty's 'special' presents. He has lots of caps, handkerchiefs and scarves, and a small boy made, and sent him, two mince pies at Christmas. There is a Sooty's Magic Circle, which Mr. Corbett started then handed over to the National Children's Homes to help their funds. By sending one shilling and sixpence, their name, address and birthday, to the N.C.H., 85 Highbury Park, London N.5., children can be enrolled, receive a letter from Sooty, a badge, and a card on their birthday. They also receive secret instructions for doing magic. The profits go to the Home's fund, and the last time Mr. Corbett and Sooty enquired the membership had topped the 6,000 mark.

Mr. Corbett and Sooty travel hundreds of miles a month, and they are often away from home for weeks at a time. This means leaving Mrs. Corbett and the two boys a great deal, but Mrs. Corbett says she does not mind, she is happy with the boys. She is looking forward to the day when they can go away together. Sooty and the Corbetts like living in Guiseley, although sometimes it is rather inconvenient to be so far from London.

Sooty's best friend, Sweep, is now making occasional appearances, too. He is a complete foil to Sooty, opposite in character, being shy, timid and rather sad looking. He is a Spaniel type, with grey coat and long black ears. Between the two of them Mr. Corbett looks like having a pretty busy time.

Sooty agreed.

From Children's Hour, Your TV Friends, The Heirloom Library, London, 1955

Sooty still appears on television amusing today's small children. Until recently he was operated by Matthew Corbett, Harry's son, but he has now retired and sold Sooty's rights to new operators.

What's he up to now?!   Harry with Sweep and Sooty

Visit Sooty's new owner's website

For Information: Lots of people ask us where they can obtain Sooty glove puppets. They are apparently available from:
Toys 'R Us stores in the UK.

A selection of books published by Ariel Productions in the '50s

Sooty card games publised by Ariel Productions in the '50s

Sooty jigsaws from Tower Press and Chad Valley

Chad Valley Helter Skelter and Tidleywinks games from the '50s

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