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Thursday, 4 December 2014

Sooty, Harry and Grandma Lol

Linus has a series of postcard pictures in his room that were from a stamp issue celebrating some of our great children's TV programmes.

He is familiar with Sooty, although not a big fan of the current series. This morning he asked who the man with Sooty was.

So, for Linus and anyone else, this is the story of Harry Corbett and me and my mum.

Harry Corbett was a part time magician (for interest, he was also the nephew of chip man Harry Ramsden). He was born in Bradford in 1918. Whilst working as a magician in Blackpool he purchased a little orange bear puppet to entertain his very young sons. The bear, who's ears were later blackened, hence the name Sooty, was soon part of the conjuring act. Sooty, continues to use magic in his act to this day.

By 1952 Harry and Sooty were an established act and made an appearance on a TV talent show in May 1952, the next day's Sunday Express declared "five minutes on the television screen last night established Harry Corbett's teddy bear as a rival to Muffin the Mule". Muffin The Mule was a puppet mule who was one of the first children's shows on the BBC, starting in 1946.

When Muffin's 'handler' Annette Mills died in 1955, the BBC decided not to continue with that show (it continued on ITV). Sooty was brought in by the BBC as a replacement for Muffin. For the next 20 years, Sooty was a big stage and TV star. Soon Sooty was joined by squeaky dog Sweep and shortly after, and more controversially, by a female companion, panda bear Soo. Such was the furore of a female character being added, Corbett had to agree that Soo and Sooty would not touch!

In 1975 Harry Corbett had a heart attack and took early retirement. His son Pater (known professionally as Matthew) took over the show. It continued to be very successful with TV and live shows, together with licensing deals for books, games, soft toys, etc..

Harry Corbett, however, wasn't a big fan of retirement. Taking on some of his creation's rebellious characteristics, Harry went against his son's wishes and started performing little Sooty shows whenever he felt like.

To say my mum was a fan of Sooty is a little understatement, I can always remember Sooty puppets being around and I'm sure my niece and nephew have some fond memories of watching Sooty with her too. I know my niece still occasionally tweets about him!

On a trip to Bournemouth I recall my mum being excited at seeing a small sign that advertised Harry Corbett and Sooty appearing at the hotel we were staying at. From what I remember, this was an impromptu performance, Corbett called the hotel and asked if he could turn up and do a little show. The show was in a small conference type room, there were about 20 kids there and my mum, armed with her camera. I still have some of the pictures she took, they're mostly out of focus and terrible, her pictures always were, although all of Sooty's and Harry's heads are intact which was a rare achievement. I have a (sometimes) terrible habit of watching other audience members when I see a show, it possibly started that day, watching my mum become a little girl again, giggling at a pensioner with a box and an orange puppet on his hand.

There was something special about the whole experience, the sheer simple joy of Harry Corbett performing for the love of it and my mum loving every second.

Below is, so it says, from Sooty's US TV debut on The Mickey Mouse Club, I'd guess in the early 1960s.

Bye, bye, everyone.

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