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The little orange bear with the sooty ears and nose attached to the end of Harry Corbett’s arm, has been a British TV tradition since its TV debut on BBC TV Talent Night in 1952.
The Head of BBC Children’s Television, Freda Lingstrom, contacted Corbett and offered the duo more work, and Corbett and Sooty (who was originally called ‘Teddy’) became regular guests on a children’s variety show called Saturday Special (1951 – 1953).
Sooty was every child’s hero – able to misbehave with impunity, and torment the life of poor old Harry Corbett. The mischievous little glove puppet delighted in squirting his master with a water pistol, or covering him in flour.
But Sooty was born in unlikely circumstances. The original puppet was bought by Harry (then a Bradford businessman with an engineering degree), at the end of Blackpool Pier for 7s 6d in 1948.
By 1955 Sooty had his own series – The Sooty Show – and the naughty bear was a firm fixture of the BBC’s schedules.
He was joined in 1957 by his (equally as naughty) sausage-obsessed squeaky dog friend Sweep, and by Soo (Sooty’s cute panda girlfriend) in 1964.
Because Harry Corbett had to keep at least one hand free, his brother Leslie operated Sweep.
Annoyingly voiced by Corbett’s wife Marjorie, Soo set about declaring herself the standard bearer of bear morality although the ever-vigilant BBC producers insisted that Sooty and Soo should never touch.
Meanwhile, the bear and the dog made a great double-act, with Sooty’s “oofle dust” and Sweep with his endless strings of sausages.
An early high spot for Sooty came when he turned his water pistol on no less a dignitary than Prince Philip himself. “Izzy Wizzy, let’s get busy”.
Other characters followed, such as Kipper the cat, Butch the dog, and Ramsbottom – a snake with a broad northern accent, and after many years appearing on the BBC, Sooty and Corbett moved over to Thames Television in 1968 for a long-running half hour series with ITV.
Suffering from ill-health (he suffered a near-fatal heart attack), Corbett handed the show over to his son Matthew (who, born in 1948, is the same age as Sooty) in 1976. The junior Corbett continued until 1992.
Soo changed her voice twice, but each new actress somehow managed to be as monotonous as the last.
After more than a quarter of a century as the popular and jovial recipient of Sooty’s flour-bag, water hose and hammer assaults, Harry Corbett died in 1989.
The Sooty Show came to an end in 1992 when Thames Television lost their ITV franchise. The puppet was resurrected the following year in Sooty & Co which ran until 1998 and introduced Sooty’s naughty cousin Scampy – a schoolboy bear with a love of catapults.
In 1998, Sooty inherited a new “right-hand man” in the shape of Richard Cadell who led Sooty & Co on ITV. Sooty has also been seen as an animated cartoon on TV in the UK and in a sitcom called Sooty Heights, about the hotel management industry.
There is a Sooty museum in Shipley, Yorkshire.