Celebrating Sooty at 70

SPOT THE PUPPET: Lynne Mortimer interviews Sooty and Sweep about their roles in Snow White and the S

SPOT THE PUPPET: Lynne Mortimer interviews Sooty and Sweep about their roles in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Ipswich Regent - Credit: Archant

Sooty, the glove puppet has been entertaining children for 70 years. Lynne Mortimer is privileged to have met him.

It wasn't raining - Lynne needed an umbrella to fend off Sooty with his water pistol. Picture: ANDY

It wasn't raining - Lynne needed an umbrella to fend off Sooty with his water pistol. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT - Credit: Archant

One of my top exclusives as a journalist was an interview with the glove puppet Sooty in 2010.

The bear, beloved of children everywhere, celebrated his 70th birthday in July ? despite being five years old for all time.

It was in 1948 that Harry Corbett, an engineer, bought a bear glove puppet on Blackpool’s North Pier in 1948 to entertain his children. Sooty cost 7s 6d (about £11.50 in today’s money) which, with hindsight, was a real bargain.

Sooty whispers into his co-stars’ ears but the rest of us have never heard him speak a word although Sweep will occasionally translate.

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Sooty had a bit of a makeover before appearing on television for the first time. His ears, orangy-yellow like the rest of him, became black so that he could be better seen on screen. Sooty and Harry Corbett were an an instant hit, winning a public vote to take a BBC talent show title and subsequently, being signed up to a TV series.

Richard Cadell, who has been keeping Sooty in check since 1998, said it was “an amazing achievement that Sooty is so popular after 70 years”.

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In 1965 Harry and Sooty appeared on Desert Island Discs. Their luxury item was a trumpet, while songs included My Favourite Things by Julie Andrews

On a personal level, I recall Sooty with his first sidekick, Harry Corbett, a genial man who was, I think a little too tolerant of Sooty and Sweep’s japes which so often ended with Harry being soaked or custard-pied.

By the time my children watched Sooty and Sweep, Harry’s son, Matthew had taken over. He was a tiny bit more stern than his dad but the bear and his canine companion continued to mine their rich vein of practical joking unabated. It was during the Matthew years that many of the Sooty recordings were made and today, my grandsons adore them; they roar with laughter.

As well as being a mischievous bear, Sooty is also a magician and xylophone player. He may not be Harry Potter but his “Izzy-wizzy, lets get busy” is just as potent at “Expelliarmus”.

I met my furry hero in 2010, when he appeared in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Anita Dobson starred as the wicked queen but when it came to celebrity interviews, my sights were set on Sooty although he was not the most voluble of interviewees.

To be frank, it was a slightly one-sided conversation but fortunately the bear’s companion Richard Cadell was on hand to clarify some of the knottier points. When Sooty got fed up with my persistent probing, he fired his water pistol at me.

Try this fun Sooty Quiz

1. Sooty was bought in 1948 - who was Prime Minister?

(a) Clement Attlee (a)b) Winston Churchill (c) Anthony Eden (d) Sweep

2. What is 7s 6d in decimal currency, approximately?

(a) 76p (b) 33.3p (c) 40p (d) 37.5p

3. Which of these is not one of Maria’s Favourite Things in The Sound of Music?

(a) brown paper packages tied up with strings

(b)bright copper kettles

(c) Smoked and fried herrings

(d) Silver white winters that melt into springs

4. What is the name of Sooty’s naughty little cousin?

(a) Scrappi

(b) Scampi

(c) Bam-Bam

(d) Sandi

5. Who is Ramsbottom in the Sooty shows?

(a) a fish and chip shop owner

(b) Sooty’s grumpy uncle

(c) A snake

(d) A dog

6. How old is Sooty?

(a) 70

(b) Five

(c) Seven

(d) 50

Answers: 1(a); 2 (d); 3 (c); 4. (b); 5. (c) 6. (a) and/or (b)

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