Sooty, Sweep and Soo with Harry and Matthew Corbett. Image supplied
This week Sooty celebrates his 75th birthday. He was bought in Blackpool on 19 July 1948 by Harry Corbett to entertain his children, and from those humble beginnings went on to entertain generations across the UK and the world. The charming and cheeky bear – later joined by Sweep and Soo and a host of other characters – has hospitalised Paul Daniels and even soaked Prince Phillip with a water pistol. Find out more with these 75 facts about the nation’s favourite glove puppet…
75 facts about Sooty
1. Sooty was discovered on the North Pier in Blackpool on 19 July 1948.
2. On a summer family holiday, Harry Corbett bought the glove puppet from a joke shop to entertain his sons David and baby Matthew on a rainy day.
3. Sooty cost seven shillings and sixpence.
4. Before he became famous, Sooty was called Teddy.
5. Harry was an amateur magician and performed at children’s birthday parties with Sooty (Teddy) in Yorkshire.
6. Sooty’s magical catchphrase “Izzy-wizzy, let’s get busy!” was developed while doing kids’ parties.
7. He made his TV debut in 1952 on the BBC’s Talent Night.
8. Sooty won the talent contest after making a live mouse appear from a silver bowl, shooting a water pistol and bowing persistently.
9. The character is mute, “probably because Harry wasn’t a ventriloquist”, according to Richard Cadell. “It was never a calculated decision, not like today where they sit around a table and try to craft a global brand. He started off in a child’s toy box so he never had a voice.”
10. Harry Corbett was nephew of fish and chips titan Harry Ramsden.
11. Corbett’s parents also ran a fish and chip shop.
12. Sooty’s favourite food is (you’llnever guess) fish and chips.
13. Sooty became a regular on the BBC’s Children’s Hour in the mid-1950s.
14. Muffin the Mule was the big star of kids’ TV. After presenter Annette Mills died, the BBC looked to Sooty as a replacement.
15. Sooty holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-running children’s television show.
17. “Harry Corbett’s brother Leslie was the operator and voice of Sweep,” says Cadell. “A saxophonist, he blew into a reed to give Sweep a monotonic voice. One day the reed disintegrated. Cobbling the pieces together, Harry and Leslie made a reed that made different tones. By accident they’d found a way to give Sweep inflection so you can almost work out what he’s saying.”
18. Sweep has three brothers – Swoop, Swipe and Swap.
19. Soo is a ’60s girl, originally voiced by Harry’s wife Marjorie from 1964.
20. Brenda Longman took Soo over in the early 1980s, and still plays her today.
21. Other characters that have starred alongside Sooty include cat Kipper, snake Ramsbottom and Butch the Bulldog.
22. Sooty and Sweep appeared as the Prime Minister and Home Secretary in an episode of The Goodies.
23. Harry Corbett paid £150 a year to insure his thumb and two fingers.
24. “When Harry Corbett received his OBE, with a miniature medal for Sooty, the Queen and Prince Phillip were there,” Cadell explains. “Harry thought this is the moment, and took the water pistol and soaked Prince Philip. He was quite shocked; the Queen was in hysterics. She apparently said, ‘You naughty boy Sooty.'”
25. Around the World with Sooty was an album released in 1973.
26. “The album was the only time Sooty was given a voice,” says Cadell, “Harry always regretted doing that.”
27. After Harry suffered a heart attack, his son Matthew Corbett took over in 1976.
28. Matthew Corbett had previously sung with Rod Burton and Jane Tucker on Rainbow.
29. Rod and Jane replaced Matthew with Freddy.
30. One of the prizes for Young Magician of the Year was to appear on The Sooty Show – which winner Richard Cadell got to do aged 15 in 1985.
31. The tabloids went to town after Soo became pregnant in a 1994 episode (but she was only pretending).
32. Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain is a fan and has Sooty as a mascot onstage.
33. Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees has also taken Sooty on stage.
34. Sooty and Sweep star with Peter Kay in the famous, but rarely seen nowadays, (Is This The Way To) Amarillo music video.
35. Special guests on the shows have included Jack Dee, Shane Richie, Dennis Taylor, Jim Bowen and Harry Hill.
36. Sooty & Co. was filmed at Granada Studios in Manchester sometimes using sets from Coronation Street.
37. An animated series was made in 1996-7. “I hated it!” Cadell says. “They were ineffectual, bland and not remotely in keeping with Sooty at all.”
38. Matthew retired in 1998 and the mantle was passed on to Richard Cadell, who the team remembered from his 1985 appearance.
39. Richard Cadell’s hands were insured for £1 million.
40. In the early 2000s, Sooty became controlled by HiT Entertainment. “They wanted to make Sooty appeal to people all over the world like their other shows Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and Bob the Builder did,” Cadell explains. “They changed the show a little bit and realised it wasn’t going to work so they decided to sell the rights.”
41. Miki the Brazilian cat was introduced to broaden the show’s appeal. It wasn’t a great decision and Cadell tries to forget about this period.
42. Sooty was Mayor of Blackpool for a day in 2000.
43. In 2001 the late magician Paul Daniels was hospitalised after being hit by a pizza thrown by the cheeky bear. “I threw the pizza,” Cadell confesses. “Paul Daniels was my childhood hero but the pizza skimmed like a frisbee and banged him in the eye. He had to lie on the ground for some time before being taken to hospital.”
44. The pizza-flinger was forgiven. Richard and Sooty often star in pantomime with their good friend, the lovely Debbie McGee.
45. Richard Cadell and his brother purchased the rights to Sooty in 2008.
46. Cadell then torched the master tapes of the hated animated series. “I paid for them, I owned them, I burned them,” he says.
47. Cadell bought what was thought to be the oldest surviving Sooty for £3,100 in 2008.
48. Subsequently, an even older Sooty was given to him by Trevor Hill, who produced the original TV shows.
49. Sooty recorded a 90th birthday message for Nelson Mandela 15 years ago. “It was played at Hyde Park,” Cadell says. “I have no idea if he knew who Sooty was, so what the hell he made of it I have no idea.”
50. Sooty has had over 5,000 ‘stunt doubles’.
51. Sootys are made by British company Golden Bear.
52. Like some bears and most pandas, they begin life in China.
53. The real Sooty is slightly larger than the toy version (for an adult hand).
54. The real Sooty also has asymmetrical paws, one arm lower than the other.
55. To correctly operate him, you use your thumb and first two fingers, with the other two tucked in.
56. In 2017, he became the only non-human member of the Magic Circle. Cadell says: “Sooty is obviously a brilliant magician, but the reason they made him a member is because of lot of magicians are inspired by Sooty. It’s the first time children see magic on TV.”
57. Sooty-shaped ‘Sooty Boxes’ in shops across the country have raised over £13 million for the RNIB.
58. To mark his 70th birthday in 2018, the RNIB placed an additional 2,018 boxes on shop counters.
59. The Sooty Show continues to air daily on ITV. You can watch all the latest Sooty episodes all in one place on ITVX.
60. Many of the newest episodes are set on a holiday camp. “It’s a bit like Hi-de-Hi!” says Cadell.
61. Special guests to the camp included Peter Andre, Lisa Riley, Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, and Faye from pop group Steps, who teaches Sweep how to dance.
62. Lisa Riley received the biggest gungeing of all time. “I’m talking about head-to-toe coverage,” Cadell says, “She loved it.”
63. 2018 also saw the launch of the Sooty YouTube channel, where you can watch clips and episodes of The Sooty Show for free!
64. Cadell thinks the secret of Sooty’s success is down to his silence: “That’s why he’s survived – on every presenter’s hand, every child’s hand, he’s the same.”
65. Sooty’s 70th birthday party was held on Blackpool’s North Pier, back where he was ‘born’.
66. A recent survey conducted by Sky revealed Sooty and Sweep to be the British public’s favourite childhood TV characters.
67. 2022 saw the opening of a brand-new theme park: ‘Sooty Land’! A magical world devoted entirely to our favourite puppet at the award-winning Crealy Theme Park & Resort, in Devon.
68. Sooty Land features four unique themed rides: Izzy Wizzy Let’s get Dizzy, Sooty’s Magic Bus, Sweep’s Flying Circus and Soo’s Sweet Balloon Ride! The park also features themed indoor attractions and Sooty’s Magic & Souvenir shop.
69. In 2022, Richard, Sooty, Sweep & Soo partnered with Childline to launch their first ever Christmas single, titled It’s the Most Magical Time of the Year.
70. Recent TV appearances include reading the terms and conditions on Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One), a record-breaking appearance on a celebrity version of Bargain Hunt for Children in Need (BBC One), a very cheeky feature on Michael McIntyre’s Big Show (BBC One), and a pantomime special of Celebrity Pointless (BBC One).
71. When he is being interviewed on TV & radio, he can often be a bit cheeky and spray the presenters with his water pistol! Recent victims include Holly Willoughby, Scott Mills, Steph McGovern and Lorraine Kelly.
72. This year, Sooty turns 75, sharing a birth year with King Charles and the NHS.
73. To celebrate his 75th birthday, Sooty, Richard & the gang will be heading out on a brand-new theatre tour: ‘The Sooty Show – 75th Birthday Spectacular!’ Touring from 21 October 2023 – 12 April 2024, tickets available at thesootyshow.co.uk.
74. His favourite magazine to read is The Big Issue (we hope!)
75. Every episode of Sooty’s TV shows ends with the phrase, ‘Bye bye everybody, bye bye’.
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