Doesn’t look too bad for a sixty year old, does he? The little yellow bear with black ears that we all know as Sooty has been around since the 1950’s, meaning he’s entertained at least three generations of kids. This has put him in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest running children’s TV show, although the format and name of his TV programmes has changed a fair bit over the years.
Sooty was first “discovered” by Harry Corbett whilst on holiday in Blackpool in 1948. He saw the little yellow bear puppet and bought it for his son Matthew, but it wasn’t long before Harry was using the bear as an assistant in his amateur magic act, naming him Teddy. The duo were spotted and in 1952 they went onto the nations airwaves thanks to a BBC talent show.
Since television was still only black and white a last minute decision was made to alter Teddy’s appearance to make him stand out better on screen. A black nose and mouth were added by Harry’s wife Marjorie and his ears were blackened with soot, which led to us new stage name, Sooty! He also got his trademark catchphrase, the magical phrase Izzy Wizzy Let’s Get Busy, although of course given that Sooty never actually spoke out loud, this was said by Harry.
The act proved popular and in 1955 Sooty was given his own TV show, and a couple of years later a new little friend came along in the shape of Sweep the dog. Sweep was grey with long black ears but unlike the mute Sooty, who could only communicate with gestures or by whispering into Harry’s ear, Sweep made a strange squeaking sound. Bizarrely you could nearly always manage to understand what Sweep was trying to say despite it only being a series of squeaks.
As the years went by Sooty gained many new friends, but by far the longest lasting was Soo, the female panda bear. Soo was able to speak properly, and was normally far better behaved than the boisterous Sweep or the mischievous Sooty. I often found Soo a bit annoying because of this, as she always seemed to be a bit of a party pooper, but at least having Soo around made it a little easier for storylines to be introduced as the viewer had someone to tell you exactly what was going on.
It was the introduction of Soo that caused Sooty to go from the BBC to ITV, as apparently the BBC frowned upon the idea of Sooty having a girlfriend (come on, it’s a puppet!). Sooty has remained on the ITV ever since.
In 1976, after Harry Corbett fell ill, Sooty was taken over by his son Matthew, and for most children of the 1980’s it will be Matthew who we remember as being Sooty’s ill fated human friend. At the time Matthew did not care much for taking on the responsibility of Sooty and his chums, as he was enjoying his work as a singer on classic kids show Rainbow. Indeed, when Harry recovered father and son famously had a falling out as Matthew initially refused to let Harry go back out on tour with Sooty.
The family feud was brought to an end when Matthew backed down and allowed Harry to tour on stage with Sooty. Matthew rejuvenated the television show in the meantime, making it one of ITV’s most popular childrens shows. The format revolved mainly around Sooty, Sweep and Soo living in a lovely looking house with Matthew. Were the house real it would have had an interesting design, since there was clearly one floor level for Sooty and the gang and another for the humans in most of the house, who were only visible from the shoulders up!
In 2000 Matthew finally decided he wished to retire and so a search was on for a successor to keep Sooty going. This new presenter ended up being magician Richard Cadell, and it is Richard who is now Sooty’s right hand man. After 8 years of presiding over Sooty in his latest show, where they run a hotel, Richard finally purchased all rights to Sooty and is officially his new owner.
To finish then, given this is an eighties site, here is a video showing the various title sequences for The Sooty Show during Matthew Corbett’s tenure as the minder of the little magical yellow bear.