He is perhaps the only character to be part of our childhoods across seven decades of entertainment – not bad for someone who hasn’t uttered so much as one word throughout his career.
Silence truly has been golden for Sooty.
Aged 70, he’s packing his water pistol and magic wand into his suitcase, and taking his chums, Soo and Sweep, on the road for a series of live shows to entertain the youngest of audiences.
It’s remarkable to think that Harry Corbett spent a mere 7s 6d – 37pence, or thereabouts – in old money on the glove puppet that would become one of the icons of children’s television.
That was back in 1948. War had just ended, and television was in its very infancy.
Within four years, Corbett had begun the show that endures to this day, making it the longest running programme in the history of children’s television; from the days of black and white telly to the multi-channel world we have today.
These days he is in the hands , literally, of Richard Cadell, who bought the rights to the show in 2008 after previously taking over from Harry’s son, Matthew.
His own Sooty journey now spans some 20 years.
“I’ve just had a ball,” he said.
“It really was a life-changer for me and I have loved every second of it.
“ I feel honoured and privileged to be trusted with such an iconic and well-loved character.”
The Sooty Show has stuck with what works since those early days – it is the most innocent of shows which taps into the timeless appeal of slapstick for laughs.
And Richard sums up its enduring success in one word, ‘simplicity’.
“He is a teddy bear and most children receive a teddy bear as their first ever toy so it’s very easy to see why children fall in love with Sooty very quickly.
“And now, of course, it’s the grandparents that are introducing their grandchildren to the same little teddy bear that made them laugh also.
“And it hasn’t changed. I’m still performing the same routines that Harry Corbett performed 70 years ago, and they still make children scream with laughter. In this ever-changing world I think people find it very reassuring that some things remain the same.”
That link with the past probably also sparks memories for parents and grand-parents of their own days watching the show.
It seems incredible, this kids’ show is doing a more extensive tour – 48 dates across four months – than many of today’s pop bands.
The itinerary includes meet and greets after the morning and afternoon performances, and Richard is looking forward to introducing the glove puppet to his young fans.
“This is Sooty doing what he does best – magic,” he said.
“So the audience can expect to be saying ‘Izzy whizzy let’s get busy’ a great deal! Sooty will be performing some amazing tricks including sawing a lady in half, floating a child from the audience and making it snow! Sweep will be getting in the way with his own disastrous magic tricks most of which revolve around sausages.”
Add in that trusty water pistol and you have the ingredients for a show which will almost certainly be the first time many young audience members have experience live theatre.
“Performing live is what we love most,” added Richard. “Making the television show is a lot of fun but Sooty has always been at his best in front of a live audience where he can make not only the children laugh, but all the adults too. After each performance there is a chance for everybody to meet Sooty and it’s always such a pleasure to meet fans old and new!
Last year saw Sooty turn 70 with some big celebrations at his home on Blackpool Pier – Harry Corbett bought the original glove puppet there to entertain his family – underlining the continuing appeal of the show.
“It was absolutely amazing and overwhelming, actually. There is so much love for this little bear,” said Richard. “He has been at the heart of so many people’s childhoods over the last 70 years. Over 1500 people turned up to celebrate – every age and generation. It just felt like one huge family.”
That was followed with a new show on ITVBe which featured celebrities such as Faye Tozer from Steps, Boycie from Only Fools And Horses, and pop star Peter Andre.
“They were all amazing, but I have to say Lisa Riley put up with so much on the day of her shoot. We literally submerged her in foam and she was a real trooper. I’d go as far as to say I think she got the worst pasting Sooty has ever given anyone!!”
They also filmed a sketch for inclusion in an ITV show to celebrate Prince Charles also turning 70. It’s safe to say the royal has probably never uttered the words “Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy” even if Sooty has an OBE – but Richard enjoyed the royal tribute.
“It was possibly the highlight of Sooty’s career. It was just an amazing experience to be at the Palladium at the request of Prince Charles.
“It turns out that Sooty and Sweep have always been personal favourites of the Prince. We also received a lovely personal letter saying how much he had enjoyed Sooty and Sweep’s performance. You have to remember that the Royals were also children once and Sooty brought magic to their childhood too.
“Sooty has an OBE you have to remember. That was of course in Harry Corbett’s day. You could say that Sooty has been a friend of the Royal Family for many years already.
“Maybe I’m biased but I consider Sooty to be a legend and national treasure!”
The Sooty Show is at Rothes Halls, Glenrothes on Wednesday, April 10, with shows at 11.00 am and 2.30 pm.