‘Simplicity’ the key to Sooty’s 75-year success, says show’s host

Sooty started life as a plain yellow bear which magician and puppeteer Harry Corbett found in a shop in Blackpool, Lancashire, in 1948.

Sooty, Sweep and Soo in the snow during the video for their Christmas single
Sooty, Sweep and Soo in the snow during the video for their Christmas single

Sooty will celebrate 75 years in showbusiness in 2023 with the distinctive yellow bear’s current guardian saying simplicity is the key to his enduring popularity.

Sooty will be joined by sidekicks Sweep, Soo and Richard Cadell for a theatre tour and new TV series next year but, before that, there is a stint in pantomime and continuing promotion for a Christmas single raising money for the charity Childline.

The slapstick comedy which still delights audiences of all ages has changed little since Sooty first found fame by whispering in the ear of his creator Harry Corbett.

Cadell said keeping the traditional format has been key to Sooty’s success: “I think it’s just the simplicity.”

He told the PA news agency: “Nobody’s stupid. I think we all kind of probably have an idea how Sooty is working but it doesn’t matter.

“And I think the fact that we’re all in on the joke means that it’s been able to carry on. There’s nothing complicated about it and that’s the key to its success.”

Harry Corbett with Sooty and sons David, then nine, on the left, and Peter (better known as Matthew Corbett), aged six, on the right (PA)

Sooty started life as a plain yellow bear which magician and puppeteer Harry Corbett found in a shop in Blackpool, Lancashire, in 1948, named Teddy and used to entertain his children.

Black ears, said to be created using coal dust, gave Sooty a new name and a distinctive look and the duo went on to win the BBC TV show Talent Night.

A regular slot on children’s show Saturday Special followed and then the launch of The Sooty Show in 1955 which Corbett’s son Matthew took over in 1976.

Comedian Jack Dee is squirted in the face by Sooty and puppeteer Matthew Corbett
Sooty and Matthew Corbett squirt comedian Jack Dee with a water pistol during ITV’s autumn schedule launch in 1996 (Neil Munns/PA)

Since Matthew’s retirement in 1998, Cadell has been the one uttering the show’s classic catchphrase “Izzy whizzy let’s get busy”.

The affection which people have for Sooty came as no surprise to Cadell who said he “loved it”, adding: “However, I will say that you can’t rest on your laurels. You know, you can’t just trade on former glories.”

He said being Sooty’s guardian means a lot of hard work but a lot of fun.

“I do feel that it’s important to keep him relevant to today’s generation to make sure that affection still exists when they become parents, and they want to come to the theatres with their children.

Sooty 75 anniversary in showbusiness
Sooty will be joined by sidekicks Sweep, Soo and Richard Cadell on his Christmas single raising money for the charity Childline ((Childline/PA)

“So I feel a duty of care. You know, the little bear survived 50 years before I was on the scene. And I want to make sure that he survives 50 years after I’m not on the scene, you know,

“I have to look after him, that as I see is my role. It’s more than a job. It’s making sure that this little fella is here for everyone to enjoy for as long as possible.”

Cadell said Sooty and Sweep are a “classic double act” and the entertainment comes from putting them in scenarios familiar to the audience.

The King, then Prince of Wales, met Sooty and Sweep after the We Are Most Amused and Amazed performance at the London Palladium in 2018
The King, then Prince of Wales, met Sooty and Sweep after the We Are Most Amused and Amazed performance at the London Palladium in 2018 (Julian Simmonds/Daily Telegraph/PA)

“So you’ve got Sooty that’s very clever but naughty and Sweep that’s a bit of a fool, as much as we love him. So the shows kind of write themselves really.”

The scenario for the 2023 tour is Sooty’s 75th birthday party and autumn dates have been announced with more shows to be announced for spring.

“What would Sooty do? He’d invite all his friends, he’d invite some star guests, and then everything would go wrong,” Cadell told PA.

“Because it’s such a tried and tested format, it’s dead simple.”

Sooty, Sweep, Soo and Cadell will also be appearing alongside Jason Donovan and Faye Brookes in Goldilocks And The Three Bears at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, Hampshire, from December 10.

Cadell, 54, who has been appearing in panto since he was 15, said it is “probably the most spectacular pantomime I’ve ever been in”.

“I love taking Sooty and Sweep and putting them in front of an audience that wouldn’t necessarily come to a Sooty show,” he said.

“They all like Sooty but they’ve forgotten it or they remember it from their childhood. And the minute they see him and they realise how funny he is and how funny Sweep is, suddenly they’re fans all over again.

“And I love to put Sooty and Sweep in front of an adult audience that remember him and and reawaken their childhoods.

“It’s a privilege to do that.”

He said adults do not have to “grit their teeth and get through it” as they might expect to do at other children’s shows.

“It’s completely the reverse with Sooty, you get adults coming without kids.

“You know, we get loads of little kids that are obsessed with it and know every episode word for word, and then we’ll have elderly people that come with their Sootys they’ve had for 50 years, who just love it and remember it and want to come and see it.

Sooty 75 anniversary in showbusiness
Dame Esther Rantzen and Richard Cadell with Sooty, Sweep and Soo (Childline/PA)

“So I think that’s why it’s been successful and that’s why it still sells very well in theatres because it appeals to such a wide different age range for lots of different reasons.”

Cadell said it was perfect for Sooty to support Childline with his Christmas single, The Most Magical Time Of The Year.

“Childline is a very special charity, and it helps lots of boys and girls. And Sooty, of course, has helped many children over the years. I mean, he’s been very popular with children for 75 years.”

– Download Sooty’s Christmas single The Most Magical Time Of The Year at magicaltime.co.uk. All proceeds go to Childline.

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