Sooty reaches his 70th birthday next year. He will do so in the safe hands of Richard Cadell who has ensured the character’s longevity...after a wobble.
The show plays Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre on Sunday March 26 at 11am and 2.30pm.
As Richard explains: “Sooty was discovered in 1948 by Harry Corbett on the north pier in Blackpool. It was a wet and windy day in Blackpool, and Harry bought him in a joke shop to entertain his young son. Harry was an amateur magician, and he was already doing magic tricks at children’s parties. This little puppet cost a lot of money, but after a conversation with his wife, he bought it. He then introduced it into his magic act, and Sooty took over.”
One thing led to another. He was spotted by the BBC. Four years later, Sooty was on television.
“This was the infancy of children’s television. There was only Muffin the Mule! Harry came along, and it sounds crazy now, but Sooty was the first teddy bear on children’s TV.”
Richard took over 19 years ago from Harry’s son Matthew who had taken over from his dad. And Richard is delighted to have brought Sooty back to prominence as the most popular children’s show on ITV. There was a detour first, though.
“Matthew sold the rights to the Sooty Show to an investment bank that really wanted to take Sooty out of Britain and make him a global star. They employed me. I had no creative control. They introduced new characters. They tried to make the same TV that worked so well in the UK work across an international platform. It didn’t work.
“In 2008 the people that bought the rights could not get back on TV, and they offered the rights for sale. Me and my brother bought the rights for the Sooty Show, and I went back to ITV and I said ‘I want to turn the clock back to before all these changes and get back to the old formula.’ I told them I didn’t want to conquer the world. I wanted just to make sure that the British public were allowed to go back to the Sooty they grew up with. I made a pilot, and it was commissioned for 52 episodes.”
And the success has been constant ever since.
“It has been hugely satisfying. Matthew is a personal friend of mine and was very supportive when I took it over. When they changed the format, he said ‘My father would be turning in his grave!’ I knew I could change it back. It wasn’t so much for me. It was for everyone else, for all the generations that had grown up with Sooty and for Matthew, for all the people that wanted the Sooty that they remembered.”