While in a shop which no longer exists, Past Times, I stumbled upon an intriguing DVD release that I wasn’t yet aware of. This was sometime in the last fifteen years, or when a DVD purchase was more likely. The title in question was The Sooty Show Presented by Harry Corbett OBE. It was a compilation of four rarely seen short films, made between the 1950s and 1970s, which had been digitally remastered for the release. The four episodes were Sooty’s Engineering Co, Sooty’s Toy Shop, The Sooty Olympics and Sooty’s Birthday.
As someone who had been raised in the latter part of the Matthew Corbett years, I had virtually no knowledge of Harry; He was nothing more than a name and a black-and-white photograph. The show I used to watch as a child had morphed from the basic premise of a puppet getting into mischief, into a situation comedy with Matthew acting as the straight man or the patsy. The things I closely associated with Sooty included his motorhome, the Sooty and Co theme tune and the occasional appearance of Little Cousin Scampi; All creations which became prominent during Matthew’s era. To venture into the original Sooty, was like taking a step into the unknown.
So I bought the aforementioned DVD and sat down to watch it with my family. The lights went down, and the first thing we saw was Richard Cadell (Sooty’s current handler) and the bear himself, who introduced each episode with context. Once the content we came to see had started, I didn’t look back. Harry’s era seems so long ago now, he retired from doing the bear full-time in the mid-1970s, but the act is timeless.
The footage was grainy, and the sound was a bit off in places, but it was clear Harry was a master at what he did. The puppet may have looked different, but the handling of it brought the bear alive with a sense of fun and cheekiness. The punchlines and visual gags may seem old in the Sooty universe now, but I think it’s important to remember this is where it started. Much of the routines that have been done over the years owe a lot to Harry’s inventiveness, which Cadell happily points out.
Much of the shtick carried over to successive generations, but there are one or two things which remain unique to Harry. For a start, his distinctive Yorkshire accent and unique highly shrill reaction (Stop it Sooty!) muster even more laughs than unusual. Add to that the father and son relationship the handler seems to have with this bear, instead of the ‘all friends together’ vibe of Matthew and Richard’s tenure. As a father myself, I relate highly to Harry’s reaction to Sooty’s hi-jinks, and I’m sure many did back in the day.
Many years after I purchased the DVD, I discovered two other volumes in the pound shop, which are just as delightful. All twelve episodes are now available to stream on Britbox and ITVX premium in the UK!