Five minutes chat with Sooty and friends ahead of their date at Harrogate Theatre this weekend
Last year saw the nation’s favourite magic yellow bear, Sooty, celebrate his 70th birthday. The cheeky bear was originally bought in Blackpool by Harry Corbett to amuse his sons Matthew and David whilst on a family holiday. Sooty made his TV debut on BBC’s Talent Night where the act won a public vote to take first place.
Costing around £13 in today’s money, the little bear proved a wise investment for Mr Corbett who went on to have many successful years on TV before passing the puppet on to his son Matthew.
Sooty has a place in the Guinness Book of Records for starring in the longest-running (nonconsecutive years) children’s TV programme.
Despite his long reign, he shows no signs of slowing down and, joined by old pals Sweep, Soo and presenter Richard Cadell, will embark on a UK tour this Spring.
Sooty’s TV presenter of 20 years Richard Cadell, explains why ‘Sooty’s Magic Show’ is an unmissable treat for the whole family…
“This is Sooty doing what he does best – magic. So the audience can expect to be saying “Izzy wizzy 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!”
It won’t just be the original act entertaining the audience as the tour will see them joined by circus stars Michael Jordan and Fantasie De La Nuit.
“Michael Jordan is an amazing circus artist and a fabulous magician. So with Sooty’s help he will be performing some large-scale Las Vegas style illusions along with some incredible juggling and circus tricks.
“Fantasie De La Nuit will allow Sooty and Sweep to perform some incredible tricks using the magic of ultraviolet light. It has to be seen to be believed.”
This in an extensive tour with 48 dates across four months. Mr Cadell explained why they’re taking to the road rather than the screen.
“Performing live is what we love most. Of course, 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.
“Plus 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!”
If there was any doubt that Sooty and Friends still had a huge legion of fans, they were all put to rest at his 70th birthday celebration.
It took place on Blackpool Pier, Sooty’s birthplace, and the gang put on a live show. Crowds of people turned up to celebrate, cementing his status as national treasure.
“It was absolutely amazing and overwhelming, actually.
“There is so much love for this little bear. 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.”
Live performance may be the pair’s favourite, but their TV days are not behind them. September 2018 also saw a brand-new series of ‘The Sooty Show’ on ITVBe with a host of new celebrity guests.
“We had Faye Tozer from Steps (who did so well on Strictly Come Dancing recently), John Challis – better known as Boyce in Only Fools and Horses, Peter Andre and Lisa Riley.
“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! ”
Sooty and his friends are well known for their on stage antics and pranks but does the mischief stop when the cameras aren’t rolling or did they carry on backstage?
“Of course they did! Particularly in the ice cream episode where we had to navigate a real live cow in the studio!”
More recently Sooty & Sweep performed a sketch in November as part of ITV’s ‘We Are Most Amused and Amazed’, a birthday celebration for HRH Prince Charles, who also celebrated his 70th birthday last year.
“I think it was possibly the highlight of Sooty’s career. It was just an amazing experience to be there at the London 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.”
It was not the little bear’s first royal engagement having already been awarded an OBE, even daring to spray his water pistol at Prince Phillip.
“That was of course in Harry Corbett’s day. So you could say that Sooty has been a friend of the Royal Family for many years already. ”
However to avoid another royal getting drenched at the hand’s of the misbehaving bear, Mr Cadell explained that prior to meeting Prince Charles, Sooty was told “in no uncertain terms that he was not to use his water pistol.”
Sooty and Sweep managed to behave long enough to meet the Prince after their performance.
“The Prince was on great form and after he had shaken Sooty and Sweep’s paws he asked them if there was a person hiding beneath them! Sooty, as ever, remained silent.”
Mr Cadell’s hand have been hiding beneath the puppets for over two decades now having taken over in 1998.
He first appeared on the show after winning Young Magician of the Year in 1983 and when Matthew decided to pass on the reigns to someone, he gave Richard a call.
“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.
“There have been so many highlights, but I think the most humbling thing is to see the power that Sooty has to bring hope and happiness to those less privileged than ourselves.
“We have raised significant funds for charities and we have made a real difference to certain people’s lives.
“That is one element that I never expected, and it has been wonderful to see Sooty make a difference.”
Sooty’s story was recently told as part of ITV documentary ‘Bradley Walsh: When Dummies Took Over The World’ alongside other puppet stars including Orville, Emu and Spit the Dog.
The documentary showed that Sooty’s career started before all of his showbiz chums and continued long past the other characters’ retirement. Mr Cadell explained why the show has such longevity.
“Simplicity. After all 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.
“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.”
Whilst the tour will be the main focus of the first half of the year, there is no rest for the gang afterwards.
“We have lots planned. We have for several years been working on a full feature length movie which we will continue to progress this year. It’s a tough business but all the elements are there, and the plan is to get the cameras rolling this year.
“It’s out of my hands personally but a lot of eminent people are working to make it a reality. So we have had to keep the diary clear just in case!
“We have just completed a spectacular pantomime and we will definitely be performing live again next Christmas, so we are looking forward to that immensely.”
Sooty himself had a word of warning for those coming to see the new tour.
“The water pistol I use for the stage tours shoots water to an incredible 40 feet!
“So anyone sat on the front six rows may want to bring their umbrellas.”
Despite all evidence to the contrary, Sooty was keen to point out that Sweep is actually behind all the mischief .
“He is my best friend, but I have to say Sweep normally messes everything up.
“Mind you I’m not going to stop him - it’s very good for ticket sales.”
Sooty’s Magic Show comes to Harrogate Theatre on Saturday March 30.
Tickets: 01423 502116 or www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk