Harry Corbett (1918-1989) was from West Yorkshire in England, nephew to a fish-and-chips magnate. In 1948 he purchased the little yellow bear puppet at a stall in the holiday resort of Blackpool. He worked up an act, using it as a silent partner, and in 1952 landed a spot on the BBC television network. To make the puppet stand out better on the small monochrome screens, he covered its ears and nose with soot, hence the name.
Sooty probably came to the attention of Bill Walsh and Hal Adelquist through Perce Pearce, who had produced the British-made live action Disney films in the early 1950's. Most programs aimed at children in the early years of television employed puppets or marionettes in some form or other, and the creators of the Mickey Mouse Club obviously felt they should give a nod towards that convention.
Wot's 'e saying?
The Sooty episodes ran every Tuesday, in place of the newsreel for Guest Star Day. There were twenty episodes per season, of slightly over eight minutes each, broken in half by commercials. Sooty was silent, but would whisper into Harry's ear. He was operated by Harry's right hand, which was concealed by use of a black cloth, with Sooty appearing through a hole in a miniature prop set.
The humor was mild slapstick, with Harry as the brunt of the wilfully disobediant Sooty. Harry had to be quite adroit to carry this off, taking self-inflicted licks while maintaining his patter. A variety of props were used, including blunt objects to batter, electric gadgets to shock, and plenty of liquids to soak. Riotous stuff for seven year old Brits, no doubt, but for American and Canadian kids, who could turn the channel and watch old Three Stooges
shorts, it was a bit too tame.
In spite of his longevity among the Empire crowd, Sooty didn't really match the style of the Mickey Mouse Club
, and it's surprising the producers kept it on for two seasons. The low cost to make it was probably one reason, as it was filmed in Britain. Another reason was likely, that weak as its appeal might have been, it was still more of a draw than the newsreels appearing in that time slot on other days of the week. No disrespect intended towards Harry, a clever and skillful chap, but I doubt whether any North American fans of the show wax nostalgic for this particular act.
Someone begs to differ
Four years after the above first appeared website visitor Cat speaks up for her voiceless friend...
Well, I have been "waxing nostalgic" for dear little Sooty.
I actually wondered if anyone else remembered the MMC episodes that I loved so well. Can't say that I agree with you, but I always found the 3 Stooges ridiculous and too insulting (bad form, socially speaking.) Now I realize it might just be the 3S are more to young testosterone affected senses of humor....
But, that little bear had a place in my young heart. I looked for him, constantly hoping that the day I decided to watch would be the day he aired. Loved the sets, loved that he was incorrigibly mischievous, yet always seemed to end the episode in an endearing way.
As a matter of fact, just this last week, he once again came to my memory, after all these years. Thanks for posting the info. I hope small children of all ages, on both sides of the pond, will keep his name alive. Love it!
~ Cat ~