Sooty fans have the chance to own one of the oldest original Harry Corbett puppets in existence – used in the much-loved children’s TV show back in the 1950s.
The bear, slightly the worse for wear after getting ‘rather messed up’ on the TV programme according to Corbett, will be sold at Hansons Auctioneers on September 3 with an estimate of £2,000-£3,000.
And it’s perfect timing because this year is Sooty’s 70th birthday. The cheeky bear was created by Harry Corbett in 1948 when he bought a yellow puppet on Blackpool’s North Pier for seven shillings and six pence (37½p) to entertain his children on holiday. Later he used soot to blacken its ears and nose, hence the name Sooty.
The much-loved and rare early puppet has come to auction thanks to a friendship that blossomed in Blackpool in the 1950s – which led to two children having their very own real Sooty to play with throughout their childhood.
The newly-discovered Sooty was gifted to Blackpool-based musician Arthur Abbott, who had the stage name Art Johnson, by Corbett, his friend and Sooty creator.
He sent a letter to Mr Abbott, on Sooty headed notepaper, dated September 16, 1957, which read: “Just a line to say thank you very much for the list of tunes which came in very, very handy on the cruise.
“I really did work my passage and found myself playing for dancing when the orchestra had finished at midnight and again playing in the dining room on – of all things – a piano accordion which one of the passengers had brought along.
“I have great pleasure in sending you one of the Sootys which I have used on television. Actually, he was in a programme where he got rather messed up, and he has since been washed. However, when he has a brush up I am sure he will look very nice. Again, many thanks and best wishes – Harry Corbett.”
Corbett and Arthur Abbott got to know each other in Blackpool’s holiday heyday in the 1950s and 60s when stars like Jimmy Tarbuck and Morecambe and Wise entertained in the town’s theatres.
Arthur’s son, Dr Steven Abbott, 58, from Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, now retired, said: “My dad worked as a pianist in an award-winning big band and smaller ensembles at venues around Blackpool and my mother, Mona, took a job on the Central Pier as an usherette. They knew or met stars of the day including Morecambe and Wise, Ken Dodd and Harry Corbett.
“Harry Corbett was also a pianist and worked on cruise ships for a while and my dad helped him with some music ideas. They got to know each other through working in the summer shows in Blackpool. He gave the Sooty puppet to my dad to say thank you.
“I loved watching The Sooty Show with my sister, Lorraine, when I was a child. The puppet was in our toy box. He was given to my father two years before I was born and when my sister was 16 months old. We knew he was a genuine Sooty from the TV show but were allowed to play with him.
“After my sister and I left home, my mother kept Sooty as a reminder of when we were children. My parents have both now passed away and we thought it would be nice to let someone else enjoy the magic of Sooty.”
It’s the second time Derbyshire and London auctioneers Hansons have had the privilege of selling a Sooty glove puppet used by Corbett.
In 2008, TV presenter, writer, producer and magician Richard Cadell, who’d bought the rights to the Sooty brand, paid £3,100 for an original Sooty.
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers and Hansons London, said: “It was the first time I’d accepted bids from a puppet, courtesy of Mr Cadell’s Sooty, and seen under-bidders drenched by a water-pistol.”
Sooty will be sold in a toy auction at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, on September 3. To find out more, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988. Entries are invited for Hansons’ Toys, Trains, Railwayana, Dolls and Teddies Auction until August 3.