Harry Corbett OBE (28 January 1918 – 17 August 1989) was an English puppeteer, magician and television and stage presenter, who is best known as the creator of the glove puppet character Sooty in 1952.
|Died||17 August 1989 (aged 71)|
|Spouse(s)||Marjorie Corbett (1944 - 1989)|
|Children||Matthew Corbett |
Corbett was born in Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, to James W. Corbett, a coal miner, and his wife Florence, née Ramsden. He had a younger brother, Les, a saxophonist, who he played duets with, and who would sometimes appear on The Sooty Show. Deafness in one ear precluded him from pursuing his musical ambitions to become a concert pianist, although he played the piano in the Guiseley fish and chip restaurant owned by his mother's brother Harry Ramsden. His parents had a fish and chip business in Guiseley called Springfield, which remains open and is now known as Midgley's. He worked as an engineer with Leeds City Council prior to his time in show business.
He married Marjorie ('Tobes') Hodgson in 1944. They lived in the Dorset village of Child Okeford for most of their married life. Their son David was born in 1947 followed by Peter, known professionally as Matthew Corbett in 1948. The same year, in order to entertain his children while on holiday in Blackpool, he bought the original yellow bear glove puppet, then called Teddy, in a novelty shop on the end of the resort's North Pier for seven shillings and six pence (7s/6d) (which would become 37½p after decimalisation, not allowing for inflation). ‘Even now I can’t tell you exactly what it was about him,' he later recalled, 'but I just couldn’t leave him.’
His first appearance with the silent Sooty was in a 1952 BBC TV show, Talent Night. He was given a part in Peter Butterworth's TV show Saturday Special. Sooty was such a hit that the BBC offered Corbett six programs at 12 guineas each. In a 1970 interview, Corbett recalled the conversation he had with his wife Marjorie about his next steps:
‘"Well, lass... what’s it to be?”
'“Well, lad,” she replied, “it’s now or never. Best take the plunge.”
'So I did. I threw up my job. We changed Teddy’s appearance, gave him black ears, and called him Sooty.'
Sooty soon had his own show and he and Corbett were immensely successful in Britain. The show combined music, simple magic tricks with slapstick comedy in which Sooty usually poured liquid over or attacked Corbett. Sooty and Corbett were also regularly featured on the Mickey Mouse Club in the USA in the mid-to-late 1950s.
In early 1968, producers at the BBC told Corbett that, while he should remain as puppeteer, an actor should interact with Sooty. Corbett declared this ‘A horrible American idea’. Instead, he moved the show to commercial television.
After he suffered a heart attack at Christmas 1975, his younger son, Peter (stage name Matthew), took over, buying out his father for £35,000. However he did make occasional appearances on 'The Sooty Show' for several years with his son. Harry continued his one-man stage show after he gave up his television appearances, and he died in his sleep on 17 August 1989, after playing to a capacity audience at Weymouth Pavilion in Weymouth, Dorset.
He was a Freemason under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England. He was initiated in 1951 in Chevin Lodge No. 6848 in West Yorkshire. He became the lodge organist. The lodge still meets at Otley.
- "Izzy wizzy, let's get busy"
- "Bye bye everybody! Bye bye!"
When Prime minister Harold Wilson wished to have Steptoe and Son actor Harry H. Corbett awarded an OBE, the middle initial "H" was lost in the bureaucratic process, and the award went to Harry Corbett instead. Both were awarded the OBE on 1 January 1976, Harry Corbett being cited "for charitable services".
- Television Heaven:Sooty
- "Guiseley chip shop wraps up place in TV show". Retrieved 11 May 2008. (Wharfedale Observer)
- ‘A bear that broke all records’ London Guardian 21 August 1989 p. 37
- David Pallister, ‘Harry Corbett, creator of TV’s Sooty, dies at 71’ London Guardian 19 August 1989 p. 3
- Munster Indiana Times 13 December 1955 p. 25
- Keith Harper, ‘Sooty May Now Go Commercial’ London Guardian 13 January 1968 p. 1.
- "Harry Corbett". Bigredbook.info. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
- "Famous Freemasons". United Grand Lodge of England. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
- Robert Lomas. "I'm a Freemason, and the discrimination against us has to stop". The Independent. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
- The Honours Game, Gyles Brandreth
- "Viewing Page 10 of Issue 46777". London-gazette.co.uk. 30 December 1975. Archived from the original on 6 January 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2012.