An end of pier show who took the world by storm

Richard Cadell with Sooty

Richard Cadell with Sooty

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It is nice to think that Blackpool’s miserable weather led to the birth of an icon of TV.

In 1948 Harry Corbett was on North Pier with his children. It was raining and windy (no change there then) and the kids were bored.

To keep them occupied Harry bought a teddy pair from a shop on the pier (where the fortune teller now is) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Harry’s kids loved it and it was the same puppet – by then named Sooty – that a few years on became a television hit.

More than 65 years later Corbett’s creation is still going strong and Sooty, now operated by Richard Cadell (who took over from Harry’s son Matthew at the end of the 90s), is coming back to his birthplace next week for two live shows at the Opera House.

“I can’t wait to get to Blackpool because we always refer to it as Sooty’s hometown – in fact there’s a plaque on North Pier saying so,” said Cadell (right).

“Harry Corbett was an amateur magician and after he bought the puppet for his kids, he began to use it in his magic shows.

“He soon realised it was the most popular part of his act and began to base his performance around it.

“He lived next door to a BBC producer and at the time the channel was doing one of its very first talent shows. Harry entered and won and in 1952 he started getting regular slots on TV.”

For Cadell becoming the man behind Sooty is a dream come true.

He won the Magic Circle’s Young Magician of the Year aged 15 and one of the prizes was to perform on the Sooty Show.

“I met Matthew Corbett and did little card tricks,” said Richard. “Years later when Matthew announced he was going to retire, he said they needed a magician to take over, someone who could do clever things with his hands – and he chose me to do it.

“I was absolutely delighted because I say without any shame that I love Sooty.

“That probably sounds geeky but I love every second because I know how much laughter it brings to the kids and the way it affects their lives in such a positive way.”

Cadell puts Sooty’s enduring popularity down to its long history.

“People have grown up with it so now I get three generations coming to the live shows – child, mum and grandma,” he said. “The adults secretly enjoy it themselves and that’s why we often have a celebrity on the TV shows, it’s a little nod to acknowledge the parents that are watching.”

Cadell brings Sooty to the Opera House on Monday and Tuesday for two afternoon shows as part of the resort’s Showzam festival.

He’s looking forward to a decent night out as well.

“I’ve had some of my best times in Blackpool,” added the 44-year-old.

“I did a season at the Grand Theatre a few years ago and it was the best summer I’ve had.

“I’ve always loved the place and for me the magic starts when you approach on the dual carriageway and you have the Tower on your right and the strobe light from The Big One on your left.

“All of my tour crew are saying ‘right let’s get out in Blackpool after the show’.

“I keep saying ‘but it’s a Monday night’ ... but we will be out because it is a great town and holds such a special place in my heart.”

And Sooty’s too.

Tickets for the show – which starts at 4pm on Monday and Tuesday at the Opera House – are priced £6.99 for children under 14 and £9.99 adults and available from www.showzam.co.uk or by calling 01253 478222.