Hit bought the rights to Sooty, and his pals Soo and Sweep, from Matthew Corbett in 1996, as part of a £1.4m joint venture with Guinness Flight Venture Capital Trust. However, the value is thought to have plummeted after ITV cancelled a new Sooty series last year.
Of course, trouble had been brewing in The Sooteries, the residence of the cosy threesome, for some time. Sooty himself was the first clue. Any bear that spent that much time whispering really should never have been trusted. MT always believed if the shifty little blighter had something to say, he should have just come out and said it.
Sooty had originally cost Corbett’s father Harry 7s 6d. He was sold to Corbett Jnr in 1976 for £35k. Not a bad profit, but Harry suffered a pain that will be familiar to many entrepreneurs: ‘I was screaming inside,’ he said of the sale. ‘My mind was in absolute turmoil. I knew I ought to let go but I couldn’t.’
Corbett jnr was famously far less attached to the puppet than his father was. That didn’t stop him publicly floating the ballpark figure of £4m when he put it up for sale a decade ago. He must have been in for a rude awakening when the Hit deal landed him a mere £1.4m.
Not that he’d been particularly astute with his business practices. When Sooty’s new commercial agent arrived in 1988, she found the bear wasn’t even protected by a trademark, meaning that people had been knocking off Sooty duvets without the poor bear seeing even a penny. Corbett’s other dubious commercial moves included his ads in the programme to the live Sooty roadshow: one featuring a before and after shot of his own house, with the slogan ‘Nobo cures all house waterproofing and maintenance problems’; another offering Corbett’s Florida villa for rent to anyone in the audience seeking a spot in the sun.
This unfortunate amateurishness has dogged Sooty’s career, and the poor bear hardly seems likely to fetch much of a price now. Especially when kids demand either high-tech computer graphics or lippy, wisecracking characters in their TV show. Watching a bear whisper to a man with a hand up its rear really doesn’t cut it nowadays, we fear.