"Part of my claim to fame must be that between 1989 and 2002, eight hundred and sixty famous national and international names publicly read from my children's books to school assemblies in Yorkshire. One such celebrity reader was the great Sooty himself, assisted by his handler Matthew Corbett.
Like many of you, I grew up with Sooty on the television screen and at the time he was my favourite puppet. Had anyone asked me then, 'Where's the best fish and chip shop in England?', without thinking, I would have replied, 'Harry Ramsdens'. Indeed, I remained unaware of the connection between Sooty and Harry Ramsden until later on in my life.
Sooty was originally devised by Harry Corbett who was the nephew of Guiseley fish and chip shop chain owner, Harry Ramsden. It was 1948 when Harry Corbett bought the puppet as a present for his son, Matthew, from a stall in Blackpool while on holiday. Sooty first appeared on the television screen in 1952 on the BBC 'Talent Night.' Harry Corbett won the heat and then, by public vote, went on to become the overall winner of the show. When Harry Corbett retired in 1976, Sooty's new handler was Mathew Corbett. Mathew Corbett handled Sooty until 1996 when he sold Sooty to the Global Rights Development Fund for £1.4million. Sooty is still being operated today by his latest owner Richard Cadell, who is seeking international stardom for our yellow bear.
I asked Mathew Corbet to be a celebrity reader of one of my children's stories in a Batley/Birstal school during November, 1990. Naturally, it was Sooty himself who did the reading as I stood on one side of him while Mathew stood at the other. All was proceeding as expected until half way through the public performance, Sooty beckoned me closer to him, but when I complied, out came the famous water pistol and squirted me smack in the face! I wiped my face and Sooty then apologised. As soon as I had naturally accepted the puppet's apology, out came the concealed water pistol again and I got another drenching. I was shot in the face no fewer than half a dozen times that morning. The only thing I never figured out was how so much water was stored in one little plastic water pistol!
When we let life catch us by surprise, that is often when the most memorable moments happen. Sooty certainly caught me by surprise that November morning. The children loved the improvised performance that morning and laughed their heads off at my expense. It reminded me of the saying by Aristotle, 'The secret to humour is surprise.'" William Forde: October 10th, 2016.