Frantic fortnight as we get ready to take Sooty, Sweep and Soo on tour

After the first week at Harry’s place, a very busy time all round, it was time to make the master show tape with all the sounds and music for the show.

The recording studio was the Corbetts’ living room and the musicians were the Corbett sons, David and Peter (the latter known professionally as Matthew as there was already an actor called Peter Corbett), as well as two or three others whose names I can no longer remember.

The show tape was initially recorded on a Revox reel to reel tape deck, there was a second as backup because Harry was a belt and braces man.

It was a fun Sunday when we did the recording as the Corbetts, parents and sons, knew the other musicians, I think they might have been friends of Matthew (I use his stage name as that is how everybody knows him). Toabs made sure there were refreshments to keep us all going.

Harry Corbett and Sooty with Harry’s sons, David (left) and Matthew (Peter) in the 1950s

The reason we needed a show tape was because I could not be by the sound system at all times during the show to operate any musical interludes or sound effects.

The UV sequence, for instance, had everyone on stage. Harry had Sooty of course and was dressed as normal, but the rest of us, Lawrence, myself, Toabs and Howard were all dressed head to toe in black so that we disappeared against the black drapes.

Lawrence and myself were operating giant butterflies which showed up with the UV light. We had one in each hand on canes with attachments to allow us to make the wings beat up and down.

During all this there was music, for the butterfly dance, and sound effects for the appearance of the genie (Howard) and I couldn’t very well nip offstage to turn them on and off and there were no computers in those days to program the show.

As I have said before Harry was a perfectionist and there were a number of takes on the music for the spooky Haunted Castle, the Magic Lamp UV sequence and the Water Gardens when Sooty did his magic to make the water fountain appear from various points. before Harry was satisfied.

By evening everything was recorded to the boss’s approval and Lawrence and I went down to the pub and had a couple of beers to relax.

The following morning, after breakfast, I settled down with my Revox tape decks and a timed and annotated script for the show.

I then had to cut and splice the tapes to match the script.

In my youth I had played around with editing reel to reel tapes and also 8mm home movies. In my teens a group of us had got together to make a wacky film with the sort of gags we would see later in programmes like Monty Python or the 6. I’m sure I have got it tucked away with some other old 8mm home movies.

The editing was not the end of the matter.

I had a spliced tape which was exact to the second. From this I had to make a master tape, with no splices and then a back-up master as well.

The original spliced tape was put in a strong container and sealed as it was the absolute emergency fallback. Of the two others one would travel with Harry and Toabs and one with us in the Sooty van.

During the tour I had to make numerous fresh master tapes using the backup unused tape. This is because constant use gradually stretched the tape putting timings out.

Harry had started life as an engineer had always paid attention to the slightest detail. Even when we made up the frontispiece for the UV sequence he insisted on us making proper joints on the support pieces holding up the facade. As he pointed out, taking time at the start would be certain to save time later in the tour.

That two weeks before we set out on tour was the busiest in my life so far. It certainly took my mind off other matters.

On the final Saturday we loaded the van in the exact order we had practiced.

Some of the theatres might have been expecting a puppet show on the lines of a Punch and Judy booth, but our sets would take up half the width of most stages and we had set dressings and drapes and lighting rigs which the theatres might have had but, as I said, Harry didn’t take chances and we could have dressed a bare stage.

Once we had loaded Lawrence and I went for a final pint at our local, ready to get on the road on Sunday.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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