As news breaks this week that Sooty is up for sale, sock puppets are in the headlines for the right reasons.
Once upon a time, if someone mentioned the words “sock puppet” to you, you would not immediately have thought that the person was referring to a fake online identity constructed to deceive you. Online, sock puppets talk about things while pretending to be another person.
There’s a long and noble history of people doing exactly that before we had the Internet. Benjamin Franklin did it all the time. When he wasn’t being Alice Addertongue, Mr Franklin was off being Silence Dogood.
Over the way, Walt Whitman was writing reviews of his own poetry that came close to announcing himself as the greatest poet that ever lived.
In the early days of television, puppets without strings had a vital role to play. On screen, the puppeteers talked about things while pretending the puppet was another real person.
Puppets that actually had strings were the height of sophistication if you were used to, say, Sooty and Sweep. Harry Corbett bought the original teddy from a novelty shop in Blackpool in 1948. The bear was christened Sooty when Harry blackened his ears and nose with soot so he’d show up better on black and white TV.
Not only was Sooty apparently mute — he communicated by whispering in the ear of his puppeteer — he also, for obvious reasons, had strictly limited mobility. Still, he could wave a magic wand about while we waited for the phrase “Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy,” so that kept us all happy.
They’re durable, sock puppets. Incredibly, Sooty, at 70 years old this year (2018), is still on TV. Children of the 1950s and 60s watched puppets because we just had little else. I find it heartening that today’s children do, too, even when they have so much else to choose from.