How is the Sooty live tour going?
This year has been dominated by the live stuff. I hadn’t done a live tour for four years. I was a bit nervous about doing it again because when I first bought the rights, the TV profile was low and I did a tour, which was moderately successful but it wasn’t playing to full houses. So I needed a bit of convincing but my agent put it out to the theatres and within three weeks had booked 104 theatres. By the end of November I will have done 104 different venues this year.
Generally it has sold out. It’s been phenomenal. I’ve been completely blown away by the reaction to it, and so much so that we’re extending it. I wasn’t going to but after Christmas I’m doing another three months up to the end of April with another 34 theatres.
It’s been great because I hadn’t been out to see the reaction to all the TV stuff for four years. There’s a new generation of fans out there. It’s nice when you get high viewing figures and it’s nice when people want to sell your product, but for me there’s no better endorsement than to go out and see everybody love it.
And the tour must highlight the reach and popularity of the show across the UK?
Yes, definitely. We’re been all over the place and we’re going to Jersey next year. It’s been great and from a brand perspective, it’s one of the few brands that does back up a licensing programme with a live event. The fact we do so many regional towns means we’ve been able to tie in things with some of our partners. So it has been a useful vehicle for our licensing partners.
Golden Bear’s Sooty toy range is now at retail. How's that going?
The puppet line and all the soft plush has just come out and they’ve done a beautiful job of it. Sooty’s got his water pistol for the first time ever as part of the package, which is something I always wanted to see. That’s out and it’s doing really well for Golden Bear, which is great news.
And what can you tell us about the documentary on Sooty that is in the pipeline.
It’s for the BBC and it’s from a guy who has been putting it together for over a year or so. He’s researched everything; from the moment it was discovered at North Pier right the way through until now. It’s a very in-depth documentary. How he’s going to take all of the material and edit it down into an hour, I do not know.
It’s scheduled to broadcast early next year, and I don’t know any other kids brands that could have that platform. You’ve got a contemporary channel like BBC2 or BBC4 focusing on a children’s brand with the message being that it’s very much still alive today. It’s only a unique product that could command that kind of attention.
Trade Mark Collections is set to launch a Sooty accessories range including bags and umbrellas. How did that come about?
It’s very exciting. It’s a very nice firm that loves Sooty and loves the heritage of it all as well as the current stuff. They are a perfect partner.
It’s tough out there. Everybody sits on the sideline and waits for results. Most wait for somebody else to take the plunge. Golden Bear and Fashion Lab have have taken that plunge and the clothing lines have been really successful. During a live show, the Primark buyers came in to see it and they came up to us afterwards with their kids and they were saying “we’ve sold everything and now we’re doubling our orders,” so it’s taken that kind of buzz for others like Trademark to do it.
We also heard the exciting news around Sooty: The Movie. What can you tell us about that?
The decision behind the movie was never geared around merchandise. It was always a personal dream of Matthew and Harry Corbett to do a big feature film and I’ve always felt it would be brilliant for Sooty to do a good family, laugh-out-loud slapstick charm-filled feature to tick that great big box.
With the likes of Postman Pat: The Movie, Pudsey: The Movie and Paddington, the time is right. What really boosted my confidence around it was the reaction on the road at the theatres. With the sell-out shows, it demonstrates there is absolutely an audience here.
The hardest thing was to get the funding together. I want to do it once, I want to do it right, I don’t want to miss any tricks and I don’t want to be handcuffed by a tiny budget. I thought ‘if I’m going to this right, I need to do it properly’ so the biggest hurdle to jump through was getting the money. But the funding is all in place now.
The movie will be fabulous. I can’t wait to make it and do it and we’re going to do that next year. Obviously this is fabulous news for any licensing partners as it’s great for them but I haven’t done it for that. It’s a standalone project for me.
Bizarrely, years ago Hammer Films came to Harry Corbett and said ‘can we do a Sooty movie?’ They filmed a four minute test piece of this movie, which was called Sweep and the Great Bone Robbery, to try and raise money for funding. For one reason or another, it faltered and never got off the ground.
So I feel like, although we’ll have a different story, we’re picking that back up.
How much involvement are you having in the movie?
I’ll be involved in everything. I’ll have complete control. I wouldn’t want to do it without that because I’ve learnt so much over the time I’ve been doing it. I’ve got a great team around me and I want to make sure we get it right.
The plot is vague at the minute, and it might completely change, but the basic idea is that Sue is recognised as the huge artistic talent she is and she is cajoled into leaving Sooty and Sweep to become a global superstar. Sooty and Sweep decide they want to get her back and we try to track her down. An evil impresario is exploiting her and making money from her, so it’s a chase road movie.
We’ll have lots of celebrity cameos and Matthew Corbett is going to come out of retirement and be in it as a cameo. I felt he should as he was part of the movie project that never happened so that’s one for the hardcore fans.
Looking back to when you first bought the rights, did you ever expect a film to be in production.
No, I didn’t ever imagine that. I bought the rights primarily because I loved it and I didn’t want it to die and go away. Bizarrely, when I bought the rights, the only other people bidding for it were toy and merchandise companies who clearly saw a big retro merchandise opportunity. That’s were the value was. Nobody was bidding on it to try and reinvigorate it on stage or get the TV show off the ground, but for me it was always about getting it back on television.
So yes, it’s brilliant and amazing to see Sooty in this position.
Looking forward to 2015, are you dividing your time between the theatre show in the first part of the year before moving on to film the movie?
Yes, but we’re also doing educational DVDs. We’re doing ‘learn to read’ and ‘learn to count’ and they will be TV quality productions. We’re shooting them at the back end of this year and they will be released early 2015.
They are being done with proper educational advisors so they stand up to the national curriculum. We’re doing it properly but without losing the gags and stuff.
The live shows stop after April and from then I will focus completely on the movie. Cadbury World has a live Sooty show with a different presenter and we’ve signed a deal Park Resorts, a good holiday chain, and they are taking the Sooty element there.
So there will still be some live shows after April but I won’t be on the road.
With the new partners on board and the movie announcement, do you expect this year’s BLE to be different from your experience last year?
Last year was the turning point. Last year people were coming up to us wanting to be involved so this year I’m really looking forward to it. What’s great this year is that we’ve got results. Last year we had the likes of Fashion Lab and people who loved the show and believed in it. We had impressive viewing figures and could present that to people who believed in it. Now we’ve got sales.
This year, to all those people that were saying ‘we love this but we’re just not sure’ last year, we can say ‘this is what we’re selling, these are the categories still open’ and hopefully that will give them a lot more confidence.
It’s nice to know you’re not going to have to sit down and try to hard sell something. So much of that happens at BLE and you look at all the different characters and the stands filled with things people have invented; it’s really tough.
Are there any sectors you’re looking to introduce Sooty to?
We’re looking for people to come to us.
I still think there’s lots of homeware opportunities. Publishing is something we want to get right and there’s definitely publishing opportunities there. You get people who know the products they produce and it’s hopefully up to them to try to apply Sooty to their unique product. We want people to come to us with ideas.