Created and presented by Harry Corbett, then by his son Matthew and now by Richard Cadell, the show revolves the adventures (and misadventures) of a group of glove puppets:
- Sooty, a small, naughty but lovable teddy bear who cannot speak above a whisper and is a dab hand with a magic wand (sometimes - when it goes wrong, Hilarity Ensues).
- Sweep, a puppy dog who is dim-witted and naive and talks in an impossible-to-understand squeaking noise.
- Soo, a female panda; the most grown-up of the group (though still not averse to a bit of mischief once in a while) and the only one who can speak.
- Little Cousin Scampi, even naughtier than Sooty; a late addition (1992), he first made a one-off appearance but was brought back as a regular character.
Other characters have included:
- Other puppets like Butch the bulldog and Ramsbottom the snake, who were regulars for a while but eventually disappeared, barring rare guest appearances.
- Connie Creighton, a friend of the 'family' who also co-presented the Sooty stage show with Matthew.
- Mo (from t'market), a regular customer during the Sooty & Co. incarnation, who always ending up selling Matthew something (sometimes conning him) rather than buying anything.
Sooty began as Harry Corbett's 'assistant' in his stage magic show in 1948 and soon became a hit in his own right. The BBC gave Sooty and Harry a slot among their nascent children's programming and the programme ran and ran and ran. Sooty was soon joined by Sweep, later Soo and finally Little Cousin Scampi. Over time, particularly after Matthew took over (having already appeared frequently during his father's tenure), it changed from 'just' a puppet show into a kind of surreal Sitcom about the 'family' of puppets, with Harry/Matthew/Richard as a parental figure.
From quite early on Sooty was a big franchise, spawning toys, books, musical instruments, stage shows, games, educational videos and, of course, copies of the puppets themselves.
Some installments can now be seen in the U.S. through a streaming service called Ameba TV.
The Sooty Show provides examples of:
- Accidental Misnaming: When "Mo from t'market" appeared, she would mention her nephew Duane (The Ghost) and the others (usually Matthew) would get it wrong, prompting her to say "Duane! As in Duane-pipe!"
- Adult Fear: In "Safety First", there's a scene where it looks as though Sweep has been run over by a car. He hasn't, and Sooty and Matthew's reactions are Played for Laughs, but it's still quite unnerving.
- Amusing Injuries: Sooty didn't just attack Harry and Matthew with a water pistol or a custard pie, he sometimes hit them with a hammer, sawed their fingers or left mousetraps for them to trap their fingers in!
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: In one episode of Sooty and Co., Soo challenges the others to make something useful from random bits of wood in one minute. Sooty makes a 'matchbox holder', Sweep makes a 'bone holder', and Scampi makes a 'bone holder holder'.
- Brutal Honesty: Everyone exhibits this.
- Catchphrase: "Bye bye, everybody, bye bye." is said at the end of every episode.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Butch, the bulldog puppet introduced in the late 1960s, but axed in the 1990s.
- Cursed with Awesome: Harry's magic show, and thus Sooty, would never have come about if he hadn't started going deaf - he could no longer play the piano in his band and so took up conjuring instead. (An operation later restored his hearing.)
- Domestic Appliance Disaster: When Sooty and Sweep both get given jumpers that are too big for them, they try to shrink them in the wash but use too much soap powder and the laundry room fills with bubbles. Later, they didn't shrink, so they put them in the dryer but they shrink to itty-bitty size.
- Hand Puppet
- Head Bob: Sooty, being The Voiceless, does this when whispering into any of the other character's ears (who then translate for him).
- "Home Alone" Antics: The episode Home Alone Sweep has Sweep left home alone. He hears sounds outside and starts setting traps for the burglars. However, it turns out that the 'burglar' was actually Matthew, who ends up falling into all of his traps.
- Inexplicably Identical Individuals: Sweep's many relations once appeared, all indistinguishable save for the colours of their collars and having the same name with different vowels (Swoop, Swap, etc.)
- The Kiddie Ride: A camper van ride by R.G. Mitchell from 1997. Sooty existed as a figure inside the ride, but the rest of the characters only appear as decals outside. It also engages the child in an educational match game while the ride is in use.
- Long-Runners: Until it finally ended in 2004 it was the longest running children's TV show in the world (that's now Blue Peter).
- Low Count Gag: In the episode "Amateur Dramatics", Matthew is surprised to see only two people in the audience as Soo had told him that there were twice as many people before. She says that previously there was only one person in the audience and now there are two, so technically there's twice as many. Later, when they walk out in the middle of the play due to finding it boring, Matthew is embarrassed at having the "whole audience" walk out on him.
- Magic Wand: Sooty uses one.
- Magical Incantation: Whenever Sooty is about to initiate a trick with his magic wand, he uses the rhyme, "Izzy wizzy, let's get busy!".
- Nightmare Fuel: An in-universe example in Sooty and Co. — Scampi tries to scare Sooty and Sweep out of their camper van in order to win a bet, but the other two find his efforts more laughable than scary. That is, until Scampi gets his Boom Box and plays an already creepy song very slowly and backwards, with spectacular results.
- No Fourth Wall: The characters always greet the audience, and are aware that they're being watched on television.
- Not This One, That One: In the first episode of the Nineties series Sooty and Co., Sooty and Sweep take delivery of their miniature campervan. Matthew is to get his own vehicle, and is overjoyed to find his own full-sized luxurious campervan...only to find it was actually the bicycle behind it.
- Panda-ing to the Audience: Soo.
- Pantomime - several Christmas episodes involved Sooty and the gang putting one on.
- Parental Abandonment: Sooty, Soo and Scampi's parents are never heard from. Sweep's circumstances are even more confusing, as his family has been seen and they appear to live together, so it's unclear why Sweep lives away.
- Parental Bonus: Repeatedly. Prompted complaints from viewers in an episode when Soo pretended to be pregnant.
- One episode saw the puppets almost getting arrested by the police for "driving a shopping trolley while under the influence of corn flakes".
- A late episode had a Buddha statue being nicknamed 'Buddhy Jolly' for its beatific expression. The same episode also had Matthew injure his fingers on his left hand, requring him to heavily bandage them up. He then tells a laughing Sooty that "If it had been my right hand, you wouldn't be laughing. It would bring tears to your eyes....".
- There really aren't many more children's TV series that take such advantage of the inevitable parental demographic in this way and others. Particularly in the late '80s and through the '90s, where there were Special Guest appearances from people not likely to be commonly known amongst kids, such as comedians like Jack Dee, Paul Merton and Ronnie Corbett. One of the most well known guest appearances was when Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain appeared teaching Sooty and Sweep drumming..
- There were increasingly frequent Breaking the Fourth Wall Aside Glance jokes from Matthew, such as this one when he was discussing his collection of cassette tapes:Matthew: I do like Gary Glitter, don't you?
- Perpetual Poverty: In Sooty & Co.
- Phrase Catcher: Sooty's magic words "Izzy Whizzy Let's Get Busy!" (it would be a Catchphrase, were it not for the fact that he doesn't speak).
- Ping-Pong Naïveté: All of the puppets can switch between being immature and childlike to being far wiser than their stated ages would suggest.
- Remake Cameo: In the recent Sooty show with Richard Caddell, a certain Matthew Corbett reappears in one entire episode as a van driver and chocolate thief. Lampshading ensues, with Matthew passing on the torch...or pie-in-the-face rather, to Richard.
- Repeating so the Audience Can Hear: Sooty is mute, and Sweep can only squeak, but they both have a lot to say. Matthew interprets for them.
- An episode of the new show features Wacky Racing with go-karts, and stars Justin Lee Collins as Fred Firewheel, a Large Ham cheating villain racer. When one of his traps fails, he channels his best Dick Dastardly, shakes his fist and says "Drat! And double drat!"
- A number of picture books can be seen in the area where the puppet characters live; one of them is a Spot the Dog book.
- Suddenly Voiced: In one of the animated cartoons. It didn't work very well.
- The Talk: Matthew once tried very inexpertly to give it to Sweep (it didn't help that Sweep seemed to think 'the birds and the bees' was meant literally and there were props handy).
- The Unintelligible: Sweep talks only in high pitched squeaks, and has to be 'translated' by other characters. However, his squeaks are clearly synched to a written script, and some longtime viewers of the show can understand him even without translation. A blooper was featured on The Kids From Alright on the Night where Matthew accidentally spoke one of Sweep's lines!
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Everyone.
- The Voiceless: Sooty.
- Voice for the Voiceless: Matthew.