Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Swanee Upping Concluded - Part Two

As so often when I've alighted on an idea for this blog, it's difficult to let go. I have been looking around the net for Sooty-related material and found that in 2006 Matthew Corbett, under his real name, presented what appears to have been a fairly low-key one man show in the place he now lives about his time with Sooty, entitled "25 Years Sticking Your Hand Up a Teddy Bear's Bottom."
You can find some pictures from the show, here, including one which features him brandishing the Geof Tibballs book, which suggests a degree of approval.

For anyone wondering, the image at the top of the previous entry is by Stanley Spencer; you can find brief information here.

There has been some speculation on the net about whether Matthew is still alive, as he was known to have had leukemia some years ago, but I suppose that is the inevitable consequence of choosing to retreat from fame. As far as I can tell he was involved in a minor way at the most recent festival at the place where he now lives and presumably he is still continuing to perform as a musician.

I suppose this story interests me because there are some parallels with the relationship between AA Milne and his son Christopher (Robin) Milne. As mentioned in an earlier entry, here, I laboured in vain to create a play about them - but really Christopher Milne's own first book says everything which needs to be said. (And maybe it wasn't, after all, such a good idea to try to tell the story of Brian Jones at the same time.)

And I suppose the essential difference between the two father-son stories (quite apart from my misleading 1994 retelling of the Corbett for a credulous audience) is that Christopher Milne, certainly when his father was alive, didn't benefit from featuring in the stories, so had a sort of "empty fame" at school which he tried to escape in later life until the achievement of writing the first volume of his autobiography provided a kind of closure.

There had never been a similar invitation to joine the family firm, as it were - partly because once he'd done a thing, his father didn't care to repeat it, forever moving on to other subjects: in one preface he wrote eloquently of what inspired him to write those children's stories and made very clear he didn't want to produce a fair copy of a fair copy ... I'm pretty certain he would not have approved of the recent "sequel."

It's a sad tale, overall, for father and son: Milne senior couldn't escape the shadow of Pooh as a writer and his son was being lauded for something which in a sense was nothing to do with him. At the end of a radio documentary, Barry Norman. presumably with technicians around, said to him something like: "You're going to be remembered when everyone else in this room has been forgotten. How does that make you feel?" There was a substantial pause, then Milne replied that it filled him with dread.

You can find a useful summary of Christopher Milne's life, drawing on his first two books, at The Page at Pooh Corner here, where you can also find information about his father. Anne Thwaite has written an excellent biography of AA Milne; Christopher Milne told her to write it as though he wasn't going to read it.

I watched Sooty less often by the time Matthew took over so I'm not in a position to make an informed judgement about the claim by his uncle in the previous entry. In the documentary clip at the end of that entry Matthew does say that at one time he wouldn't have touched Sooty with a bargepole but makes no bones (pace Sweep) about the lifestyle allowed by the money being a strong factor in his decision to take the bear on.

But just because there may not have been the same sentimental attachment to the puppet - at times an involuntary extension of Harry, the Tibballs book suggests, citing instances when Sooty might be nodding away at the end of Harry's arm with the puppeteer all but oblivious - doesn't mean the job may not have been done with pride and craft by his son. And it's pleasing to see in the slideshow mentioned above that Matthew passes Sooty memorabilia around the audience, including images of his father.

To conclude, it seems appropriate to show Matthew Corbett with a life after Sooty, presenting a series called Locks and Quays.

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