In a recent post, I made mention of Arthur Darvill and how satisfying I found his name. I also drew parallels between the character he plays in Doctor Who and myself – but have realised I missed out an important element of shared history. Not only do Mr Darvill and I share a rather similar physiognomy, but we both worked with a glove puppet when younger. Not just any glove puppet, but the same glove puppet! (For the sake of clarity, it wasn’t the same physical puppet – he worked with the original and I merely with a cheap copy.)
In his early career as an actor, Arthur spent a while as the straight-man to Sooty (and, presumably to Sweep and Sue as well). This position I had always assumed to be an inherited title, passing down through the Corbett male line – but presumably something interrupted the smooth operation of primogeniture.
My own role as Sooty’s side-kick had a rather different genesis which I should perhaps describe. Previous posts have covered my time spent as a secretary: not of the, “Please take down a memo Miss Jones” school but rather the chap (or chapess, but I was always the chap) to whom fell the lot of taking the minutes of various meetings. Back in the days of the Electricity Pool – a much less dangerous concept than it may first appear as the Pool involved no actual water – I was the technical secretary (this is to a secretary as a bit part actor is to an extra – you get a speaking part) to various working groups. These groups were beavering away to deliver Phase 4 of the Pool Rules – and before you ask, we had already covered no diving, bombing or heavy petting in the first three phases. Phase 4 was to have been (it never did arrive – well not in this universe, but perhaps somewhere parallel, where dodgy facial hair is prevalent, it was implemented) such a huge leap forward(!?) that it required many working groups – with issues that could not readily be allocated to a named group, placed under the purview of the Odds and Ends (née Sods) Working Group at which I recorded the minutes for an ungrateful posterity.
At one particular O&EWG meeting, I found myself standing at a flip chart, the rich, alcoholic aroma of marker pens filling my nose (which might help explain what happened next), re-arranging a particularly thorny piece of legal drafting using de Morgan’s Laws. Apparently, my fellow group members – and more obviously, the legal profession – were not as familiar with formal logic (and some of its more basic results) as our hero. Becoming frustrated with the incomprehension radiating at me from the room, I arranged my right hand as though it were a sock-less sock puppet, placed it by my ear and moved it as though the puppet were talking. I then began a possibly ill-advised sentence, “What’s that Sooty,…” before going on to impugn my audience for its failure to understand. (I think I chose Sooty because of his silent nature: a character who I could impersonate without taxing my very limited ventriloquial skills).
Somehow my career survived and some weeks later I came into possession of a Sooty glove puppet (so much more satisfying than a virtual sock) which, for reasons now lost in the mists of time (but possibly as a result of over-indulgence with marker pens), I began bringing to all O&EWG meetings. Sooty would always appear as present in the minutes – he was one of the only people never to send a substitute – and would act as enforcer for the Chairman. As a glove puppet, Sooty could say anything to anyone in a meeting (he would merely silently whisper into the Chairman’s ear, who would then pass on the words of flaxen, ursine wisdom). Added to this, no-one was willing to go down in the minutes arguing with a puppet, even without the fear of what he might achieve using his wand and the words, “Izzy, wizzy, let’s get busy” (though to be honest, this mostly only involved a Corbett – or Darvill – getting wet as far as I can remember). As a result, pointless discussions and arguments could be quickly ended and the O&EWG was an extremely productive little organisation.
In our world, with its ever growing number of meetings, few (if any) of which are productive, I wonder if it is time to make my puppet as chairman (or chairman’s aide) strategy available (at a fee, obviously) to the wider world? The puppet doesn’t have to be Sooty, though I think silent characters are best – so perhaps new careers beckon for Fingermouse and Mr Punch’s nemesis, the crocodile, as well.