Thomas the Tank Engine sweeps up Sooty

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The Independent Online

Sooty, the naughty puppet that has entertained children on television for nearly 50 years, is to join Thomas the Tank Engine, Captain Pugwash and Mumfie the baby elephant, in his most exciting adventure yet.

Sooty, the naughty puppet that has entertained children on television for nearly 50 years, is to join Thomas the Tank Engine, Captain Pugwash and Mumfie the baby elephant, in his most exciting adventure yet.

The children's character is to be launched into a bid for global stardom following the acquisition of a 50 per cent stake in Sooty International Limited, the company that owns him, by Britt Allcroft, the media and intellectual property group.

Britt Allcroft is paying £4.5m for the interest in SIL. Payment will be in the form of the popular children's character Mumfie, who will leave Britt Allcroft to join Sooty at SIL, which is to be renamed Bridgefilms.

Britt Allcroft also owns the rights to Thomas the Tank Engine and Captain Pugwash.

William Harris, managing director of Britt Allcroft, said that Sooty, who is a magician and comes with his friends Sweep and Soo, offered enormous merchandising opportunities - such as magic sets, puppets and publishing - that had not been exploited.

Britt Allcroft will promote Sooty and Mumfie worldwide and be paid a commission on revenues. "Sooty is a classic property, a true great," said Mr Harris. "I'm not sure that we will ever get anything of the potential of Thomas again, but we have very ambitious plans for Sooty."

Brit Allcroft earns about £15m a year from licensing revenue from Thomas the Tank Engine.

Sooty was created by entertainer Harry Corbett in 1948 and first appeared on his magic show on Blackpool pier. The puppet has been on television for the past 47 years, first on BBC and more recently on ITV.

Britt Allcroft, whose shares rose 18.5p yesterday to 540p, has developed a series of 39 half-hour episodes featuring Mumfie, which are showing on UK pay-TV channel Nickelodeon and the Fox cable television network in the United States.

The character licensing campaign for Mumfie in the US will roll out in the middle of next year, initially with a retail exclusive with the Zany Brainy speciality toy retailer.

Sooty is currently touring regional theatres in the UK with his latest show, Sooty's Treasure Hunt .

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