'Teletubbies' - the TV Programme
Created | Updated Jan 29, 2017
Theme from Teletubbies
Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po - aka the Teletubbies - first hit British TV screens early in 1996. A pioneering show, the first to be aimed specifically at the under-3 age group, it quickly acquired cult status1, placing the BBC at the forefront of pre-school entertainment.
All four Teletubbies are round-bodied and brightly coloured. Particularly unusual features are the television screens in their midriffs and the antennae on their heads, with which apparatus they, in Teletubbyland, can pick up transmissions from Earth. Judging by the size of their rabbit neighbours2, they are between three and four feet tall.
The largest of the Teletubbies, Tinky-Winky, is male and deep purple in colour with a triangular antenna. He is particularly mild-mannered and enjoys playing with his red bag3.
Dipsy is pale green and has a straight antenna, which fits neatly through the hole in the top of his black-and-white piebald hat. Sporting something of a lisp, he is nevertheless the best dancer of the four!
Laa-laa is the taller of the female Teletubbies. The most frenetic of the four, she is bright yellow with a curly antenna. Her favourite plaything is her bright orange ball, which is over half her size.
Universally renowned as the cutest of the Teletubbies, Po is scarlet in colour and her antenna is circular. Her plaything of choice is the scooter, which she trundles about without ever getting both feet off the floor. Po's predilection, and her large fanbase, were partly responsible for a worldwide scooter revival around the year 2000.
Older viewers may notice that as the Teletubbies decrease in size, so does their vocal capacity. This is intended to appeal to the different age bands of children viewing as their own speech develops. Indeed the apparently nonsensical gibberish occasionally spouted by Po is in fact the actress' native Cantonese. The multi-cultural theme is pronounced throughout the Teletubbies - in the versions shown in the UK, at least; Laa-laa occasionally speaks in Welsh, and Dipsy, in later series, has been noticeably Afro-Caribbean.
A Day in Teletubbyland
As the sun rises4, the Teletubby tannoy5 will invariable shout 'Time for Teletubbies! Time for Teletubbies!'. The Teletubbies, roused from slumber in their dome-shaped house, will indulge in a variety of activities, which may include one or more of the following:
Playing with their individual favourite playthings.
Eating their favourite foods: tubbytoast and tubbytustard (bright pink custard).
Receiving transmissions from Earth. These invariably consist of young children carrying out a fun task or playing a game. After the transmission (much to the despair of any watching adults), the Teletubbies will cry 'Again! Again!', and the entire broadcast will be repeated.
Interacting with the Noo-Noo, their matronly (and presumably long-suffering) vacuum cleaner.
... all of which is interspersed with somewhat surreal sequences from Teletubbyland, including one particular favourite of animals marching two by two into an ark.
Teletubbyland itself consists of an array of green hillocks with clumps of brightly coloured flowers scattered here and there. It is also home to a large number of rabbits.
As bedtime approaches, the tannoy will call 'Time for Tubby Bye-Bye', and the voice-over will say goodbye to each of the Teletubbies in turn as they disappear behind the landscape. Then, mischievous little scamps that they are, one of the 'Tubbies will jump back up, shouting 'Boo!', to the merriment of all.
The sun is setting in the sky.
Teletubbies say goodbye.
The True Story
The programme was designed and developed by Anne Wood, the founder and creative director of Ragdoll Productions (UK) Ltd (who were no strangers to educational controversy, having also been the company behind Channel 4's Pob), and Andy Davenport, now the principal scriptwriter of Teletubbies.
The original Tinky-Winky was played by actor/performer Dave Thompson for the first run of episodes (1997). But after the producers replaced Thompson due to 'creative differences'6, he was replaced by Mark Heenehan for the next run of episodes (1997-1998). At the time of writing, Tinky-Winky is played by Simon Shelton. Pui Fan Lee (Po), John Simmit (Dipsy), Nikky Smedley (Laa-Laa) and Tim Whitnall (Narrator/Periscope Voice) have, however, been responsible for their respective characters since the very beginning.
Famous voice-overs working on the British version of the show have included Toyah Willcox, a 1980s pop singer, actress and 1990s TV presenter, and Eric Sykes, a major comedian from the 1960s right up to the present day7. Penelope Keith, best remembered for BBC TV's The Good Life has also volunteered her voice.
Making Teletubbies was a tough ordeal, according to the actors that filled the roles. Each costume added over a foot to the actor's height, and was insulated to such an extent that any takes longer than five minutes were deemed impossible. The actors required extensive physiotherapy and water intake even to complete a single episode.
The giant rabbits, as rabbits do, had a tendency to mate frequently, thus spoiling many, many shots.
The film 'transmissions', which were allegedly tested before real young audiences, proved to be so unpopular that the 'Again! Again!' quote was cut after the second series. This led to widespread academic debate as to whether constant repetition was the best method for educating young children.
Teletubbies merchandise proved so popular for the Christmas of 1997 that it outsold all other toys twice over. A single of the show's theme tune, called 'Teletubbies say "Eh-oh"!' became the UK singles chart's official number one record in December 1997.