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Teletubbies

Teletubbies is a BBC BAFTA winning children's television series, primarily aimed at pre-school viewers, produced from 1997 to 2001 by Ragdoll Productions. It was created by Anne Wood CBE, Ragdoll's creative director, and Andrew Davenport, who wrote each of the show's 365 episodes. Narrated by Tim Whitnall, the programme rapidly became a critical and commercial success in Britain and abroad (particularly notable for its high production values),and won its BAFTA in 1998.Although the show is aimed at children between the ages of one and four, it is a substantial cult following with older generations, mainly college students, who bought the customary regulation T Shirts. The mixture of bright colours, unusual designs, repetitive non-verbal dialogue, ritualistic format, and the occasional forays into physical comedy appealed to a demographic who perceived the show as having psychedelic connotations. Teletubbies was controversial for this reason, and also for a perception that it was insufficiently educational. "Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh!", a single based on the show's theme song, reached number 1 in the UK Singles Chart in December 1997 and remained in the Top 75 for 32 weeks, selling over a million copies.

Overview

The programme features four colourful characters: Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, who live in a futuristic dome (the "Tubbytronic Superdome"), set in a landscape of rolling hills. The environment is dotted with unusually talkative flowers and periscope-like "voice trumpets". The only natural fauna are rabbits (although birds are often heard, particularly blackcaps and wrens). The climate is always sunny and pleasant save for occasional inclement days, with rain and puddles, and snow at Christmas time. The Teletubbies are played by actors dressed in bulky costumes, although the sets are designed to give no sense of scale. The Teletubbies don't normally wear real clothes other than the colored suits they wear. They have metallic silver-azure rectangular "screens" adorning their abdomens. These screens are used to segue into short film sequences, which are generally repeated at least once. When the series is shown in different countries around the world, the film inserts are to be tailored to suit local audiences. (The British inserts are default.)

The Teletubbies have the body proportions, behaviour, and language of toddlers. The pacing and design of the show was developed by cognitive psychologist Andrew Davenport, who structured the show to fit the attention spans of the target audience. The repetition of practically every word is familiar to everyone who has ever worked with young children. There was also help from Shatarra Willis the stage manager who helped the show to become a success.

The Teletubbies speak in a gurgling baby language which is the subject of some controversy among educationalists, some of whom argue that this supposedly made-up talk is not good for children. (A similar complaint was made forty years previously about another children's series, Flower Pot Men.)The Teletubbies are at the stage of understanding speech but not yet fully capable of articulating it, exactly like their target audience. They often simply groan in disapproval in situations where a human toddler would throw a tantrum. The Teletubbies' catch-phrases are "Eh-oh" (hello), as in: "Eh-oh, Laa-Laa", to which Laa-Laa will respond, "Eh-oh, (other Teletubby's name)", "Uh-oh", a common toddler response to anything that's not good, "Run away! Run away!", especially from Dipsy, and "Bye-bye" at least four times in a row. Laa-Laa, when flustered, will explode with "Bibberly cheese!", which is as angry as the Teletubbies get. But perhaps the most common exclamation is "Big hug!" which one or more of the Teletubbies will invariably call for during the course of an episode, resulting in an enthusiastic group hug.

All the Teletubbies say "Bye-Bye" three times. The narrator bids each Teletubby goodbye, and they disappear, but reappear a moment later saying "Boo!". The narrator then says "No", (which they copy) and proceeds to say goodbye to each Teletubby again. The sun is then shown setting, and the Teletubbies each say goodbye again, before jumping down a hole in the roof of their house. Finally, one Teletubby says goodbye a fourth time - they pop out of a hole in the house and say "Bye-bye!". For special episodes, and at the end of the "Fun With The Teletubbies" cassette, all four Teletubbies say "Bye-bye" in this way. Many of the occurrences of the show, including the end sequence, and the scene preceding the short film broadcast on a character's tummy were shot only once, and the same scenes are used in each episode. The surreal environment is an evocation of a toddler's perception of the world, where they are ordered about and told to go to sleep, while wonderful and mysterious things happen without explanation. A prominent feature of each episode is a radiant sun that has an image of a smiling baby superimposed upon it. The baby in the sun occasionally laughs out loud in short bursts. To adults the laughter does not seem to be in response to any stimulus or humorous developments in the plot line of the episode. There are some who believe the baby in the sun to be the most frightening "Big Brother" entity in the whole of children's television while others think it's the best part of the show.

Their diet seems to be almost exclusively "Tubby Tustard" (which is sucked through a spiral straw) and "Tubby Toast" (circular toast with a smiley face on it, which some have taken to be representative of LSD), and they are spectacularly messy eaters. In one episode, the "Tubby Toaster", the machine that makes "Tubby Toast" went seriously wrong and filled the Teletubbies' house with toast. Fortunately, one of their companions is Noo-Noo, a vacuum cleaner.Machines like Noo-Noo,the voice trumpets, and the televisions in the Teletubbies' stomachs were designed to show small children, who are born into a world surrounded by strange and powerful electronic gadgets, that technology is benevolent and helpful, not something to be afraid of. The Teletubbies' landscape is an outdoor set located in rural Warwickshire, England, at Sweet Knowle Farm, Redhill Bank Rd, Whimpstone, CV37 8NR (between Stratford upon Avon and Shipston on Stour, close to the River Stour).

In 2001, production was cancelled and it was announced that no new episodes would be produced. (However, BBC ran a few in-the-can episodes from mid 2001 to early 2002.)It is often alleged that this was due to substantial pay raise demands by the previously anonymous actors portraying the Teletubbies. However, since the four years of production had exceeded the target audience's age span, it was deemed that continuation was unnecessary, and the existing 365 episodes will be played in re-runs for years to come.

Characters

  • Tinky Winky, played by (Dave Thompson, Mark Heenehan, and Simon Shelton), is a purple male Teletubby. He is the largest of the Teletubbies, with a triangular antenna on his head. Tinky Winky is notable for the red luggage (described by the show as a "magic bag", but often described by other media as a handbag) he carries. His character has caused much controversy due to allegations that his character's behaviour carried homosexual undertones. He is also found performing his Tinky Winky Round and Round Dance in a ballet-style tutu from time to time, which is also often worn by Laa-Laa.
  • Dipsy, played by John Simmit, is the second Teletubby and is green colored. His name stems from the straight dipstick antenna on his head. His favorite item to wear and carry with him is his black and white hat. Dipsy is the most obstinate of the characters, and will sometimes refuse to go along with the other Tubbies' group opinion. His face is also notably darker than the rest of the Teletubbies.
  • Laa-Laa, played by Nikky Smedley, is a yellow female Teletubby. She has a curly antenna and is very concerned with the welfare of all. She's the best singer of all the Teletubbies. "Drama queen", party-girl and mother type. Her favorite thing is a bouncy, orange ball, which is almost as big as she is.
  • Po, played by Pui Fan Lee, is a red female Teletubby with a short antenna that has a circle on top. Po is the smallest of all the Teletubbies and often the one who gets into innocent trouble. Her favorite thing is her scooter as she calls it ("Po 'cooter!"). Of all the Teletubbies, Po usually becomes most involved with the audience, and is the only bi-lingual Teletubby, with her second language being Cantonese.
  • Noo-Noo seems to be both the Teletubbies guardian and/or housekeeper, due to its resemblance to a vacuum cleaner, which is its initial purpose in the house. Noo-Noo hardly ventures outside, instead remaining indoors and constantly cleaning with its sucker-like nose. It does not speak like the other characters, instead communicating through a series of slurping and sucking noises. At times, Noo-Noo gets annoyed with the Teletubbies antics and can vacuum their food or toys. This usually prompts the Teletubbies to scold Noo-Noo through a cry of "Naughty Noo-Noo!". Usually after this, Noo-Noo flees and the Teletubbies pursue it comically around the house until they grow tired, are distracted by something, or forgive Noo-Noo. This sequence ends with them hugging it, or with it shooting out their absorbed objects.
  • The Sun is personified with the face of baby Jessica Smith, who is believed to have been around seven months old at the time of filming. Her giggle was included on the track Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh!, which reached number one on the UK Singles Chart. Although she was not credited, this does make her technically the youngest person ever whose vocal appeared on a number one song.

The show also features the voices of Toyah Willcox and Eric Sykes, and occasionally Sandra Dickinson and Penelope Keith, all of whom provide narration; the only (semi)regular physical cast member is Tamzin Griffin, who plays the manic "Funny Lady".

Reception

Tinky Winky controversy

Tinky Winky started a still hinted-at controversy in 1999 due to his carrying a bag that looks much like a woman's handbag (although he was first "outed" by the academic and cultural critic Andy Medhurst in a letter of July 1997 to The Face).He aroused the interest of Jerry Falwell in 1997 when Fallwell alleged that the character was a "gay role model". Falwell issued an attack in his National Liberty Journal, citing a Washington Post "In/Out" column which stated that homosexual comedian Ellen DeGeneres was "out" as the chief national gay representative -- while trendy Tinky Winky was "in."This has caused many Christians to boycott Teletubbies because it makes them think that Teletubbies support homosexuality.He is also found performing his Tinky Winky Round and Round Dance in a ballet-style tutu from time to time,which is also often worn by Laa-Laa.(Supporters of the interpretation that Tinky Winky is gay may take this as evidence)

A February 1999 article in the National Liberty Journal, published by evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell, warned parents that Tinky Winky could be a hidden homosexual symbol, because "he is purple, the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle, the gay pride symbol". A spokesman for Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co., who licenses the characters in the United States, said that the bag was just a magic bag. "The fact that he carries a magic bag doesn't make him a homosexual. It's a children's show, folks. To think we would be putting sexual innuendo in a children's show is kind of outlandish", he added.

In May 2007, Polish Ombudsman for Children Ewa Sowińska revisited the matter, and planned to order an investigation. She said in the 28 May 2007 edition of Polish magazine Wprost that the woman's handbag-carrying Tinky Winky could promote homosexuality. Journalists from Wprost mentioned claims the Teletubbies promote homosexuality, to which Sowińska replied that she had heard of the issue. The journalists then asked about Tinky Winky. "I noticed that he has a woman's handbag, but I didn't realize he's a boy", Sowińska told the magazine in an interview her office approved before publication, adding: "Later I learned that there could be some hidden homosexual undertones." Sowińska said she would ask her office's psychologists to look into the allegations "and judge whether it can be shown on public television and whether the suggested problem really exists."

But on 30 May 2007, Sowińska said in a public statement that she no longer suspected the Teletubbies of promoting homosexuality. She said: "The opinion of a leading sexologist, who maintains that this series has no negative effects on a child's psychology, is perfectly credible. As a result I have decided that it is no longer necessary to seek the opinion of other psychologists. In an unrelated incident reported in 2000, a girl's Tinky Winky toy reportedly said "I got a gun". Kenn Viselman, then chairman of the Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co., claimed the toy actually said "Again, again!", a catchphrase from the show.

Teletubbies in popular culture

At the height of the show's popularity, it was referred to widely in other shows and publications.

  • In the webstrip Sluggy Freelance dated 9 March 1999, the characters Torg and Riff discuss the fact that "Drinky Winky" from the "Teletubbles" is "an abusive drunk because of the bottle of booze he carries", says Torg reading from a newspaper. Riff counters saying "That's not a bottle of booze! It's his magic bottle that makes his problems go away! (...) never mind." Torg goes on reading, "The abusive side of Drinky Winky is demonstrated by..." to which Riff argues "Tipsy and Hoe had it coming!"
  • In 1998, Tom Fulp of Newgrounds created a spoof of Teletubbies called "Teletubby Fun Land" which resulted in a law suit from the BBC. This resulted in a boost of notoriety and media exposure,and the video was renamed "Tellybubby Fun Land".

Teletubbies in other media

Pop-Up Shop

A Pop-Up Shop opened in New York City's West Village from 28 March to 7 April 2007. The opening night party was DJ'ed by MisShapes. A percentage of the store's profits went to the Cure Autism Now and Autism Speaks charities. DJs from all different genres of music (electronica, funk, Brazilian jazz, old school hip hop, alternative rock and house music) played in the store in the evenings. Some evenings included DJ scratching lessons and record spin art. On 6 April 2007, the store held a 12-hour Teletubbies viewing marathon.

References

External links

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