Teletubbies is a British pre-school children's television series created by Ragdoll Productions' Anne Wood and Andrew Davenport. The programme focuses on four multi-coloured creatures known as "Teletubbies", named after the television screens implanted in their abdomens. Recognised throughout popular culture for the uniquely shaped antenna protruding from the head of each character, the Teletubbies communicate through gibberish and were designed to bear resemblance to toddlers.
|Created by||Anne Wood|
|Developed by||Ragdoll Productions|
Pui Fan Lee
|Voices of||Original series:|
|Narrated by||Tim Whitnall|
|Opening theme||"Teletubbies say 'Eh-oh!'"|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||425 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||David G. Hiller|
|Production location(s)||Wimpstone, England (1997–2001)|
|Running time||25 minutes (original series) |
15 minutes (revival series)
|Production company(s)||Ragdoll Productions|
|Original network||BBC Two (1997–2001)|
|Original release||Original series:|
31 March 1997 –
16 February 2001
9 November 2015 –
Particularly notable for its high production values, the series rapidly became a commercial success in Britain and abroad. It won multiple BAFTA awards and was nominated for two Daytime Emmys throughout its run. 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. By October 2000, the franchise generated over £1 billion ($1.61 billion) in merchandise sales.
Though the original run ended in 2001, sixty new episodes were ordered in 2014. They are currently aired on CBeebies in the United Kingdom and on Nick Jr. in the United States. Re-runs of the original 1997–2001 series continue to be shown on relevant television channels worldwide.
The original series returned to live TV in the US on Pluto TV on May 1, 2019 but the episodes are shown in the UK format.
The programme takes place in a grassy, floral landscape populated by rabbits with bird calls audible in the background. The main shelter of the four Teletubbies is an earth house known as the "Tubbytronic Superdome" implanted in the ground and accessed through a hole at the top or an especially large semicircular door at the dome's foot. The creatures co-exist with a number of strange contraptions such as the Noo-noo, the group's anthropomorphic blue vacuum cleaner, and the Voice Trumpets. The show's colourful, psychedelic setting was designed specifically to appeal to the attention spans of infants and unlock different sections of the mind while also educating young children of transitions that can be expected in life.
An assortment of rituals are performed throughout the course of every episode, such as the playful interactions between the Teletubbies and the Voice Trumpets, the mishaps caused by the Noo-noo, the footage of live children displayed on the screens in the Teletubbies' stomachs, and the magical event that occurs once per episode. The event differs each time; it is often caused inexplicably and is frequently strange yet whimsical. Each episode is closed by the Voice Trumpets and the narrator. The disappointed, reluctant, but eventually obedient Teletubbies bid farewell to the viewer as they go back to the Tubbytronic Superdome while the Sun Baby sets.
- Tinky Winky (played by Dave Thompson and Simon Shelton in the original series and by Jeremiah Krage in the revival series) is the first Teletubby, as well as the largest and oldest of the group. He is covered in purple terrycloth and has a triangular antenna on his head. He almost always carries a red bag.
- Dipsy (played by John Simmit in the original series and by Nick Kellington in the revival series) is the second Teletubby. He is green and named after his antenna, which resembles a dipstick. Dipsy is the most stubborn of the Teletubbies, and will occasionally refuse to go along with the others' group opinion. His face is notably darker than the rest of the Teletubbies, and the creators have stated that he is black.
- Laa-Laa (played by Nikky Smedley in the original series and by Rebecca Hyland in the revival series) is the third Teletubby. She is yellow and has a curly antenna. Laa-Laa is very sweet, likes to sing and dance, and is often shown looking out for the other Teletubbies. Her favourite toy is an orange rubber ball.
- Po (played by Pui Fan Lee in the original series and by Rachelle Beinart in the revival series) is the fourth Teletubby, as well as the shortest and youngest. She is red and has an antenna shaped like a stick used for blowing soap bubbles. Po normally speaks in a soft voice and has been stated by the show's creators to be Cantonese.
- The Noo-noo (operated by Mark Dean in the original series and Olly Taylor in the revival series) is a sentient vacuum cleaner who acts as both the Teletubbies' guardian and housekeeper. He hardly ever ventures outside the Tubbytronic Superdome, instead remaining indoors and constantly cleaning with his sucker-like nose. He communicates through a series of slurping and sucking noises. He occasionally misbehaves and sucks up anything from tubby toast to blankets, which prompts the Teletubbies to call him "Naughty Noo-noo" and give chase.
- The Voice Trumpets (voiced by Fearne Cotton, Jim Broadbent and Antonia Thomas in the revival series) are several devices resembling periscopes that rise from the ground and interact with the Teletubbies, often engaging in games with them and serving as supervisors. They are the only residents of Teletubbyland who speak in complete sentences.
- The Sun Baby (played by Jess Smith in the original series) appears at the beginning and end of each episode. She acts as a wake-up call for the Teletubbies.
- Numerous rabbits are found throughout Teletubbyland, and are depicted by several Flemish Giant rabbits. The Teletubbies enjoy watching them hop and play. The rabbits are the only type of Earth animal found in the land, and take residence in rabbit holes and bushes.
- The Tubby Phone (voiced by Jane Horrocks) is a character in the revival series. Tubby Phone has the ability to make "Tubby Phone dance" and Teletubbies dance after they pushed the button on the phone. At one point, it has ability to make Tubby photos.
- The Tiddlytubbies (voiced by Teresa Gallagher) are baby Teletubbies appearing in the revival series. Their names are Mi-Mi, Daa Daa, Baa, Ping, RuRu, Nin, Duggle Dee and Umby Pumby.
On 31 March 1997, the first episode of Teletubbies aired on BBC2. It filled a timeslot previously held by Playdays. This schedule change initially received backlash from parents, but the show was not moved. The programme's unconventional format quickly received attention from the media, and it was attracting two million viewers per episode by August. In February 1998, The Sydney Morning Herald noted that it had "reached cult status" in less than a year on the air.
Teletubbies has been aired in over 120 countries in 45 different languages. In the United States, the series airs on Nickelodeon as part of the Nick Jr. block. Episodes are also released through the Nick Jr. mobile application and on-demand services. The original series is available as part of the Noggin subscription service in North America. It had aired on PBS Kids from April 6, 1998 to August 29, 2008. BBC Worldwide channels carry the series in most of Africa, Asia and Poland. A Spanish dub airs on Clan in Spain. In Greece, the series airs on Nickelodeon Greece. NPO Zappelin carries the show in the Netherlands and MTVA airs it in Hungary. In Australia and New Zealand, the series airs on CBeebies Australia and ABC Kids. JimJam's Benelux feed airs the series and Ultra airs it in Serbia. Teletubbies also airs on SIC in Portugal and e-Junior in the Middle East.
Golden Bear Toys distributed the first line of Teletubbies dolls shortly after the programme's debut. They were sold internationally, with talking toys available in multiple languages. Hasbro signed on to develop a new range of products in 1998. In 1999, Microsoft UK released a set of interactive "ActiMates" toys based on the characters. The Rasta Imposta company introduced Teletubbies costumes for children and adults in the same year. Two educational video games featuring the characters were also released throughout the series' run.
Teletubbies dolls were the top-selling Christmas toy in 1997. Demand outstripped supply at most retailers, reportedly prompting many shops to ration them to one per customer. In some cases, shoppers camped outside stores overnight in hopes of purchasing Teletubbies merchandise. Fights over the toys broke out among parents and collectors on occasion. Over one million dolls were sold in Britain by 25 December of that year, with Golden Bear representatives estimating that sales could have reached three million if supplies had been available. The plush toys were named "Toy of the Year" by the British Association of Toy Retailers in 1998.
Kids' meal tie-ins have been released at fast-food restaurants throughout North America. In May 1999, Burger King distributed a set of six Teletubbies plush toys. They also included chicken nuggets shaped like the characters on their menu for a brief period of time. Keychains modelled after the characters were available at McDonald's in April 2000. These promotions became controversial among adults who believed they were intended to attract toddlers to high-fat food. Psychiatrist Alvin Francis Poussaint considered the deals "troubling." He voiced his opinion on the matter publicly, but did not take action against the companies.
Overseas Teletubbies merchandise sales throughout the 1990s delivered €136 million in profits for the BBC. By the time of the programme's cancellation, Teletubbies toys had generated over £200 million in revenue for co-creator Anne Wood alone. In 2005, Chris Hastings and Ben Jones of The Daily Telegraph called Teletubbies "the most lucrative show in BBC television history."
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the premiere of Teletubbies, a series of events took place from March to April 2007. The characters headlined an invitation-only event in London on 21 March 2007. They appeared in New York City's Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, and Apollo Theater. They were also interviewed on The Today Show in an episode that included the first televised appearance of the actors without their costumes. A partnership was formed with Isaac Mizrahi in which Mizrahi designed Teletubbies-inspired bags to be auctioned off to benefit charities. A new line of clothing was launched at the Pop-Up Shop and other specialty stores. New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg announced 28 March 2007 "Teletubbies Day" and gave the key to the city to the Teletubbies. Following their show in New York, the Teletubbies went on their first live European tour, performing in London, Paris, Bremen, Darmstadt, Halle, Hamburg, Köln, and Hannover.
In January 2016, costumed Teletubbies characters appeared at the American International Toy Fair. In April 2016, the series' premiere on the Greek Nickelodeon channel was advertised with a series of appearances by the Teletubbies at malls throughout Athens. This began with a live show at Avenue Mall on 16 April, which featured both the Teletubbies and a host from the network. Throughout May 2016, the characters appeared on various breakfast television programmes to promote the upcoming series' debut on Nickelodeon in the United States.
The first Teletubbies live show/musical, titled Teletubbies Live!, toured the UK beginning on the weekend of November 17, 2017. In October 2018, DHX Media announced a second, Christmas-themed, live show/musical, Teletubbies Live! 2: The Christmas Show, to be performed at Hyde Park UK as part of their annual Winter Wonderland event, and to tour from Thursday November 22, 2018 until Sunday January 6th, 2019.
Common Sense Media's Emily Ashby found that "while the show's examples of cooperative play, wonder, and simple joys are gentle and pleasing, the creatures can still be a little grating to parents watching along." Caryn James of The New York Times stated in her review that the episodes "offer a genuinely appealing combination: cute and slightly surreal."
Upon the show's release, some critics feared that the characters' use of babbling in place of complete sentences would negatively affect young viewers' ability to communicate. The Daily Mirror reported in 1997 that many parents objected to its "goo-goo style" and "said the show was a bad influence on their children." Marina Krcmar, a professor of communication at the Wake Forest University, told interviewers in 2007 that "toddlers learn more from an adult speaker than they do from a program such as Teletubbies." However, Paul McCann of The Independent defended this aspect of the show, stating that "Teletubbies upsets those who automatically assume that progressive and creative learning is trendy nonsense. Those who believe that education should be strictly disciplined and functional, even when you're 18 months old. Thankfully Teletubbies isn't for them. It's for kids."
Tinky Winky controversy
Tinky Winky started a controversy in 1999 because of 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 1999 when Falwell 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 lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres was "out" as the chief national gay representative, while trendy Tinky Winky was "in". He warned parents that Tinky Winky could be a covert homosexual symbol, because "he is purple, the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle: the gay pride symbol." The BBC made an official response, explaining that "Tinky Winky is simply a sweet, technological baby with a magic bag." Ken Viselman of Itsy-Bitsy Entertainment commented, "He's not gay. He's not straight. He's just a character in a children's series."
In May 2007, Polish Ombudsman for Children, Ewa Sowińska revisited the matter, and planned to order an investigation. "I noticed that he has a woman's handbag, but I didn't realise he's a boy," Sowińska said in a public statement. She asked her office's psychologists to look into the allegations. After the research in late 2007, she stated: "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."
Despite the objections, the Independent on Sunday's editors included Tinky Winky as the only fictional character in the 2008 inaugural "Happy List", alongside 99 real-life adults recognised for making Britain a better and happier place.
Although the programme is aimed at children between the ages of one and four, it had a substantial cult following with older generations, mainly university and college students. The mixture of bright colours, unusual designs, repetitive non-verbal dialogue, ritualistic format, and occasional forays into physical comedy appealed to many who perceived the programme as having psychedelic qualities.
Adam Roberts suggests that Teletubbies constitutes an example of radical utopian fiction. In this reading, the Teletubbies are an advanced culture which has eliminated all need to work, worry, or struggle in any way, and regressed into a childlike state. Roberts positions the Teletubbies as the endpoint of the science-fictional idea of paradise based on infantilisation – a more extreme version of the future humans in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and the Eloi in H. G. Wells's The Time Machine (who are mentally childlike, but still physically and sexually adult). Following Sigmund Freud's insight that adult pleasure must mediate id and super-ego – gratification and anxiety – the only way to attain a completely stress-free life is to surrender the super-ego, including sex. It follows that the broadcasts shown on the Teletubbies' in-set televisions are historical documentaries suggesting infantile existence as the paradigm, with the baby in the sun likely being the society's central machine intelligence. Roberts concludes:
In other words, the toddler-oriented aspect of the show can be read not in clumsily production-intention terms (‘the show is designed to appeal to toddlers’), but as a commentary upon the necessary infantilisation implicit in any utopian fantasy. It poses a question: to achieve a total happiness for all on the planet, once technology has removed the practical barriers, how far along the road towards infantile consciousness will it be necessary to travel? Will we become like the citizens of Huxley’s Brave New World? Or more infantile, like Wells’s Eloi? Or will we go the whole hog, and subsume our angst-ridden adult consciousnesses completely in the bright colours and satisfying repetitions of Teletubbyland? The enduring appeal of the Teletubbies to adults suggests, perhaps, this latter."
Awards and nominations
|1997||City of Birmingham Awards||Best Midlands-Produced Children's Television Production||Ragdoll Productions||Won|||
|NHK Japan Prize||Grand Prize (Pre-School Education)|||
|Royal Television Society||Children's Entertainment Award|||
|1998||British Academy of Film and Television Arts||Best Pre-School Programme|||
|Marketing Society Awards||New Product of the Year||Golden Bear Toys|||
|Online Film & Television Association||Best Children's Series||Ragdoll Productions||Nominated|||
|Television Critics Association||Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming|||
|UK Independent Television Productions Awards||NATS Children's Award||Won|||
|1999||Daytime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Pre-School Children's Series||Nominated|||
|Licensing Industry Merchandiser's Association||Overall License of the Year||Won|||
|Independent Television Productions Awards||Nickelodeon UK Children's Award|||
|Television Critics Association||Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming||Nominated|||
|2000||Independent Television Productions Awards||Audiocall Indie Children's Award||Won|||
|Daytime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Pre-School Children's Series||Nominated|||
|Royal Television Society||Education Award||Won|||
|British Academy of Film and Television Arts||Outstanding Contribution in Children's Television and Film||Anne Wood|||
|2002||British Academy of Film and Television Arts||Best Pre-School Live Action Series||Ragdoll Productions|||
|2014||Prix Jeunesse||"Most Edgy" Programme of the Last 50 Years|||
|Greatest Impact Programme of the Last 50 Years|||
In popular culture
- In episode 12 of The Vicar of Dibley, children that are dressed as Laa-Laa and Po are bridesmaids. They hold the wedding-dress train of Alice Springs Tinker when she marries Hugo Horton.
- In an episode of The Simpsons titled "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder", Homer dresses up like a Teletubby to entertain Maggie, the Teletubbies are also referenced in 9 other episodes of the show, it is also known that one side character, Milhouse, wears Teletubbies underpants.
- In the eleventh episode of the second series of The Chaser's War on Everything, the possibility of Tinky Winky being homosexual was parodied when the Chasers tested the Peel Hotel (in Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria)'s gaydar with a Tinky Winky costumed figure that acted in a stereotypical homosexual fashion.
- An episode of Harry Enfield and Chums featured a parody of the Teletubbies called Telecockneys.
- In 2012, during the second and third series of tvN's Saturday Night Live Korea, the programme was referenced as Yeouido Teletubbies (여의도 텔레토비) to portray the 2012 presidential election campaign. This experimental skit caused the popularity of SNL Korea's 'Crew', Kim Seul-gi and Kim Min-kyo, who acted major candidates respectably, to skyrocket.
In December 1997, BBC Worldwide released a CD single from the series, based on the show's theme song, called "Teletubbies say 'Eh-oh!'" It is the only single from Teletubbies, making the characters a one-hit wonder in the United Kingdom. The song was written by Andrew McCrorie-Shand and Andrew Davenport, and produced by McCrorie-Shand and Steve James. The single reached number 1 in the UK Singles Chart in December 1997, and remained in the Top 75 for 32 weeks after its release.
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