The Teletubbies are back — and this time they’re taking selfies. So here are 15 things you might be surprised to know about the iconic kids show…
1) Even today, with no publicity or new shows for 14 years, the Teletubbies YouTube channel attracts 65 million views each month.
2) Anne Wood and Andrew Davenport jointly created the show. In December 2013 they sold the rights to the Teletubbies name and their production company Ragdoll to a Canadian company, DHX Media, for £17.4 million.
3) Both the new and the old Teletubbies are enormous. Po is six feet tall, Dipsy eight feet, Laa-Laa eight feet, six inches and Tinky Winky ten feet.
4) Between 1997 and 2001, the Teletubbies appeared in 365 episodes. The programme was sold to 120 territories and translated into 45 languages. More than 33 million DVDs have been sold.
5) Pui Fan Lee played Po — the red, so-called “cutest” Teletubby — in the original shows, before becoming a star of CBeebies in her own right in series such as Show Me Show Me. She has trained the new Teletubby actors.
6) In 2001, Pui played a raunchy lesbian in the Channel 4 show Metrosexuality. “I didn’t take the lesbian role to be deliberately controversial,” she said. “Yes, I was Po. But I am an actress, too.”
7) The producers have brought back the original costume designer from early retirement because, as executive producer Maddy Darrall explains, “We didn’t want people to think, ‘It looks a bit like a Teletubby.’ These ARE the Teletubbies.” There is one difference, however — the Teletubbies’ faces are made of a new, silkier material that works better on high-definition TV.
8) Working conditions have improved for the actors. Hidden inside the wobbly bottom of each Teletubby there’s now a secret collapsible seat, which means that the performer can sit down between takes without having to remove their costume.
9) In 2002 it was revealed that police officers applying to join the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch were asked to name all four Teletubbies. The entrance exam was, said a spokesman, “designed to ensure candidates have a broad-based knowledge in a number of areas”.
10) The interiors set of the Tubby dome is at the same studios — Twickenham — where John Cleese filmed A Fish Called Wanda and the Beatles made A Hard Day’s Night. The dome is an inflatable tent. Every night, the pump is switched off and the walls and ceiling collapse until they’re needed again.
11) Back in the late 1990s, all the outside sequences were shot on a real grass hill on a farm in Warwickshire. So many sightseers flocked to pay homage to Tinky Winky and co that the landowner, Rosemary Harding, was forced to create a pond on the site of Teletubbyland. “People were jumping fences and crossing cattle fields,” she said. “We’re glad to see the back of it.”
12) In 1999, the American TV evangelist Jerry Falwell denounced the show for secretly “role modelling a gay lifestyle” — because Tinky Winky (“whose voice is obviously that of a boy”) carries a handbag, is purple (“the gay pride colour”) and has an antenna shaped like a triangle (“the gay pride symbol”). Falwell’s comments knocked dead merchandise sales in the southern states, but as co-creator Anne Wood told RT last year: “It was so insulting. Children’s television is about love, it’s got nothing to do with sex at all.”
13) The “Sun Baby”, rising over the horizon all giggly, is in the new version. But it’s a different baby. The original tot was recently revealed to be Jess Smith, now a 20-year-old student studying dance at Canterbury Christ Church University but, at the time of filming, just nine months old. So how did Smith get the job? Her health visitor suggested her to the production team.
14) The Teletubbies were originally going to be called Teleteddies.
15) Dave Thompson, the original Tinky Winky, was “asked to leave” the role at the end of the first run of episodes. Why? His ”interpretation of the role was not acceptable”. At the time Thompson, now a rather rude stand-up comic, responded: “I am proud of my work for them. I was always the one to test out the limitations of the costume. I was the first to fall off my chair and roll over. I took all the risks.”