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Teletubbies creator Anne Wood introduces CBeebies' new stars: the Twirlywoos

Meet Great BigHoo, Toodloo, Chickedy and Chick - but why won't Wood be watching the Teletubbies remake?

Published: Monday, 23rd February 2015 at 2:20 pm

Wood’s reaction, though hardly a ringing endorsement of the new Teletubbies, is rather more charitable than that of Thunderbirds co-creator Gerry Anderson when his show was turned into a not-so-brilliant 2004 Hollywood movie. Anderson declared it “the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my life”.

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But back to Twirlywoos. There is another way in which this show is different from Wood’s earlier creations (she is also responsible for Rosie & Jim and Brum). Twirlywoos, quite deliberately, wears its educational aspirations on its sleeve.

An education consultant, Professor Cathy Nutbrown of Sheffield University, was on hand to advise Wood from the start. Unusually, each episode has a plain, rather utilitarian title, such as up, over or full – an unambiguous announcement of what each show is seeking to explain to its young viewers.

“This is the first TV programme I’ve been involved with,” says Professor Nutbrown. “The thought and care that has gone into it is quite incredible. The educational element was built in from the beginning. It’s not an add-on.

“We’ve shown it to children, and they don’t watch passively. They speak to the screen, do the actions. They do them spontaneously.

"One of the central characteristics of the programme is movement. A programme might be based on 'up and down' or 'round and round'. This can eventually help children learn to write. They have to feel what it's like to go round and round before they can represent that in a mark on paper. And three basic marks – and and down, round and round, back and forth – are all children need to write most letters."

Adult viewers who fondly remember the richly detailed worlds that Wood created for Tinky Winky and his pals, and ten years later produced for Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy, may be surprised that a great deal of Twirlywoos occurs against a plain white background. Cost-cutting in an age of smaller TV budgets? No, insists Wood, “this was quite deliberate on my part. I didn’t want it to be cluttered. I wanted the movements to be very clear – you can ‘read’ them much more clearly against white.

“Educational ideas were present in Teletubbies and In the Night Garden but much more subliminally,” adds Wood. “This show takes in the latest educational research and builds a comedy around it – whereas in the past I’ve just made a comedy and just by chance some of these ideas happened to be embedded within it.”

With her 40 years of experience, Wood knows that not every one of her projects can go on to be sparkling, world-beating successes (Teletubbies has been translated into at least 45 languages). Does she know when she’s making a classic?

“I wouldn’t say that. But you get a feeling in your bones about halfway through when you think: ‘This is going to work.’ ”

And you’ve got a good feeling in your bones about this one? “Yes.”

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Twirlywoos is on CBeebies Monday-Friday at 9.25am and 1.25 pm

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