A look behind the curtain on the biggest kids' show ever
Sad news arrived this morning (January 23): Simon Shelton, one of the actors behind Teletubbies‘ Tinky Winky, has died aged 52. As attention falls back onto the iconic kids’ TV show, which turned 20 in 2017, here are some lesser-known facts about the series.
1. One episode scared children so much that it had to be banned
2. The Teletubbies were given the keys to New York City in 2007
To celebrate their 10th anniversary, the Teletubbies visited NYC, receiving the above honour as well as having the actors’ identities revealed for the first time: John Simmit as Dipsy, CBeebies presenter Pui Fan Lee as Po; dancer Nicky Smedley as Laa Laa; and the late Simon Shelton as Tinky Winky.
3. The Teletubbies’ home has been flooded
Following the show’s enormous success, the owner of the land where the exterior shots of Teletubbies’ home were shot, Rosemary Harding, got so fed up with trespassers that she flooded the Wimpstone, Warwickshire site where Teletubbyland sat. “People were jumping fences and crossing cattle fields,” she said at the time. “We’re glad to see the back of it.”
4. Tubby Custard is actually just mashed potato
The Teletubbies’ snack of choice is a combination of mashed potato, red and yellow acrylic paint – not for consumption.
5. Tinky-Winky is 11 foot tall
Laa Laa and Dipsy are about 10 foot, and Po is about 6 foot. The actors eventually had small seats hidden inside their costumes so they could sit down between takes.
6. The rabbits on the show are therefore actually really big
Because the Teletubbies are so tall, the rabbits they play with in their garden also needed to be similarly gigantic. They’re known as Flemish Giant rabbits and they reportedly mated so much that takes regularly had to be interrupted and reshot.
7. The original Tinky-Winky was fired
Tinky-Winky was initially portrayed by Dave Thompson, who was “asked to leave” at the end of the first series in 1997 because his “interpretation of the role was not acceptable”. He said: “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.”
8. Candidates for the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch were once asked to name all four Teletubbies in an entrance exam
This was apparently to test the breadth of their knowledge: if they could not name Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po they would lose marks, the Daily Mail reported in 2002.
9. There’s a horrifying spinoff called Tiddlytubbies
They were introduced in the 2015 series of Teletubbies and are all voiced by Teresa Gallagher.
10. Being a Teletubby is like being a member of The Beatles
So said Simon Shelton (Tinky Winky) in 2013: “We used to receive a lot of fan mail from kids AND parents,” he said. “I suppose we were a bit like the Beatles or the Take That of children’s television.”
11. The creators sold the show in 2013 for more than £15 million
Creators Anne Wood and Andrew Davenport sold the rights to the show 16 years after the first series aired, along with their production company Ragdoll. It was bought by a Canadian company called DHX Media, for a cool £17.4 million.