The Untold Truth Of Teletubbies

In the annals of children's television, few programs — or at least few highly successful programs — have been more delightfully surreal than Teletubbies. Featuring a cast of what look like mutant baby aliens in vividly colored snowsuits, the show was specifically designed to appeal to young children who hadn't yet intellectualized the process of learning. With its psychedelically pastoral sets and use of gibberish as a language, the show promoted non-linear creative development, meeting its target audience right at its own level.  

Because of their weirdness, Teletubbies tended to polarize audiences. Some people were entranced with their whimsical abstraction and bouncing ebullience. Some critics thought they resembled the murdering mutant children in David Cronenberg's horror classic The Brood. Other parents were disturbed by their eccentricities, and by the television sets embedded into their chests. And some physicians, clearly way ahead of the internet age, even worried that said televisions might be encouraging unhealthy "TV attachments."

But there has really never been anything like Teletubbyland and its irresistible inhabitants. Read on for some little-known trivia about the show The Telegraph once (affectionately) called "surreal ... and sinister."

So there was a little problem with rabbits dying (and reproducing) on set

Teletubbyland is notable for the giant rabbits that populate it. In real life, however, the winsome creatures' Easter-bunny-perfect lives were somewhat more harrowing.

As Teletubbies writer and co-creator Andrew Davenport remembered it, the rabbits "needed to be big to fit in with the scale, and the only suitable ones we could find had been bred on the continent to be eaten ... their breeding had given them enlarged hearts, and almost weekly the animal trainer would greet me in distress and tell me another had died. We lost seven out of 11. At least they died happy," Davenport said. 

The bunnies also apparently died happy after having a lot of adult rabbit fun on the set (as rabbits are so inclined), which sometimes made filming the show rather — awkward for all involved. Any footage not-appropriate-for-children was, of course, cut.

The real-life owner of "Teletubbyland" flooded her own property to deter tourists

As has been stated, Teletubbies was a hit. So much so, in fact, that the owner of the house and land where the series was filmed (in Wimpstone, Warwickshire, U.K.) couldn't take the influx of tourists coming to gawk at her property. 

As Metro explains it, farmer and landowner Rosemary Harding, then 63, decided to take publicity-control into her own hands. In 2013, she flooded out a large section of her property on purpose. Meaning that she turned part of her land into a pond. And created, in effect, a species of castle-moat that tourists could not get across without going to a lot of trouble. "People were jumping fences and crossing cattle fields," Harding explained to the press.

Ah well, all's well that floods well. For five years (that is, from 1997 to 2001) Harding's land had been overrun with Teletubbies-mania, so it kind of makes sense that the land, and its owner, would be "thirsty" for something new.

In 2014, the identity of the famous "Sun Baby" was revealed

Teletubby world is presided over by a smiling and cooing sun baby (whose face, for the uninitiated, actually appears as, and in, the center of the sun). For years, nobody thought much about the identity of the real life tot. She/he was simply an adorable presence beaming and gurgling over a happy land.

In 2014, however, the original Sun Baby was revealed to have been one Jessica (Jess) Smith, then 19 years old, a college student who was only 9 months old when she was selected to portray the merry solar infant in March of 1997.

Jess ended up filming 365 episodes of the original series. And her decision to out herself was rather impromptu. According to the Telegraph, new students at Canterbury Christ Church University were asked to "say something about themselves that no one else would guess." And Jess's revelation must have certainly been the most talked-about disclosure of the entire event.

Teletubbies are actually pretty much giants

As the famous saying goes, the camera adds ten pounds. It also tends to add significant height: many people are shocked at how short some actors actually are when they meet them in real life. Though, the opposite appears to be true for the Teletubbies thanks to the magic of television.

According to Time magazine, though the Tubbies appear to be "a baby-friendly size,"  they are actually "gargantuan" in person. Even more so than their famous peer, the lumbering Barney the purple dinosaur, himself. And even, for that matter, more so than Big Bird. 

All of this is no small feat, for a cast that somehow manages to appear miniature. The smallest Teletubby, Po, is actually 6 ft. 6 inches tall, while the purple, red purse toting Tinky Winky looms up at about 10 feet. As one might imagine, this does indeed make for a cumbersome costume — which stands in stark contrast to what appears to be the Tubbies' airy weightlessness.

Thought they were supposed to be aliens? Us too. And we're all wrong.

When most people see the Teletubbies and their colorful antennas and giggly spaciness, they automatically think "happy alien." However, the characters were, in fact, modeled on astronauts. "We'd just visited the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and Andrew [Davenport, Teletubbies writer] had been amused at how astronauts looked like toddlers in nappies," Anne Wood, co-creator of the series, told the Guardian in 2013

Wood and Davenport were also directly ahead of their time, as far as encroaching-technology-as-inspiration went. "We were interested in how children were reacting to the increasingly technological environment of the late 1990s," Wood recalled. And the Teletubbies got TV sets in their tummies as a result. But it all started with the moon landings, and the hoppy bounciness of the astronauts so famously chronicled in that footage eventually became the floaty giddiness of the Teletubbies themselves. 

The real-life cast of Teletubbies is incredibly diverse

Because Teletubbies is so delightfully strange, many people get caught up in its imagery and neglect to note that the show is also a great proponent of racial diversity, and diversity in general.

The original cast was interviewed on the TV show Behind the Scenes: How Does it Work? Po, the red Teletubby, is played by actress Pui Fan Lee, who is Cantonese and can speak Cantonese and English. Green Dipsy was played by African-American stand-up comic John Simmit. Bright yellow Teletubby Laa Laa was depicted by Nickey Smedley, an English choreographer and dancer, And Tinky Winky was played by the late Simon Shelton, a male ballet dancer (who unfortunately passed away in January of 2018).

In the interview, Pui Fan Lee recalls seeing journalists hidden "in the bushes, just trying to find any bit of dirt on the Teletubbies, but in ten years, they didn't even scratch the surface." Which is more than can be said of Pee Wee Herman of Pee Wee's Playhouse, yes?

Jerry Falwell criticized the "obvious homosexuality" of one Teletubby

A lot of things that are weird, wonderful, and original have traditionally been condemned for being "subversive," and Teletubbies was no exception. In 1999, televangelist Jerry Falwell made headlines when he claimed that one Teletubby, the purple Tinky Winky, was probably a homosexual.

"He is purple — the gay pride color, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle—the gay pride symbol," a shaken-up Falwell wrote at the time. He also voiced his distress about the bright red purse that the character routinely carried around, despite the fact that he had "a boy's voice." 

Falwell would reiterate his "concerns" on the Today Show, telling Katie Couric that the idea of "little boys running around with purses and acting effeminate ... and gay" was something "Christians do not agree with." Fortunately, said homophobia was dismissed by some Teletubbies themselves as the nonsense that it was. As "Tinky Winky" Simon Shelton himself put it, "People always ask me if Tinky-Winky is gay. But the character is supposed to be a three-year-old, so the question is really quite silly."

The show was almost syndicated into North Korea

North Korea, the world's most enigmatic "hermit kingdom," has long been a source of distress and speculation for those not living under hereditary dictatorships. Nevertheless, western pop culture's influence is ubiquitous, and at one point, the BBC seriously considered syndicating the show into North Korea.

According to Business Insider, Kim Jong-un spent a substantial part of his childhood in Europe, and was subsequently exposed to influences like Disney, etc. He was said to have taken a particular fancy to Goofy, so the network was led to wonder about the viability of the Teletubbies on North Korean shores. 

Irish MP Jim Shannon mused that Teletubbies could potentially "open up life for millions of people in [North Korea"]. In the end, however, Jong-un wasn't interested in opening up life so much as he was in gleefully watching Disney films and ordering executions, presumably not simultaneously, but who knows.

They had babies?

Teletubbies with child? How could it be? It was an idea that nonplussed many fans, even though "Tiddlytubbies," who debuted in 2017, could theoretically have come from anywhere — including the stork or the Sun Baby. 

According to the official Teletubbies website, the Tiddlytubbies include the purple and red twins Nin and Duggle Dee, the noisy, violet-colored Ping who loves "clapping and banging," and Baa, who is "a deep blue color" and "is always in a different place to the other Tiddlytubbies." The Tiddlytubbies reside with the Teletubbies in their own wing of the Home Dome, and have their own playroom, which is equipped with all sorts of neat gadgets.

Bottom line: it's probably best to assume that the Teletubbies did not, in fact, procreate as we know it. They likely just beamed down, or sprouted up with the flowers. Or perhaps just hatched out of a species of alien eggs.