The Sydney Morning Herald from Sydney, New South Wales, New South Wales, Australia on February 1, 1998 · Page 209
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The Sydney Morning Herald from Sydney, New South Wales, New South Wales, Australia · Page 209

Sydney, New South Wales, New South Wales, Australia
Issue Date:
Sunday, February 1, 1998
Page 209
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TUNED IN: Teletubbies : ll-r) Dipsy, Laa Laa, Po jgr and Tinky Winky. aV Yf A controversial show for toddlers is about to hit our screens fc MailHIHriliTlF liirtiMiiYtirtir,ilTrilW1& THE narrator, the unseen voice of adult authority, was quite clear about what Tinky Winky - the purple Teletubby with the triangular antenna sticking out of his head - was doing. "One day in Teletubbyland, Tinky Winky sent a special song into his bag," the narrator explained, referring to Tinky Winky's fashionably clunky handbag. "Song in bag!" Tinky Winky exclaimed, jumping up and down, clumsily, as you would if you were wearing a huge, cumbersome suit that made you look like a giant padded pear on legs. Opening his bag to hear his song, which went, roughly, "Tinkle winkle, Tinky Winky, woo woo woo", he paused. "What a lovely song!" the narrator said. "Lovely song in bag!" exclaimed Tinky Winky, giggling and bouncing off to find his three friends - Laa Laa (the yellow Teletubby, whose antenna is a little squig-gle) Po (red; circular antenna) and Dipsy (green; straight antenna) - and inviting them to send their own songs into his handbag ("Four songs in bag!"). And that was basically what happened in a recent episode of Teletubbies, Britain's first TV show for children who don't really know how to talk yet. The show, which follows the very simple, very repetitive exploits of four tittering, toddling humanoids with television sets on their stomachs, is set to arrive on the ABC this month as the main attraction of its new children's line up (watch out, Bl and B2). Meanwhile, it is one of the UK's most fiercely debated television shows, drawing an audience of about two million tiny children a day and provoking strangely emotional reactions from parents and educators. The show, which was created by Anne Wood, a veteran of children's programming, is set in a child-friendly world called Teletubbyland, a place full of primary colours and huge live rabbits. The Tubbies themselves live in a strange, gadget-filled underground cave, where they play with their friend Noo Noo, a big vacuum cleaner, eat their two favourite foods, Tubbytoast and Tubby-custard, and emerge to cavort in fields of giant flowers. The Teletubbies converse in fairly accurate toddler-talk, often leaving out verbs, articles and pronouns, and communicating with looks and laughs and words that aren't quite right. That way, Po's little scooter becomes "cooter", "custard" becomes "tus- tard", and "hello" becomes "eh-oh". The fact that the Teletubbies speak like toddlers, not adults, has upset some British parents and educators, who worry that their children will spend their time giggling foolishly, demanding Tubbytustard and intoning "eh-oh", when what they should be doing is learning proper English. Even Stephen Byers, the British Education Minister, seemed to come out against the series when, responding to questions about Teletubbies at a news conference several months ago, he sternly denounced the "dumbing down" of British culture. Teletubbies also emphasises repetition. Once every episode, the Tubbies gather to watch a short video clip on one of their television-stomachs showing real children doing things like milking cows or doing the dishes. When the clip is finished, the Tubbies shout, "Again! Again!" and jump up and down - until the same clip repeats all over again, a device meant to delight tiny children but is more than likely to infuriate the adults taking care of them. Teletubbies premiered in the UK early ' last year, but already it has reached cult status. There, Tubbies were the most important Christmas toy last year. The Tubbies' first single, Say Eh-Oh. is high on the pop charts, and a university professor recently identified Tinky Winky as the first gay icon for preschool children, because of the way he cavorts with his handbag. In September, when the producers dismissed Dave Thompson, the actor who played Tinky Winky and who was known, apparently, for waving his handbag in a particularly flamboyant manner, Thompson's situation became national news. "I was the one who took the risks," Thompson was widely quoted as saying. "I was the first to fall off a chair wearing my costume." When last heard from, Thompson, who had been flooded with job offers, was working as a stuffed hybrid dolphin and felt that his experience as a Teletubby had been invaluable. "I was an unknown actor, but now I'm treated like a celebrity," he said. "I see my future very optimistically and would love to play King Lear." - SARAH LYAU Teletubbies premieres on the ABC on February 16 at 7.30am. TV NOW FEBRUARY 1. 1998 9

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