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Saturday, December 27, 1997 Published at 02:05 GMT

Special Report

The Teletubbies' rise to stardom

Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po are the four cuddly aliens from Children's TV who have found a place in the hearts of the British nation.

Next year they are set to go global and give America a big tubby hug.

The furry four have become the most sought after toys in Britain this Christmas. They are at the centre of a fierce debate over children's education and have released a hit record called Say Eh-Oh. They are currently appearing on screens from Denmark to New Zealand.

The fat and furry little icons with televisions in their tummies first appeared on TV in Britain on March 31 1997 and they regularly attract a couple of million viewers, not all of them under the age of five.

Originally destined to be called Teleteddies, the tubbies are a cross between babies and teddies, which gives them their universal appeal.

They have attracted a cult following amongst college students who go clubbing in trendy tubby T-shirts In a post-club fatigue many fans have been fascinated by the bright colours and the weirdness of the programme, which once featured a giant letter E dropping out of the sky.

Inside their techno tubby chrome-dome the four nibble on tubby toast and suck tubby custard through a curly straw. The televisions in their tummies play short films of children playing and they communicate in a curious baby babble, gaily greeting friends and viewers with Eh-oh and ending the programme with a tubby bye-bye.

Tubbies top of the pops

[ image: Talking Teletubbies will be on sale in the shops in 1998 - will your child want an upgrade?]
Talking Teletubbies will be on sale in the shops in 1998 - will your child want an upgrade?
The Teletubbies pop song Say Eh-Oh, was released on December 1 and went straight into the UK charts at number one. But they were just beaten to the Christmas top spot by the Spice Girls.

BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, could make over £5m from sales of all Teletubby merchandise in 1997.

Manufacturers using the Teletubby name pay 10% of the wholesale price of the item for the lease. The BBC gets 40% and Ragdoll Productions, which makes the programme, gets 60% of the money.

But if you are looking to secure your own Teletubby in time for Christmas, you could be out of luck. Stocks are low and demand has far outstripped supply, at least until January.

Unscrupulous touts are reported to be selling full sets for up to £1000, individually they retail for between £10.99 and £13.99.

The new year will see new merchandise with talking Teletubbies set to be unveiled in January 1997, and a selection of Tubby Custards available in supermarkets.

Also under development by the BBC is an official Teletubbies website which is due to launch in early 1998.

You can tune in to Teletubbyland in South Africa, Portugal, New Zealand, Holland, Singapore, Denmark and Israel. Ragdoll Productions has kept the merchandising rights for the US and has recently entered into a a multi-million dollar deal with the American TV network PBS. Americans will get their their first glimpse of the fury four's exploits in April 1998.

Tubby talk

The programme was invented by Anne Wood and Andy Davenport of Ragdoll Productions back in 1995/6 as a replacement for the BBC's flagship pre-school programme, Playdays.

Anne Wood has already had success in Children's TV before the Teletubbies with the programmes such as Pob, Rosie and Jim, and Tots TV.

The main criticisms levelled at the show have concerned its perceived lack of educational value and its use of a kind of proto-language, which which critics say is as a bad influence on children's speech development.

Mr Davenport, who has a background in speech science, has dismissed the attacks. He argues that children learn to talk from the continuous real world and not just TV.

According to its creators, the programme focuses on stimulating children into learning the rules of communication rather than concentrating on formal instruction.

The Teletubbies' language is in fact closely modelled around the latest theories of speech that identify repetition, a sing-song voice and social interaction as the building blocks of language. Mr Davenport said that it does have its own grammatical structure which makes sense to children and that the repetition in the programme structure makes children feel secure.

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Internet Links

North American Teletubby Appreciation Society

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