Teletubbies, the delightfully surreal children’s television show that became a phenomenon among children during the late 1990s, turns 20 this year. To honor the wonderfully nonsensical charms of this whimsical piece of entertainment, here are 11 things you never knew about Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po.
1. It won multiple BAFTA awards during its run
The show was also nominated for two Daytime Emmys and a slew of other industry awards for its production values and savvy marketing.
2. As of 2015, the show had reached an estimated 1 billion children
The original run of episodes has aired in over 120 countries in 45 different languages.
3. The Teletubbies are a multiracial group
Considering their lack of a discernible language, this might come as something of a surprise, but apparently Dipsy (the green one) is black, and Po (the red one) is Cantonese.
4. The show was not without its drama …
The original Tinky Winky, Dave Thompson, left after the show’s initial 1997-2001 run due to creative differences. Pui Fan Lee, who played Po, attracted controversy for a different reason: She played a lesbian character in 2001, performing a sex act on another woman and scandalizing the Teletubby community. (This would not be the last time the Teletubbies would deal with LGBTQ prejudice.)
5. … Especially poor Tinky Winky
So much was made of Tinky Winky’s alleged homosexuality — he carried a bag, he was purple, his topper was an upside-down triangle, one of the gay pride movement’s symbols — by everyone from Jerry Falwell to Polish Ombudsman for Children Ewa Sowińska (in 2007!) that the BBC had to make an official statement. Their explanation: “Tinky Winky is simply a sweet, technological baby with a magic bag.” Okay then.
6. The show had to be edited around the background rabbits’ sex lives
So, as you may or may not know, Teletubby land is inhabited by a number of rabbits. To keep things to scale, a particular breed of giant rabbits were “cast” and apparently simply would not stop mating in the background on the set. Creative editing and re-shoots prevented the Teletubbies audience from getting an unintentional tutorial on the facts of life, courtesy of the rabbits.
7. They also had a hit single
A remix of the show’s theme song was a massive hit in several countries. “Teletubbies say ‘Eh-oh!'” went to number one for two weeks on the U.K. Singles Chart (eventually going double-platinum), peaked at number two in Ireland and number 13 in the Netherlands. Simon Cowell brokered the initial record contract with the BBC, so that’s a thing you know now.
8. Sadly, Teletubbyland doesn’t exist anymore
The show’s creators rented the land they used to film the show from a farmer in Wimpstone, Warwickshire, in the U.K. After the show wrapped, the farm’s owner got so sick of fan’s trespassing on her property, she flooded the hill and turned it into a pond.
9. The sun baby finally revealed herself in 2014
Jess Smith, then 19, was just 9 months old when she was cast as the show’s smiling baby sun. She finally went public with the news as a college freshman. She made 250 pounds and was given a box of toys for her efforts.
10. They were given the key to New York City at one point
In 2007, for their 10-year-anniversary. March 28 was deemed Teletubbies day.
11. The show allegedly found a following among older stoners
“In Britain, young adults reportedly watch Teletubbies after long nights of dancing and ingesting chemicals surely banned from Teletubbyland,” The New York Times drolly reported in 1998. Multiple other anecdotal evidence has claimed the show was a hit with teens and college students in various altered states, which honestly isn’t that far of a stretch to imagine.