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The U.K.'s answer to Barney: It's 'Teletubbies' time

scene from Teletubbies
A scene from Teletubbies   

Show is widely popular, despite linguistic controversy

December 24, 1997
Web posted at: 6:38 p.m. EST (2338 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- At the same time every morning, toddlers at the Hyde Park Nursery School eagerly gather in front of the telly, bubbling with excitement and rocking with glee. Although they're only 2 years old, they know it's time for "Teletubbies."

Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po, giant alien techno-babies with television screens on their bellies, are the featured players in this simplistic children's show. They live in Teletubby land, spending their days eating tubby custard and playing with their pet vacuum cleaner, Nu Nu.

The Teletubbies are all the rage, not just among toddlers, but among college students -- many of whom wear "Teletubbies" T-shirts when they go out clubbing -- and among stressed-out stockbrokers in London's financial district. Many of the latter, perhaps searching for their inner child, seem to have found solace in the show.

"It's for grown-ups who are still kids at the same time," said one businessman. "Most of the people who work here are probably quite mad. Sort of thing they are into."

Siobhan Darrow reports on Britain's Teletubbies craze
icon 2 min. 15 sec. VXtreme video
Tinky Winky
Tinky Winky, who speaks with a male voice and carries a red purse, has become a gay icon   

The Teletubbies also have a following among the gay community. Tinky Winky, who carts around a red handbag but speaks with a male voice, has become something of a gay icon.

Despite extensive interviews with the core audience, it is difficult to pinpoint the Teletubbies' true youth appeal. One toddler, who said she liked Tinky Winky best, answered the question "Why?" with "I just do."

Yet not all is smooth sailing for the tubby friends. Some parents are accusing the hit program of using dumbed-down, baby language that keeps their children from developing linguistically.

Adding to their complaints is the fact that the program replaced another BBC children's show acknowledged for its educational value.

Yet the Teletubbies' creator, former English teacher Anne Wood, denies the charges, saying the show is educational, although not in the traditional way.

"It's gentle, it's happy, it's joyous, it's positive, it's life-affirming," Wood said. "Who wouldn't watch it?"

Whether the show is educational or soporific, its popularity seems destined to spread outside British boundaries. "Teletubbies" is scheduled for U.S. release in the near future.

Correspondent Siobhan Darrow contributed to this report.

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