It’s hard to remember a time before the Teletubbies, the sassy, surreal, and sexless inhabitants of a romanticized part of England where the hills were a little too perfect and the grass a touch too green. The Teletubbies’ signature brand of glorious silliness is distinctly English, all Monty Python irrational logic and Sgt. Pepper otherworldliness. Named, one assumes, by a TV exec three martinis into a lunch, Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po sound like Drag Race contestants who could only manage a single entendre.
Unlike the Spice Girls, you don’t have to pick a favorite, because they all have the energy of an overenthusiastic party promoter trapped in the burly body of a club bouncer. They are Shreks without Mike Myers’s Scottish brogue. Toddlers off their faces on Haribo. And, like toddlers, they speak a gibberish language, reminiscent of English but without the cloying hurdles of vowels and consonants. They also happen to be the center of an Emmy-nominated, BAFTA-winning, billion-dollar franchise.
The original version of The Teletubbies ran on BBC Two from 1997 to 2001. After cancelation, the Tubbies remained dormant in their Tubbytronic Superdome until the children’s channel CBeebies revived them in 2015. Originally conceived by Anne Wood and Andrew Davenport on the idea that astronauts looked like toddlers in diapers, the Tubbies gained instant notoriety for their psychedelic weirdness. Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po, along with their beloved pet vacuum cleaner, Noo-Noo, feel mystical and improbable, but also somehow real, like driving past Stonehenge on the way to Glastonbury.
For years, rumors swirled about who, or what, lay inside the Tubbies’ bulbous exteriors. A paparazzi arms race once swept the British tabloids to see who would be the first to snap the ultimate prize: a picture of a Tubby without their mask. But you won’t see that here, because that was always beside the point, a betrayal of the sacred bond between Tubby and fan. After all, the only thing more devastating than botching a magic trick is knowing how it was done in the first place.
Photography Assistants: Garth McKee and Anthony Seklaoui
Fashion Assistant: Tasha Arguile
Special Thanks: Rida Haggerston