Teletubbies scandal and tragedies as show turns 25 – from Tinky Winky death to firing

While the Teletubbies remains one of the most successful kids’ TV shows, it is not without shocking scandals that have spanned the history of the four colorful aliens – Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po.

The quartet first hit our screens on 31 March 1997, and grabbed the attention of youngsters with their gibberish language, television screens on their stomachs, and unique antennas coming out of their heads, reports the Mirror.

Teletubbies has entertained more than one billion children worldwide since it premiered 25 years ago, capturing a generation of kids with its colorful characters who live in Tubbyland with their vacuum cleaner Noo-Noo, eat Tubby Custard and Tubby Toast, and are watched over by a cute Sun Baby.

The show has been translated into 45 different languages, and has won numerous awards, including two BAFTAs, and 42 Teletubbies toys are sold every minute.

But behind the scenes, secrets lingered which marred the show’s innocence, with such of actors being fired from the show, as well as a tragic death.

Here, we take a look at what happened to the actors who played the original Teletubbies…

Tinky Winky Tragedy

The largest – and seemingly oldest Teletubby – was the purple-coloured Tinky Winky.

Some viewers claimed the character was gay, as he carried a red handbag. A US evangelist told parents that the loveable purple alien was “the gay pride colour”, while his triangle antenna was the “gay pride symbol”.

Original Tinky Winky actor Dave Thompson left the show after the first few episodes following “creative differences”, and it was later reported that the show’s production company had “implied” the character was gay.

Tinky-Winky was played by Simon Shelton

Dave said he was “proud” of his time in the role, and went on to have a successful comedy career.

He was replaced by Simon Shelton, who was a trained ballet dancer and choreographer.

Simon said he received fan mail from kids and parents, and said the speculation surrounding Tinky Winky’s sexual orientation was “really quite silly”.

Sadly, he died from hypothermia in January 2018 at the age of just 52.


The bright green Teletuubby, played by comedian John Simmit, was a hit with young viewers.

Simmit said his performance was influenced by a reggae track.

“Dipsy would say, ‘Papa Come Papa Come To Po’, which was actually my take on a classic reggae rhythm track called The Whip,” I explained.

“And I’d slip in Jamaican dance moves, a Bogle there and a Tatty here. People spotted my little wink to my culture and I’m proud of that,” he shared.

John also said wearing the heavy costumes for hours on end was an unpleasant experience, and had to wear special underwear to absorb all the sweat.

“When we were out of costume, you’d have to turn your face the other way and speak to us at a distance because we were reeking and so sweaty you could wring us out. Huge props to our dressers for putting up with us!” I joked.


The second youngest of the Teletubbies was little Laa-Laa, with a curly antenna.

The character was played by trained dancer Nikky Smedley, who landed the role after replying to a newspaper ad asking for actors to star in a new kids’ TV show.

She was one of the original actors to stay in the role for the first four-year run of the show.

Nikky also previously revealed that the hot and heavy suits were a nightmare, as they had to be inside them for up to 11 hours a day.

She left the show and began working for Ragdoll Productions, and was involved in choreographing other hit kids’ shows including In The Night Garden.


The baby of the Teletubbies family was the red alien Po, who was best known for her circular-shaped antenna, and her love for bubbles and her prized scooter.

Actress Pui Fan Lee landed the role of Po shortly after leaving drama school.

She was the star of the iconic picture taken during a filming break, which showed her laid down on the fake grass still dressed in character.

Pui was a successful actress and hit the headlines when she starred in lesbian sex scenes for the Channel 4 show Metrosexuality.

The show was not without scandal

“Yes, I was Po, but I am an actress, and the role looked interesting. I didn’t take the lesbian role to be deliberately controversial,” she said.

Pui returned to kids’ TV and was one of the presenters of the much-loved CBeebies series Sow Me, Show Me, alongside Chris Jarvis.

She also had a small role in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 2004, as well as 28 Weeks Later, where she played a zombie called Helen.

Pui also played Dr. Fremantle in EastEnders in 2019, and her scenes involved the autism diagnosis of Mick and Linda Carter’s son Ollie.


Jess Smith was the original Sun Baby, who was hired by producers after being spotted in a hospital.

The adorable tot would pop up at the beginning of every episode to wake the Teletubbies up, and would also appear at the end to mark sundown.

Jess played Sun Baby from 1997 to 2001, and she was replaced by a new baby called Berry when the show was revived in 2015.

She revealed that to make her laugh and squeal, her dad was in front of her playing with toys, while she was being filmed.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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