Dipsy, Tinky Winky, La La and Po.
There is something of value in The Tellytubbies. Besides the fun for a child in seeing a group of fat furry friendly alien looking characters with big eyes and backsides run around and fall down, there is an educational element of sorts: The whole programme is teaching all the basic vowel-sounds. La La– “Ah Ah”. Po– “Oh”. Both Tinky Winky and Dipsy have the same “ih” and “ee” sounds. The “ih” sound is a tough one for young vocal chords. They need to commit to it as though they’re about to burble something profound and yet to then cut themselves short abruptly. “Ih”. The trailing “ee” is a reward for getting it right. “Ih ee”.
The same Effort & Reward system is used in the programme-title: Tellytubbies – “eh ee uh ee”. Though neither the eh nor the uh sound are quite as complicated as ih, the title itself still ends both sections with a celebratory pat-on-the-back. Whoopee.
What thought must have been put into The Tellytubbies! The much maligned, poor old Tellytubbies. How many people buy the dolls thinking of their kids’ vowels? What a shame we don’t think of the vowels more often. The much forgotten, poor old vowels.
Just about the only thing the Tellytubbies say is “uh-oh”. Note the uh and oh sounds herein. We’ve met the uh previously in the “tub” above, but the oh is brand new. We get the baby with the bath water here. They also say eh-oh (for “hello”) which teaches children subtle vowelish variations and how the proper use thereof can alter its whole meaning, describing circumstances so far removed from each other that they are in effect opposites. Thus we have the smiley, happy eh-oh and the dangerous, run-and-hide uh-oh.
Between the programme title and each character’s names we have the vowel sounds “ah”, “eh”, “ih”, “uh”, “oh” all right there screaming out at us. I know what some people are thinking around now… So where’s the main ‘U’ sound? Where’s the “oooh”?
Well, that’s what those who are not in the know might ask, for indeed there is a fifth member to the Tellytubby-team.
The fifth Tellytubby is their little pet vacuum cleaner – “Noo Noo” (Note the repeated ooo for emphasis). If you have seen it you must surely have wondered why? Why do they have a pet vacuum cleaner? Well now you know. The word “vacuum” itself is comprised mainly of this very same “ooo”. Indeed, it goes deeper than this. Just think of the other little word by which most of us refer to a vacuum cleaner. The creators of the Tellytubbies are most certainly geniuses. They covered all the bases. They place the children in a magic box from which it is impossible for them to escape without being forced to learn something. These people know that the adult audience won’t all say “oh look: a vacuum cleaner!” whereby the children would be further fortified with knowledge. They know that half the population would call this pet a hoover, but of course they had that covered too! Ooooooh!
The Tellytubbies is near abstract art for tots. It paints a picture of the almost-invisible building blocks to learning. It encourages toddlers to form ideas. It doesn’t lecture or explain. It doesn’t tell and it doesn’t preach. Unlike a certain purple dinosaur I despise.
This is why I believe The Tellytubbies should never be allowed fade out of popularity. It speaks to children in their own tongue whilst simultaneously teaching them the basics of most Western languages.
Extract from the excellent The High Kicking Kung Fu Soccer Playing Bunny Rabbit Tree. Available here. And on Amazon.com, etc.