The Teletubbies is a BBC television programme for children. It depicts stories based on the daily lives of Dipsy, Laa-Laa, Tinky Winky, and Po who are played by actors in brightly coloured costumes with television screens at their tummies. It has been famous for the nonsense syllables used by the characters to communicate with each other.
Rumours began to spread about the sexuality of Tinky Winky who has a purple costume, a triangular aerial on his head, and carries a red handbag.
The Knitting Circle received the following query from the Netherlands in September 1998.
"My name is Remco van Schellen and I am one of the editors of the Dito, the magazine of the gay group COC Midden Zeeland, in the province of Zeeland in The Netherlands. I want to write an article about the Teletubbies, as I heard that one of the Tubbies (Tinky Winky) is becoming a real gay icon in the UK. In the article I want to quote someone who knows a lot about the gay scene in the UK, so that is why I am writing this e-mail to your organisation.
- Is it true that the Teletubbies became gay icons only because of Tinky Winky's red handbag?
- Why are the Tubbies so popular in the gay scene?
- Is this Tinky Winky thing a big issue in the UK gay scene?"
Andy Medhurst first outed Tinky Winky in a letter to The Face in July 1997.
On 10th. February, 1999 the National Liberty Journal in the USA published an article entitled "Parents Alert: Tinky Winky Comes out of the Closet" by the right-wing Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell. He wrote, "The character, whose voice is obviously that of a boy, has been found carrying a red purse, and has become a favourite character among gay groups world wide. Further evidence that the creators of the series intend for Tinky Winky to be a gay role model have surfaced. He is purple - the gay-pride colour - and his antenna is shaped like a triangle - the gay-pride symbol."
It may be that Jerry Falwell inadvertently promoted Tinky Winky as a gay icon.
The Teletubbles is licensed in the USA by The Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Company, and their spokesperson, Steve Rice, said, "The fact that he carries a magic bag doesn't make him gay. It's a children's show folks. To think we would be putting sexual innuendo into a children's show is kind of outlandish. I find it absurd and kind of offensive."
Gay rights activist David Smith said, "We assure the parents of the world that your children will not become gay due to the subversive effects of the colour purple, triangles and magic bags."