Teletubbies actors who played Dipsy and Laa-Laa praise show's legacy

Teletubbies actors who played Dipsy and Laa-Laa praise show's legacy

The secrets from the Teletubbies set! Actors who played Dipsy and Laa-Laa in 90s show say they were ‘virtually blind’ in the costumes and would ‘accidentally kick’ rabbits – ahead of Netflix reboot

  • Teletubbies actors who played Dipsy and Laa-Laa have praised show’s legacy 
  • John Simmit, 59, played Dipsy and said programme was ‘great British success’ 
  • Nikki Smedley, 60, said she is said she is ‘thrilled’ and ‘really proud’ of the return

Actors who played Teletubbies Dipsy and Laa-Laa last night welcomed the return of the global hit series and opened up about what it was like to work with the rabbits.

John Simmit, 59, who played the character Dipsy in the 90s for four years, praised the programme’s legacy as a physical comedy.

He told denied reports at the time that some of the Teletubbies had fallen on rabbits and crushed them to death.

But he added: ‘We used to have earpieces telling us where they were because it was very difficult to see them through the small mouths of the costumes.’

Nikki Smedley, who is now 60 and has written a book about her time as Laa-Laa, admitted the costumes made the actors ‘virtually blind’ and she once injured a rabbit by accidentally kicking it.  


John Simmit (left), 59, who played the character Dipsy (pictured right in the reboot) in the 90s for four years, praised the programme’s legacy as a physical comedy

John said: ‘I am glad we have encapsulated the world in a way that we have because here we are a quarter of century later and I get off about it all the time.

‘We have impacted on such a scale and credit has to go to the producers because they were trying to do something different.’

‘They were trying to talk to a lot of children across the world with a lot of different elements. 

‘It was physical comedy and laughter for an age group in the same way we could enjoy silent comedy back in the day like Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin.’


Nikki Smedley (left), who is now 60 and has written a book about her time as Laa-Laa (pictured right in the reboot), admitted she once injured a rabbit by accidentally kicking it

It comes as the cult BBC children’s programme which bewitched a generation of toddlers, is set to return to screens after being given a reboot by Netflix. Stock image used

John, who is appearing in Leicester in the reggae musical ‘Rush’, added: ‘Teletubbies is a great British success and we should celebrate it, absolutely.’ 

Meanwhile Nikki said rabbirs were an important part of the show and should be maintained.

She said: ‘We were virtually blind. I did kick one in the head once. I felt so bad. She was okay, but she had a little cut and she bled.

‘I just felt so awful about it. And then every year in the Christmas bloopers tape, there would be me accidentally kicking a rabbit in the head.’

Nikki said she is ‘thrilled’ and ‘really proud’ of the show’s return, but joked: ‘I am 60 tomorrow so I don’t think my knees could cope if they asked me to come back.’

Earlier this week, Netflix treated fans to a first glimpse of their reboot of the hit 90s series, which will be narrated by star of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Tituss Burgess

The show, which aired on the BBC, featured cuddly, colourful characters including Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po. Stock image used

It comes as the cult BBC children’s programme which bewitched a generation of toddlers, is set to return to screens after being given a reboot by Netflix.

The show, which aired on the BBC, featured cuddly, colourful characters including Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, who frolicked around the bright green hills of Teletubbyland until the show was cancelled in 2001.

The fun was watched over by the Sun, which featured the face of a giggling baby and feasted on Tubby toast and Tubby custard.

Earlier this week, Netflix treated fans to a first glimpse of their reboot of the hit 90s series, which will be narrated by star of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Tituss Burgess and is to feature an entirely new cast as the playful creatures.

Where are the Teletubbies now? As Netflix reboots the 90s children’s show, FEMAIL reveals what happened to its original cast – including the baby who played the Sun, and the actor sacked for ‘implying’ TinkyWinky was gay

Cult BBC children’s programme The Teletubbies, which bewitched a generation of toddlers, is set to return to screens after being given a reboot by Netflix.

The show, which aired on the BBC, featured cuddly, colourful characters including Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, who frolicked around the bright green hills of Teletubbyland until the show was cancelled in 2001.

The fun was watched over by the Sun, which featured the face of a giggling baby and feasted on Tubby toast and Tubby custard.

Earlier this week, Netflix treated fans to a first glimpse of their reboot of the hit 90s series, which will be narrated by star of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Tituss Burgess and is to feature an entirely new cast as the playful creatures.

But what happened to the original actors who dressed up to entertain millions of tots every day in Teletubbyland? FEMAIL finds out…

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The Teletubbies, aired by the BBC, became a smash hit when it first aired in 1997, running until 2001. Pictured from left, characters Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po

Earlier this week, Netflix gave fans a first look at their reboot of the classic noughties show. The new series will be narrated by The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Tituss Burgess 

Tinky Winky, played by Simon Shelton 

The character of Tinky Winky – famous for his red leather handbag and purple hue – pictured in a promotional image in 1998. Originally played by Dave Thompson, Simon Shelton took over the role from 1998

Dave Thompson (pictured in 2022) was originally cast as Tinky Winky but sacked after one series. The actor said he ‘misinterpreted’ the role and implied Tinky Winky was gay

His successor, Simon Shelton, took over as Tinky Winky in 1998 and compared the level of fame to like being a member of The Beatles. Pictured taking a break on set

The largest of the Teletubbies, handbag-carrying Tinky Winky – a hue of purple – was played by actor Simon Shelton.

A trained ballet dancer, who was also known as Simon Barnes, he sadly passed away at just 52 in 2018.

Simon, who also worked as a choreographer during his long career, admitted in 2013 he was initially reluctant to take on the role that led to him being sent fan mail from adults as well as children and ‘feeling like a member of The Beatles’. 

Simon was actually the second actor to play the purple Teletubby, following on from Dave Thompson, who was sacked in 1997, according to the HuffPost.

At the time, it was reported Dave had ‘misinterpreted’ the role and had implied Tinky Winky was gay.

Speaking to the BBC in 2008, Simon said: ‘I didn’t know it would be as big as it was, but I did know as soon as I started working on it, that it had something special.’

Simon sadly passed away in 2018. Pictured with his co-stars Nikky Smedley, Pui Fan Lee and John Simmitt

In an interview with The Sun, Simon also revealed how much attention cast members received while working on the programme.

He said: ‘We used to receive a lot of fan mail from kids AND parents. I suppose we were a bit like the Beatles or the Take That of children’s television.’ 

Shelton said he was frequently asked whether Tinky Winky was gay.

‘People always ask me if Tinky Winky is gay. But the character is supposed to be a three-year-old so the question is really quite silly,’ he said.

Dipsy, played by John Simmit

The character of Dipsy – famous for his favourite cowprint hat – pictured in a promotional image in 1997. 

John Simmitt was cast in the role of Dipsy. The actor and comedian revealed he avoids mentioning his iconic BBC role in his stand-up

Birmingham-based actor and comedian John Simmit, now 59, played the mischievous green Teletubby Dipsy.

He now appears to spend much of his time performing onstage and recently appeared in a show at Bristol’s prestigious Old Vic theatre.

Earlier this year, John posted a photo on Instagram of himself alongside his Teletubbies character to mark 25 years since the show first aired.

He wrote: ‘It’s the 25th year anniversary of this distinctive TV show’s first transmission and journey to becoming part of world culture & one of the most successful TV shows ever.’

Speaking at the show’s 10-year anniversary celebration, John said: ‘I was a stand-up before I became Dipsy so I carried on doing that when the series came to an end five years ago.

‘The stand-up circuit is pretty close-knit so people got to know that I was Dipsy – but I never mentioned it on stage.’

In February, John spoke to the HuffPost about little details on the show that may have gone unnoticed by many viewers – including some reliable cast members that appeared in every single episode.

‘We used these Flemish giant rabbits, which were the world’s biggest rabbits,’ he said. 

‘I think that was [co-creator] Anne’s way of changing the perspective and making us look small.’ 

Teletubbies fan websites have long reported that filming often had to be stopped on the programme because the giant rabbits mated so often – which wasn’t particularly child-friendly viewing. 

Laa-Laa, played by Nikky Smedley

The character of Laa-Laa in a 1997 promotional image for the show. The third-in-line in the show’s jingle became an instant fan favourite

Since the series wrapped, Nikky – pictured in 2021 – has been working as a storyteller-for-hire and recently wrote a memoir about her experience on the show

Trained dancer Nikky Smedley, now 51, was cast as Laa-Laa, the yellow Teletubby with a swirly antennae. 

After the show finished, she revealed it was a tough life on set, with actors working 11-hour days in the suits, which were hot and heavy.

In her memoir Over the Hills and Far Away, Nikky explained how she found out about the role after seeing an advert in the industry magazine The Stage.

She wrote: ‘I had spent the previous fifteen years working as a performer, mostly dancing, mostly with my own dance company, mostly poor. Now I was about to turn thirty-three and it was time for a new chapter.’

Earlier this year, Nikky spoke to The Mirror about how, while Teletubbyland seemed like a pleasant utopia, behind the scenes the actors often grew frustrated.

Explaining how the cast became hot and uncomfortable while bouncing around in their heavy suits, she said: ‘My skin would crawl. I’d need to get out of there. We all got grumpy. The crew couldn’t understand it.’

She added the heat became so unbearable she shaved off her shoulder-length hair, while paramedics were onsite to hand out water bottles to the sweltering cast. 

Speaking about the attention cast members received from the public, Nikky revealed how helicopters hovered over the set while filming was taking place so photographers could get shots of the actors’ real faces. 

She added she received sexually explicit letters from stalkers at the height of her fame. 

Since the show’s conclusion, Nikky has contributed to children’s TV show Boohbah and choreographed another of the BBC’s hit children shows, In the Night Garden.

For the last few years, Nikky appears to have been working as a storyteller-for-hire, who assumes the role of a mystical prophet at schools to bring magical stories to life.

Po, played by Pui Fan Lee

The character of Po – who was the ‘baby’ of the group – pictured in a promotional image in 1997.

Pui Fan Lee – pictured in 2020 – has gone in to star in pantomime productions of The Nutcracker and Jack and the Beanstalk

The most adorable Teletubby was little Po, considered the ‘baby’ of the group.

Po was played by actress Pui Fan Lee, now 51, who went on to become a CBeebies presenter, and also hosted Show Me, Show Me, a TV programme aimed at pre-school children.

In 2001, the actress raised eyebrows after playing a lesbian character in the Channel 4 show Metrosexuality, leaving some viewers shocked.

However she hit back at criticism she received and argued: ‘Yes, I was Po. But I am an actress too and the role looked interesting, exciting and challenging.’

Speaking about her time on the Teletubbies, she said: ‘When we were in the show it was weird because we never dreamed anyone would be the slightest bit interested in us. 

‘But at the height of our popularity there were photographers jumping out of bushes.’ 

At the height of its fame the Teletubbies was a lucrative franchise, with many children desperately asking their parents for toy versions of their favourite character. 

However, a speaking toy version of Po appeared to upset some consumers in 1998 when people took offence to the words the character said.

The Associated Press reported some people thought the toy was saying ‘f****t’ in an apparent homophobic outburst – whereas others thought it sounded more like ‘fatty’.

However at the time the itsy bitsy Entertainment Co., which licensed the Teletubbies, insisted the toy was saying the character’s phrase: ‘fidit, fidit’. 

Since the show finished, Pui Fan Lee has gone on to star in pantomime productions of The Nutcracker and Jack and the Beanstalk.  

Pui Fan Lee pictured taking a break on the Teletubbies set in 1997.

The star pictured at the the BAFTA Children’s Awards at The Roundhouse on November 26, 2017 with Chris Jarvis

The Sun Baby, played by Jess Smith

Jess Smith, from Chatham, Kent, was selected to be the giggling baby sun who looks over Teletubbyland when she was just nine months old.

Speaking to the BBC about how she landed the role, the former child star explained: ‘I was being weighed at the hospital. My mum took me and it just happened to be the same time that the producer of the old series had come in and wanted the hospital to get in contact with them if they’d seen any smiley babies.

‘It was just a case of sitting in front of a mirror and a camera and my dad playing with toys and race cars and that sort of thing to try and get me to laugh at the camera.’

Jess Smith (pictured as a baby) was chosen as the giggling baby sun who looks over Teletubbyland when she was just nine months old

The former child star – pictured aged 19 – revealed in 2014 that she kept her Teletubbies role a secret for 19 years

In 2014, Jess – who hasn’t pursued an acting career – revealed she only revealed her secret during a game with her university friends – where they all had to say something about themselves that no one else would guess. 

She then used Facebook to confirm it was her – and photos show she still has the same cheeky face.

Jess joked: ‘I thought I may as well tell them as I’m going to be spending the next three years with them. My mother is really chuffed.’

What’s more, the child star is now officially all grown up and welcomed her first baby in 2021.

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