Eh-oh... it's time for Tubby bye-byes

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The Independent Online
TOUGH negotiations are under way at the BBC to decide the fate of the world-famous Teletubby characters. Although, to the average viewer, Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po look healthy enough, the harsh reality is that they may have only months to live.

The contract between the BBC and Anne Wood, who created the four characters, specified that Ms Wood's company Ragdoll would make 260 Teletubby programmes. But filming will finish at the end of next week causing consternation on the set, and among BBC executives, fearful for one of their biggest money-spinners.

Ms Wood has said that she would like to make 365 programmes. That means only 105 more programmes and imminent death for the series. However, the BBC is urging her to change her mind.

The corporation last year sold Teletubby goods, from T-shirts to toasters, worth pounds 23 million, and it would now like a new "continuous contract". Signs are, though, that Ms Wood is not persuaded.

BBC insiders say she is still reluctant to guarantee the Teletubbies a long lifespan. It seems that she has no wish to see the four brightly- coloured, big-bottomed characters endure a long, miserable old age.

She does not wish the programme to look tired, and has always taken a hands-on approach to quality control, right down to insisting on filming in authentic Teletubbyland conditions, insisting on the open air, rather than closed sets.

The details of the new contract will be settled soon - and Ragdoll confirms that it is prepared to sign up for more programmes next year, but after that "we will take it from there". The BBC said it retains hopes for a three-year deal.

Should the Teletubbies be sent to teleheaven by Ms Wood, the BBC will see the end of a first magnificent era in merchandise sales. It has sold 160 licences to make teletubby toys. Teletubby videos have brought in pounds 10m, merchandise pounds 4m and music cassettes pounds 2.5m.

Ms Wood has also made a fortune. City brokers reckon she will make about pounds 50 million in the next two years from UK and international sales and merchandising.