Eh-oh! Can I have a terrorist for Christmas?

They have been accused of corrupting our under-fives by promoting hallucinogenic drugs and talking gobbledegook. Now those cuddlesome creatures, the Teletubbies, stand charged with consorting with Irish republican terrorists.

The latest and most surreal twist in the off-screen drama behind the children's television series came last weekend, when it emerged that La La, one of the characters, has joined the IRA.

His face has been grafted on to the image of an Armalite-wielding fighter, which appears on T-shirts being sold on the streets of nationalist West Belfast. They bear the slogan "Tiocfaidh Ar La La" which, without the second La, is Irish for "Our day will come'.

It may be, though, that La La himself, together with Tinky Winky, Dipsy and Po, has already had his day.

The tantrums that will echo through thousands of households on Christmas morning, as small children learn that their parents have failed to track down one of the sought-after soft toys, could mark the last gasp in this hype-driven saga.

No matter that St Ivel is about to launch a licenced version of the Teletubbies' favourite food, pink custard, nor that plans are already afoot to market a range of Easter eggs. Marketing experts believe that the craze for these large-bottomed humanoids, who have television sets in their stomachs and aerials in their heads, has peaked. In a few months, the learned commentators who hailed them as a cultural phenomenon will be asking "Tele-who?"

Eh-oh, it was only a question of time. What self-respecting child, after all, would be seen dead with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy, the hottest property just a few years back? Or, for that matter, a Cabbage Patch Doll? Even Buzz Lightyear, which led to fisticuffs in toyshops last Christmas, is already out of fashion.

In this most capricious of markets, novelty is all, and fame can be cruelly brief. There are honourable exceptions; the Spirograph, for instance, the pattern-making toy that has remained consistently popular since it was launched in 1965.

The next big thing is expected to be a version of the Tamagotchi cyber- pet, featuring a digital monster that engages in combat against a creature in a rival machine. It has to be fed lots of protein in order to develop a good fighting physique. If this takes off, you might wish the harmless Teletubbies were back.

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