Shoppers trapped in Laa-Laa-land

Hamleys has been doing it for weeks. Now Mothercare has started doing it too. The childrenswear and toy retailer said yesterday that it is having to ration Teletubbies, this year's hottest toy item, in order to prevent irate parents from handbagging each other in Christmas queues up and down the country.

Mothercare said it is has imposed a limit of one Teletubby doll per person, as demand is so great. Storehouse, the retail group which owns Mothercare and BhS, said that desperate parents had begun queuing outside its stores from 2am in order to ensure they got their hands on Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, the cuddly, roly-poly dolls based on the characters from the hit BBC children's television programme.

With demand for Teletubbies far outstripping demand, and Spice Girl dolls not expected in the shops until next month, Storehouse is hoping to achieve Christmas success with some of its home-grown novelties.

This year BhS has shipped in large quantities of electronic T-shirts which cost pounds 18 for adults and pounds 14 for children.

So far there are three kinds, based on football, motor racing and aliens. They feature fabric-covered patches which, when pressed, make sounds such as a crowd roaring when a goal is scored or of Formula One cars revving on the starting grid. The alien version utters the message "We come in peace" when certain parts of the garment are pressed. Others yet to hit the shelves include a guitar version which releases a Jimi Hendrix-style guitar solo, a "999" emergency services model and a "Hand of Passion" version which gives palm readings. BhS says they expect the T-shirts to sell like hot cakes.

BhS has already achieved notable successes with novel Christmas gifts in the past few years, witness its huge sales in 1995 of chocolate body paint. Sold in little pots, the edible paint became known as a popular source of adult entertainment on cold winter evenings. The paint has even been credited with saving marriages, selling a staggering 400,000 pots last Christmas. So popular has it become that it is now being sold in larger "Dulux" sized pots, as well as the more modest sizes first introduced.

"There are no instructions on the pots, " a BhS spokesman said. "It is just up to people's imagination."

But for parents who do not manage to secure a Teletubby doll for their beloved toddler this Christmas there is a salutary tale from Kent. Sue Burt managed to get her hands on all four Teletubby dolls as well as a Teletubby TV for her son after ordering them back in July. But with Christmas now just weeks away, he has decided Teletubbies are not his thing and switched his affections to Thomas the Tank engine. Ms Burt is now trying to sell the toys or swap them for something else.

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