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Teletubbies in century's hall of fame

THE UPLIFTING, the unlikely and the unusual were yesterday highlighted as the greatest innovations of our age when the latest list of Millennium products was announced.

The anti-impotence drug Viagra and the inexplicably popular children's charactersthe Teletubbies took their place along a landmine clearing machine and a new toothbrush.

Announcing the latest list of 201 products - selected by the Design Council - the Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers, said: "Some of the products announced today have earned millions of pounds for UK companies. Others provide solutions to world problems like landmines. It is a truly varied list which reflects the talent and innovation in Britain."

The products, which join a list now totalling 634, were selected by a panel of judges, using six criteria. The judges were looking for products that opened new opportunities, challenged existing conventions, were environmentally responsible, applied new or existing products, solved problems, and had clear user benefits. There was no explanation of which of these criteria the Teletubbies had fulfilled.

The Design Council said the awards served to highlight some of the best British products available. "They have to be highly innovative to have a chance," said a spokesman.

As well as prestige, the awards are likely to have commercial benefits. As well as trumpeting them in advertising, companies will benefit from having their product showcased in the Millennium Dome, expected to be visited by hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of people. They will also be included in a travelling exhibition that will tour internationally.

The Ford Motor Company, whose Focus car was yesterday included on the list, said it is likely to use the award as part of its vehicle advertising.

A spokeswoman for the DTI added: "The inclusion of these products on the list is certainly going to let people know about them. It has already had that effect - a biodegradable credit card produced in Britain and included on the list is now being produced in Canada as well. These products are going to be given a forum."

While the inclusion of some products may raise a smile, the headline items are joining more obviously "scientific" innovations. For instance, the FireAnt, produced by the Defence Research Agency at Farnborough, burns out landmines without exploding them. Likewise, the Tricorder, a three- dimensional modelling system, can dramatically improve the rebuilding of human features after surgery.

Another chosen product is the Amazon Aquacharger, made by a firm in Corby, Northamptonshire, which uses river currents to generate electricity and charge batteries.