Teletubbies to get grown-up help with their baby talk

Teletubbies, the hit children's television show, is to adopt real language following complaints from parents and educationalists about the show's fat stars' baby talk, writes Paul McCann.

But Anna Home, head of BBC children's television, denied that the character's babble, which includes the catchphrases "tubby toast", "tubby custard" and "all gone", was doing the two-year-olds who watch any harm.

"The children who grew up watching The Clangers didn't grow up into a generation of whistlers," she told a session at the Edinburgh International Television Festival yesterday.

None the less, there will be more narration in the programmes to make them more understandable, she said. "There is a need to put in more traditional speech."

The makers of the programme, Ragdoll Productions, conducted research into children's language development before creating the programme. Ragdoll believes the Teletubbies' babble is what children use to learn the rules of language before they start using real words.

The programme provoked a barrage of complaints from parents worried that Tinky Winky, Laa Laa, Dipsy and Po were bad examples for children. Even so, John Morris, head of sales for the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, said that the programme will make the corporation a lot of money: "The potential on this one is limitless."

The programme has already been sold to Portugal, France and South Africa. But some international programme buyers have had a hard time understanding the characters, who have aerials on their head and television screens in their stomachs.

Mr Morris said: "Initially, there was a great deal of surprise at the look of the programme. They were used to more traditional programmes and some of them were horrified. A German buyer said 'These are like spacemen and we think they'll frighten our children'."

In a session devoted to how children's programmes such as The Magic Roundabout have been adopted as cults by students and adults, the panellists discussed how Teletubbies have been a hit with clubbers and the gay community.

The camp, handbag-carrying antics of Tinky Winky provoked Andy Medhurst, a media studies lecturer at Sussex University, to declare: "Tinky Winky is the first queer role model for toddlers."

Teletubbies is the most watched programme in its morning slot, with its 2 million viewers beating the audience for Big Breakfast.