It’s not everyone who can say that their Edinburgh Book Festival experience this year started by sharing a table with a Teletubby! But that’s what happened on the opening evening when Ceris from Sandstone Press introduced me to Nikky Smedley who was the actor behind (or should I say inside) Laa-Laa, the yellow Teletubby. As someone whose children adored the Teletubbies, this was a big moment for me!
About the book
Say ‘Eh-oh!’ to Nikky Smedley and Laa-Laa
Over the Hills and Far Away follows Nikky through the Teletubbies years, from her role as a bistro table during her audition to the show’s international success and the accompanying hounding by the press.
In this warm, funny, affectionate look back at life on the Teletubbies set, Nikky reveals all, including tales about dogs and asthma, raging arguments about fruit, and the games the cast and crew played to amuse themselves during long shoots in their massive costumes.
Join Nikky and Laa-Laa on their extraordinary journey from the very beginning to handing the torch to another performer for the next generation.
It’s hard for me to believe that it’s 25 years since the Teletubbies hit the screen as it seems like only yesterday my daughters were watching it. Mind you, they are both in their twenties now… In this affectionate tribute to the show, Nikky Smedley tells us frankly about what it was like to be inside the costume which was Laa-Laa. We hear all about the show from initial casting right up until filming the last episodes and then how it felt passing on the costume to a new actor for a remake in 2014.
It really was eye-opening finding out about how the programme was made. It was clear that being actually inside the costume was a very uncomfortable place to be and brought many challenges. How do you hold Tubby toast when one hand is operating the eyes and another the mouth? I hadn’t thought about how big the set and all the props would have to be in relation to the Tubbies. To be honest, I probably hadn’t realised initially that there were people inside the costumes! A lot of this was to do with perspective. The Teletubbies were meant to appear like toddlers to young children so everything had to be scaled up. Even the rabbits hopping about the hill were huge – I hadn’t realised that!
It was really interesting to find out about the thinking behind the show especially since it was heavily criticised at the time for dumbing down. In fact the language and the repetition were all aimed at aiding children’s understanding and development and everything was carefully thought out for its educational value. The idea was that children would recognise and relate elements of the show to their own lives and feel connected to it. It was about bringing fun and joy into their lives through the television.
There is a mention of the merchandising which eventually followed the success of the show. I’m pretty sure that if we had a rake about in our attic we would find toys of Po and Laa-Laa which were much loved by my two girls. One Christmas, my older daughter, who was not quite one, was given a CD of the theme tune. As soon as we started playing it, her head immediately turned to the tv and she crawled over and pulled herself up to stand in front of the tv. Her face when Teletubbies didn’t appear on the screen was a picture! She looked back and forward from where she could hear the music to the tv completely baffled! Children loved the programme even if their parents didn’t quite get it. Personally, I did like it at the time, apart from the repeated tummy tv films but I now understand why they were included – again, again!
It was so interesting to read about the media attention which Teletubbies attracted. Initially, the actors were not allowed to reveal their identity or where or how it was filmed. Part of this was to keep the illusion of the characters real for children. When their identities were finally revealed Nikky Smedley tells a funny story about parents sometimes telling their children ‘look, this lady is Laa-Laa; and the children looking at their parents as if they were mad. Clearly this was just a lady and not Laa-Laa. Inevitably, as the show’s popularity grew, the media were keen to find out about the actors and the author found this rather intrusive. She says she’s glad she wasn’t recognisably famous out of costume.
Having met Nikky, I can say she’s just as lovely and bubbly as she comes over in the book. My daughters were very excited that we came home with Nikky/Laa-Laa’s autograph. I think that shows just how successful Teletubbies was as a programme. The aim was to make young children feel happy, loved and good about themselves. I think it certainly succeeded. It still inspires happiness in the children who watched it all those years ago and of course, that is thanks to the people behind the show. If you were a child who watched Teletubbies or a parent at the time, I think you’re going to love this book. It’s a warm and funny tribute to what was a much loved tv show.
My thanks to Ceris at Sandstone Press for sending me an early copy of Over The Hills and Far Away for review. The book is available now from various book retailers. You’ll find buying options on the Sandstone Press website here: Over The Hills and Far Away
About the Author
Nikky Smedley has spent her career trying to avoid what her parents called ‘a proper job’. This doesn’t mean she hasn’t worked hard. Running her own dance company for twenty years, she staged the UK’s first piece of vertical dance and, playing God, created and destroyed the world on quantum and geographic scales. After Teletubbies, she worked behind the scenes in children’s TV for a further decade and currently writes and performs stories for young children. Nikky is a highly sought-after conference speaker and still choreographs, though these days she jumps up and down less than she once did.