(Below: UK actor and comedian Dave Thompson plays Tinky Winky on the Teletubbies set near Stratford-on-Avon, England, in 1996. Photo courtesy of Dave Thompson.)

This morning ReligionWriter asked Michael Lewis Mayfield-Brown, a 17-year-old student and video-gamer, what he knew of televangelist Jerry Fallwell, who died yesterday at age 73.

“I just know he said Tinky Winky was gay,” answered Mayfield-Brown, who was born the year after Falwell’s Moral Majority was dismantled.

As reporter Hanna Rosin writes today in the Washington Post, Falwell hails from a bygone era of conservative Christian activism. How relevant, then, is Falwell’s legacy to a new generation? According to Mayfield-Brown, at least, Falwell’s criticism of the purple Teletubbies’ character may be his most notable public act.

Wrote Falwell in his 1999 “parents alert:”

Further evidence that the creators of the series intend for Tinky Winky to be a gay role model have surfaced. He is purple – the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle – the gay-pride symbol.

To learn more about Tinky Winky, ReligionWriter called up UK comedian, actor and writer Dave Thompson, the man who first played Tinky Winky on the show, which features four round creatures “who love each other very much” and is now popular in Iran and

Indonesia, according to Thompson.

In the edited transcript below, Thompson describes his own interpretation of the character and how Falwell’s 1999 “alert” about Tinky Winky helped propel the fictional children’s character to cult fame.

ReligionWriter: Artistically speaking, what kind of character was Tinky Winky?

Dave Thompson: The show was for children from zero to five, so we were told to make contact with that part of us that was still under five.

RW: Why does Tinky Winky carry a handbag?

Thompson: All of the Teletubbies have a “favorite toy.” This is based on a concept from psychological research called the “transitional object.” Very young children often have a little teddy bear, or doll, or blanket, which they associate with the familiarity and security of their mother. It’s a stepping stone between the mother and the outside world.

Each Teletubbie has a transitional object.

Po had the scooter, LaLa had the ball – which was actually an inflatable balloon – Dipsy had the hat, and Tinky Winky had the handbag.

RW: Did it ever cross your mind, when you were playing Tinky Winky, “I have this triangle on my head, I’m purple, maybe I’m supposed to be gay?”

Thompson: I didn’t know about purple being a gay color, or about the triangle being a gay symbol. I am straight and married myself.

(Photo: According to Dave Thompson, seen here taking a break on the Teletubbies set, the show is now very popular in Iran and Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Dave Thompson)

Some people said Tinky Winky was light on his feet. But if you’ve ever seen Charlie Chaplain’s films, you’ll know he’s very graceful and light on his feet. Light and graceful is funny, clumsy and heavy is not. Because Teletubbies are essentially clowns, and I have experience of doing that sort of physical comedy, I always made a point of making Tinky Winky graceful and light on his feet. Teletubbies are supposed to be funny, to make children laugh.

RW: When Jerry Falwell wrote that Tinky Winky was obviously gay, what was your reaction?

Thompson: Teletubbies are presexual beings, and the children who watch the show are innocent and just enjoying their childhood. Sex is not something they are consciously aware of. For an adult to impose adult sexuality on children’s cuddly toys is stealing the childhood from the kids who are enjoying the show.

RW: Did Falwell’s comments strike a chord in

England at the time?

Thompson: Yes, they did. Tinky Winky is a huge gay icon. When they sell the cuddly toys, a lot of gay people buy them.

RW: Did Tinky Winky become a gay icon because of what Falwell said?

Thompson: His comments helped the process along. It was in the news over here when he denounced Tinky Winky as gay, but the idea was already there.

When Teletubbies was released in the

UK, it was on early in the morning, so children could watch it while their parents got breakfast or got ready for work. But in those early morning hours, people were also coming back from rave clubs, and taking ecstasy or other hallucinogenic drugs. They would come home, sit down to chill out, turn the tele on and see the Teletubbies. The show was like a simple innocent place where there was no aggression, which is what tiny kids need, but also what people who’ve been out all night in a night club like. So it became a big phenomenon in the student and drug culture, and off the back of that it went into the gay culture.

» » » » »


FireStats icon Powered by FireStats
E-mail It