Again, again! Why students can't get enough of them

The BBC claims audiences of around 2 million for the programme, but under-fours are not included in ratings figures. So who are all these people? Jill Parkin canvasses opinion in the common room.

Around the university campuses of Brighton, Teletubbies feature on the posters for club nights; and, at Warwick, students are plotting a visit to "Teletubby land", known to be at a secret location in the county. Before the BBC enforced its copyright earlier this year, Web sites set up by students were buzzing with Teletubby commentary and speculation: Tinky Winky was gay; if you played Teletubby songs backwards they contained Orwellian messages; the programme was psychedelic and trippy.

We've heard it all before, about Captain Pugwash, The Magic Roundabout and Sesame Street. Students like cults and they like to satirise. But normally they delve back into their own childhood to do it, bonding with other freshers who used to watch The Clangers or Postman Pat.

"For once,'' says Andy Medhurst, a media studies lecturer at Sussex University, "it's not nostalgic. Charlie's Angels, Scooby Doo and The Magic Roundabout were all retro. Teletubbies is groundbreaking. It's a social thing, too: it would be a sad person who would sit down to watch a cult programme on his own."

He adds: "It's the biggest campus cult this year, and probably for several years. Supermarket Sweep was very popular. Students have a three-year extended adolescence. It's hard to imagine an 18-year-old who'd been working in a factory for two years watching the Teletubbies.

"Among other things, it's an ironic regression. They're playing at being childish. There's nothing ironic about the Star Trek freaks - they actually believe all the sci-fi stuff."

Andy Medhurst is prepared to indulge in what he calls "informed speculation'' about a connection between student drug culture and Teletubbies. "I think students mainly are watching it as part of breakfast TV," he says. "It's about the time they're getting up. But I suppose the Sunday omnibus edition could be used for coming down after Saturday night party drugs. It's happy, comforting stuff."

Robin Lander Brinkley, 19, who's reading English and theatre studies at Warwick University, says it's just fun. "I love it because it is so simplistic and innocent - like me. It is so refreshing compared to things like Casualty and Homicide, which I don't enjoy watching at all. No blood, guts, bonking or gore. Just brightness and fun.

"My favourite is Po, because he is a cutey-pie. When do we ever get that, even in children's TV? Even Byker Grove seems too gritty to me. As for the cult thing, I can only assume people feel the same as me. My sister bought me some Teletubby bubblebath which gets the bath foamy and you can blow bubbles with it. Now tell me that isn't cool."

There's more of Andy Medhurst's irony in the explanation from another Warwick University student, Louise Arscott, 18, who is reading theatre studies. "`I love the programme because it's so ridiculous and really easy to take the mick out of," she says. "It's not exactly a serious work of art and it's all very tongue-in-cheek, so I'm laughing with them, not at them. The bit that gets me every time is at the beginning when they do their song which introduces their names. They're really very good at being little kids.

"I think it's just the ridiculous nature of it all. You've got four grown-ups dressed up in bright costumes, calling themselves stupid names and running around talking about 'tubbytoast' and 'tubbycustard'.

"As the set is somewhere in Warwickshire, we're thinking of going on a pilgrimage, but we are supposed to be mature intellectuals studying for a degree so that's probably going a bit far.

"That sun with the baby's face in it gives me the shivers. Cute? Fun? Adorable? No. I have to turn away. I've never seen anything so creepy on children's TV, apart from Emma Forbes."

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