During his 25 years in showbiz, Teletubbies star Tinky Winky has seen his sexuality and identity become the topic of intense debate – and the handbag-wielding, tutu-loving Teletubby’s appearance on Masterchef is likely to reignite speculation.
The famous purple… well, we’re not quite sure what he is, is set to appear alongside other TV titans including Basil Brush and Hacker T Dog on Pupper Masterchef when the BBC Children in Need 2023 airs on Friday 17 November from 7pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.
Of course, Tinky Winky’s sexuality shouldn’t matter to anyone: since Teletubbies debuted in 1997, he’s happily been minding his business in Teletubbyland while cultivating gay icon status for his uninhibited gender non-conforming antics, alongside co-stars Dipsy, LaLa and Po.
Despite teaching children the power of being yourself, Tinky Winky has previously come under fire from the Christian right for his fierce fashion sense. So what’s the story so far?
Is Tinky Winky gay?
Since the Teletubbies sashayed onto screens in March 1997, Tinky-Winky’s identity has been dissected by fans and critics alike.
Consider the evidence offered by the evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell: “He is purple: the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle: the gay-pride symbol.”
Falwell neglected to mention Tinky Winky’s signature red handbag, presumably because he was busy fuming over his belief that “role modelling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children”.
The closest we had come to a definitive answer on Tinky Winky’s identity came from the actor who played him, Simon Barnes.
“People always ask me if Tinky Winky is gay,” Barnes said. “But the character is supposed to be a three-year-old so the question is really quite silly.”
Barnes, who passed away in 2018, took over the roles of Tinky Winky in 1997 after his processor, Dave Thompson, was fired because his “interpretation of the role was not acceptable”.
The BBC has never acknowledged what about the interpretation was unacceptable, or even that the role was recast.
“We are not allowed to say,” a spokesperson said at the time. “As far as we are concerned [the Teletubbies] are real.”
Whatever Tinky Winky’s sexuality, the Teletubbies previously demonstrated their allyship with the LGBTQ+ community in 2021, when they released their own Pride range, with a portion of the proceeds going to GLAAD.
“The Teletubbies believe in big hugs, big love and embracing who you are”, a statement reads on their online Pride shop.