After the success of Teletubbies, creator Andrew Davenport began to develop ideas for another children's programme. Feedback from various parents indicated that there can be great tensions around getting a child to bed1, and so he decided to design the show so that it would gently ease the children watching into the contemplation of their own impending bedtime.
This programme is In the Night Garden... and the BBC eventually ordered 100 of the half-hour episodes, before deciding that that would be enough. The programme won several awards, and every episode was written, and all the music composed, by the creator. Each episode centres around a day in the life of the varied inhabitants of the Night Garden. Though their names - Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka and others - are strange and bewildering, and their appearance is somewhat outlandish, there are various archtypes and social dynamics that underlie the series.
In the Beginning
Each episode begins with a view of a starfield, with a female voice enchantingly singing these words:
The night is black,
And the stars are bright,
And the sea is dark and deep...
As this siren call fades away, the rhyme, but not the musicality, is taken up by an older, masculine voice2:
And someone I know is safe and snug,
And drifting off to sleep
The starfield dissolves into the image described - that of a child falling asleep. It is a different child at the start of each episode, and an adult's finger is tracing a circle upon the palm of the child's outstretched hand3. The disembodied voice continues with words of a nursery rhyme:
Round and round, a little boat, no bigger than your hand,
Out on the ocean, far away from land,
Take the light sail down, light the little light,
This is the way to the garden in the night.
After this rhyme the scene dissolves again, and is replaced by said little boat. It is indeed on the ocean, and is occupied by a blue, furry, individual with a shock of bright red hair. The sail is the same colour as the creature's hair, and so, in accordance to the rhyme, the blue sailor pulls down the sail off the mast and hangs a light up there. He then uses the sail as a blanket4 and promptly falls asleep himself. One of the stars in the night sky starts to shine a bright blue colour and then, strangely, moves upwards away from the ocean. The camera follows this azure wanderer until it ceases on its vertical journey, whereupon the stars around it begin to blossom into flowers, which then fill the screen and finally move apart, revealing the Night Garden itself. The blue figure can be seen hopping along whilst carrying the red blanket, to the welcoming calls of the other denizens of the garden awaiting him at the Gazebo.
In the Middle
The majority of the programme details the activities of the occupants of the garden. Since none of these beings is capable of intelligible speech, the voice from the nursery continues to describe the events. It is also evident that the garden folk can hear this voice on occasion, though how they can is not clear. These events may feature some or all of the garden's inhabitants, and upon their first appearance each character is introduced via a rhyme and a dance, clarifying their name and demonstrating their puppet-like subservience to the all-pervading voice.
Yes, my name is Igglepiggle!
This is the blue creature from the boat that we have effectively followed into the garden. It would therefore seem reasonable to suggest that we are actually viewing his dream. However, it is open to debate whether the other beings are figments of his imagination, created in order to keep him company on his lonely ocean trek, or residents on an entire different level of reality that he can only visit in his sleep. Either way Igglepiggle is evidently our avatar in this realm, and also the nominal hero of the piece. He has a troubling tendency to fall over at the slightest thing, and he is constantly being told not to worry by the 'voice'. The only sounds he is capable of producing are a squeak (when he walks), and a tinkly rattle (which occurs when he waves his left arm). In his left hand he carries the blanket from the boat - the one artefact that breaches the wall between these disparate worlds.
Upsy Daisy, here I come!
Upsy Daisy is a simulacrum of womanhood, a doll-like figure who is Igglepiggle's regular companion as he traverses the garden. They clearly hold each other in great affection, as they always hug upon meeting, and engage in frequent and lengthy kisses. If they walk through the garden together they will hold hands, and they evidently enjoy the time spent in each other's presence. Upsy Daisy is capable of speech, though her vocabulary is limited to her own name and the phrase 'Daisy Doo!'. Her hair consists of individual strands of various colours that stand up from the top of her head, and the strands themselves straighten when she is shocked or surprised. Her skirt resembles a daisy, and she has a bed on wheels which occasionally runs off on its own. If Igglepiggle is the hero, then Upsy Daisy must be the heroine in this narrative.
Oomliboo Tombliboo, knock on the door...
There are three Tombliboos, individually named Unn, Ooo, and Eee. They are vaguely humanoid in shape, each with a differently coloured striped outer covering. They are about half the size of Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy, and so may be considered to be the child characters of the story. They live together inside a hedge which contains several staircases and floors amongst its twigs and branches. Whether they occupied a bush that already suited their needs, or altered the internal configuration upon entering it is somewhat unclear, but they appear to be perfectly at home there. The shrub also contains their personal effects - they each possess a keyboard, a drum, a toothbrush, a pillow and a blanket - which are colour-coded to their owner. On the washing line outside their domicile hangs a pair of spotted trousers (in conflict with the Tombliboos' natural stripes) for each of them. Their vocabulary contains their individual and collective names.
Makka Pakka akka wakka, mikka makka moo.
Makka Pakka is smaller still, around two thirds of the size of the Tombliboos. His down is mainly light brown in colour, though there are darker rings around the eyes, giving them a sunken effect. He moves slowly, and in order to travel any distance he makes use of a wheeled zimmer frame - which is called Og-Pog - upon which he rests a doughnut-shaped sponge and a bar of soap. He has a trumpet, and a bellows - named an Uff-Uff - which can both be clipped into brackets on the Og-Pog. He lives in a cave, the entrance to which is a gorge that lies beneath the musical bridge, next to the Gazebo. Given the slow movement, the zimmer and the sunken eyes, Makka Pakka looks and acts like a pensioner, and so could be interpreted as the grandfather of the group.
However, the most interesting aspect of Makka Pakka is his obsession with cleanliness. If he comes across any of his fellows at any point he will beckon for them to lean down to him so that he can wash their faces with his sponge. None of them seem to mind - they just accept this as part of Makka Pakka's normal behaviour. This is nothing compared to his private activities, though. The true extent of his OCD is evident when, in his moments alone, we witness him cleaning, and stacking, stones. This is obviously a pointless endeavour, and one that is fraught with such difficulties that it would only be undertaken by a person at the mercy of forces beyond their control - a true compulsive personality.
The Pontipines and Wottingers
The Pontipines are friends of mine, although they're only small.
The scale decreases even further when we view the Pontipines. They are the smallest creatures in the garden - around about the size of Makka Pakka's big toe. But what they lack in size they make up for in quantity. There are ten Pontipines, and they are a clear family unit. Mr and Mrs Pontipine live in their little house, at the base of a tree, with their eight children - four boys and four girls. All are dressed in red coats with a blue trim. They often go on trips around the garden, but always return when the 'home bell' atop their house rings out.
Wave to the Wottingers!
Their house is semi-detached, and the adjoining residence is occupied by the Wottingers. They are more private than the Pontipines and are rarely seen. They are identical in size and population to the Pontipines, but there are a few differences in appearance. They have blue coats with a red trim - the inverse of the Pontipines' coats - and Mr Wottinger is clean-shaven, as opposed to Mr Pontipine, who has a moustache. The two fathers also have slightly different headgear.
The Haahoos, in stark contrast, are the largest beings in the garden. The are enormous billowy shapes that dwarf even Igglepiggle. They have eyes and mouths, but do not appear able to communicate in any meaningful way. Quite how they fit into the general dynamic of the garden is not clear. They are peaceful, but it's probably best to avoid them due to their sheer size. By their overall soft and bouncy nature, they are analogous to pillows, and so serve as a further reminder that we are visiting a dreamscape.
The Ninky Nonk and Pinky Ponk
Oh no, it's the Ninky Nonk!
These are the two modes of transport, apart from walking, that are available in the garden. The Ninky Nonk is effectively a train, though the locomotive is somewhat unusual, and the carriages are all different shapes. Each carriage is tailored to the various scale of characters, and there is sufficient room for all. There is however a somewhat disturbing size distortion that seems to occur around the Ninky Nonk. There are times when it appears to be no bigger than a toy which Igglepiggle could pick up in his hand, and yet at other times Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy have been known to ride inside it. The Ninky Nonk can travel anywhere in the garden, even up trees and the underside of branches, and it always moves at a considerable speed. Safety belts are essential.
Hurry up, Pinky Ponk!
The Pinky Ponk is a far more sedate way to travel. It's an airship, and instead of separate compartments all the travellers can move about the open-plan gondola. When it lands several gangplanks are extended, for the various sizes of potential users. There are front and rear viewports, and drinks are available.
Neither of these machines have an obvious power source, or a visible pilot. However, there must be a controlling intelligence of some sort, and the ability to implement its commands.
Though the garden appears to cover several acres, the central feature of the garden is the Gazebo. The Gazebo is of circular construction, with the roof supported by five pillars. Amidst the eaves of the roof is a dial on which can be seen pictures of all the objects and creatures that can be found in the garden. This is more than just an ornate place in which the residents of the garden can congregate at times of special celebration; there is a sense in which the Gazebo controls the story of the episode. If the denizens, during the course of their daily ruminations, are confused or puzzled about something the dial on the Gazebo will rotate, and eventual come to stop with the solution to the puzzle facing the screen. Clearly the Gazebo has foreknowledge of the subsequent events that will befall the garden folk. Given that it is such a clear Deus Ex Machina it may be supposed that the voice, somehow, originates from the Gazebo, and that it also controls the movements of the Ninky Nonk and Pinky Ponk.
The Tittifers are a collection of brightly coloured birds. Effectively they are a birdsong orchestra, and each separate section recites its part during the course of the programme. This provides waymarks during the story, and as each bird sings we are drawn one step closer to the inevitable conclusion of the episode. Once the story reaches its denouement, the Tittifers unite and sing together in harmony. The residents of the garden are then drawn to the Gazebo and dance to the tune. The Tittifers' song, and the accompanying dance, marks the beginning of the end of the episode.
In the End
Each of the garden folk (with a few exceptions) is, in turn, shown getting into their respective bed, and enjoined by the disembodied voice to go to sleep. The Haahoos, being huge, could not fit in a bed, but instead they fall asleep leaning again each other. The last individual or group to be tucked up in bed is also given a bedtime story by the voice. The story is actually an illustrated depiction of the main events of the episode thus far, and is generally narrated to the principal player in those events by the voice. Noticeably, each story begins with the scene returning to the Gazebo, with the character dial rotating once more, until it come to rest upon the image of that principal character, again demonstrating the Gazebo's control over the stories in the garden.
There are a few that we do not see going to sleep at all. The Wottingers are a very private family, so it's not surprising that we should be excluded from witnessing their bedtime routine. Equally we are not invited to the Tittifers' respective nests. And finally there is Igglepiggle. He does not have a bed in the garden, and we do not see him sleep there. After the others have gone to sleep we see him hopping, once more, along the stepping stone path towards the gazebo. The voice calls him, and he turns to face the screen. The voice tells him not to worry one last time, and Igglepiggle then waves goodbye to those witnessing this dream.
The light on top of the Gazebo begins to shine a bright blue, and then rises up into the night sky to become the brightest star in the heavenly firmament5. Whilst we maintain our gaze upon this pole star, the ocean starts to rise up from the bottom of the screen. And as the end credits roll, we see Igglepiggle in his little boat on the ocean again, still sleeping, and therefore he must still also be standing in the garden. Perhaps it is here that the real story comes into play. He must remain in the garden until he wakes, keeping watch over its sleeping denizens, guarding and protecting them from the unknown terrors that must, inevitably, lie just beyond the borders of the screen. Whatever efforts to which he must go are evidently successful, for he is able to return, in the next episode, to the welcome calls of his friends. Perhaps, therefore, the assurances of the voice are not misplaced; Igglepiggle really does not need to worry, for he is a hoopy frood who knows where his blanket is.
Have a look at the official website. It's actually quite jolly.