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Tinky Winky actor Simon Shelton Barnes dies aged 52 - News Channels
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Tinky Winky actor Simon Shelton Barnes dies aged 52

(From left) Po, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Tinky Winky in the BBC children


The actor who played Tinky Winky in BBC children’s TV series Teletubbies died aged 52 of hypothermia after collapsing on the streets of Liverpool, a friend confirmed today.

Simon Shelton Barnes, a father-of-three from Ampthill in Bedfordshire, had trained as a ballet dancer and choreographer before taking on the role as the purple Teletubby who carried a ‘magic bag’ in the show from 1998 to 2001.

Today, his flatmate Judith Tynan, who is the cousin of his ex-wife Emma Robbins and lived with him on the Wirral for the final year of his life, paid tribute to the ‘charming and handsome’ actor.

She told MailOnline: ‘I’m very floored at losing him, he was just the best company. He was just the best person to live with and we got on terribly well.

(From left) Po, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Tinky Winky in the BBC children's show Teletubbies

(From left) Po, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Tinky Winky in the BBC children's show Teletubbies

(From left) Po, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Tinky Winky in the BBC children’s show Teletubbies

Simon Shelton Barnes had trained as a dancer and choreographer before taking on the role

Simon Shelton Barnes had trained as a dancer and choreographer before taking on the role

Simon Shelton Barnes had trained as a dancer and choreographer before taking on the role

‘I’m gobsmacked at losing him. He was charming and handsome and delicate and so lovely to be around. He wasn’t difficult, he was pleasurable and a delicate man.’

She said the Teletubbies was his ‘pièce de résistance’ and they ‘laughed a lot about it because it was silly and he used to tell me that costume weighed 60lbs’.

Ms Tynan continued: ‘It was a big to-do to wear it because it was just a big thing, but it made him – it made his life and put him on the map.

‘It was a very good time in his life and he was privileged to have been part of that success, I think. I think it worked for him.

‘If you’re famous everybody knows your face – but they didn’t know his face, but he had a big time of it, and it worked. And he had a good living from it.’

Ms Tynan said he had gone into photography in recent year, adding: ‘He was a handsome chap; very good looking.

‘I used to say to him every morning, ‘Goodness Simon, how do you look so good? He was just a very good looking chap. He was a great flatmate.’

She insisted that she and Barnes were not a couple but just ‘very, very good friends – and everybody used to think we were a couple, but we weren’t’.

Merseyside Police confirmed to MailOnline today that officers were called to reports that a man had died in the Mann Island area of Liverpool last Wednesday. 

Yesterday, John Simmit, who was Dipsy in the show, tweeted: ‘What a week! RIP Simon Shelton aka Tinky Winky: remembering the many good times. Rest easy. 

Actor John Simmit, who played Dipsy in the show, tweeted that he was remembering the 'good times'. Simmit is pictured (from left) with Nikky Smedley [Laa Laa], Barnes and Pui Fan Lee [Po]

Actor John Simmit, who played Dipsy in the show, tweeted that he was remembering the 'good times'. Simmit is pictured (from left) with Nikky Smedley [Laa Laa], Barnes and Pui Fan Lee [Po]

Actor John Simmit, who played Dipsy in the show, tweeted that he was remembering the ‘good times’. Simmit is pictured (from left) with Nikky Smedley [Laa Laa], Barnes and Pui Fan Lee [Po]

Barnes (pictured on set) was initially reluctant to take on the role that led to him being sent fan mail from adults as well as children and feeling like a member of The Beatles

Barnes (pictured on set) was initially reluctant to take on the role that led to him being sent fan mail from adults as well as children and feeling like a member of The Beatles

Barnes (pictured on set) was initially reluctant to take on the role that led to him being sent fan mail from adults as well as children and feeling like a member of The Beatles

‘Lots of messaging between cast and crew as we became a tight bunch over six years on location. We’ll give him an appropriate send off in a couple of weeks.’

The post by Simmit, who is now a stand-up comedian, was retweeted by Po actress Pui Fan Lee, who now presents the CBeebies programme Show Me, Show Me.

Today, his flatmate Judith Tynan (above) paid tribute to the 'charming and handsome' actor

Today, his flatmate Judith Tynan (above) paid tribute to the 'charming and handsome' actor

Today, his flatmate Judith Tynan (above) paid tribute to the ‘charming and handsome’ actor

Barnes, whose character was known for carrying the red bag, was the brother-in-law of Poldark actor Robert Daws and uncle of Inbetweeners star Emily Atack. 

Atack, who played Charlotte Hinchcliffe in the E4 comedy, said: ‘My wonderful uncle Simon Barnes has been taken from us all so suddenly.’

She wrote in an Instagram post that he was the ‘kindest and most talented man you could ever wish to meet’, adding: ‘Loved by all who knew him, and will be forever.’ 

Simmit, Pui and Barnes appeared in the show – whose characters had the catchphrase ‘Eh Oh!’ – alongside Nikky Smedley, who played Laa Laa.

Barnes was initially reluctant to take on the role that led to him being sent fan mail from adults as well as children and feeling like a member of The Beatles. 

He once said: ‘I started my career as a ballet dancer and had just started working as a choreographer. I thought it was a bit of a risky move but it certainly paid off.

‘We used to receive a lot of fan mail from kids and parents. I suppose we were a bit like the Beatles or the Take That of children’s television.’

Barnes was the uncle of Inbetweeners star Emily Atack, who posted this Instagram tribute

Barnes was the uncle of Inbetweeners star Emily Atack, who posted this Instagram tribute

Barnes was the uncle of Inbetweeners star Emily Atack, who posted this Instagram tribute

Also paying tribute to him was singer Paul McCartney’s brother Mike McGear, who is a second cousin of Barnes’s former wife, actress Emma Robbins.

Mr McGear wrote on Facebook: ‘So sad to hear about Si. He was a lovely lad… and will be dancing along Uncle Bills bar, knocking Mum and Dad, Milly and Ginny, Mike and Betts drinks off, as we talk! Love to you and kids from me and mine.’

And Barnes’s son Henry said: ‘I lost my lovely dad on Wednesday, he was the kindest and most gentle man I knew and I love him more than anything.

‘I always used to be embarrassed as a child that he was a dancer and an actor but now I couldn’t be more proud. 

‘He is in a better place now and I know he wouldn’t want me to be sad, so I’m going to live my life the way he would want me to.’

His daughter Lydia Barnes added: ‘I love you so much Dad… always have, always will. The most beautiful man in the world. Forever in my heart.’

And the CBeebies parenting Twitter feed tweeted: ‘Very sad to hear Teletubbies actor Simon Shelton who played Tinky Winky has passed away! Tubby hugs.’ 

Barnes was not the original Tinky Winky in Teletubbies, although he did play the character on the BBC Two show between 1998 and 2001.

His predecessor Dave Thompson, who is now a comedian, was allegedly sacked by producers Ragdoll for ‘misinterpreting’ the role and implying the Teletubby was gay. 

Barnes said the sexuality of the character was a question he was frequently asked because of Tinky Winky’s penchant for hand bags.

Mr Barnes the brother-in-law of Poldark actor Robert Daws

Mr Barnes the brother-in-law of Poldark actor Robert Daws

Mr Barnes was the uncle of Inbetweeners star Emily Atack

Mr Barnes was the uncle of Inbetweeners star Emily Atack

Barnes was the brother-in-law of Poldark actor Robert Daws (left) and uncle of Atack (right)

Daws appeared in Poldark as Dr Choake (right, alongside Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark)

Daws appeared in Poldark as Dr Choake (right, alongside Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark)

Daws appeared in Poldark as Dr Choake (right, alongside Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark)

‘People always ask me if Tinky Winky is gay,’ he said. ‘But the character is supposed to be a three-year-old so the question is really quite silly.’ 

He once became embroiled in a row over the sexuality of Tinky Winky, who was accused of being a gay role model that could be morally damaging to children.

Evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell said in 1999: ‘He is purple – the gay-pride colour; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle – the gay-pride symbol.’ 

He also appeared in the BBC children’s game show Incredible Games in 1994 and 1995, and was a featured dancer in the 1993 musical drama film Swing Kids. 

Teletubbies was watched by one billion children across more than 120 countries in 45 languages. It spawned a number one single, Teletubbies say ‘Eh-oh!’, in 1997. 

Barnes recently posted on Facebook how he had spent Christmas Day with friends on the Wirral in Merseyside.

Judith Tynan, with whom he spent Christmas, posted on Facebook last Friday: ‘Simon, I miss your company more than words can say.’ 

His family has asked mourners to ‘wear bright colours’ for his funeral at Bedford Crematorium in a fortnight’s time on February 7.

A Merseyside Police spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We were called to a report that a man had died in the Mann Island area of Liverpool on January 17. 

‘His death is not being treated as non-suspicious and a file has been prepared for the coroner.’ 

Tinky Winky is withdrawn from Toy Fair following news of actor’s death

An actor dressed as Tinky Winky was photographed at The London Toy Fair trade show at Olympia in Kensington today, alongside another dressed as Po.

But a spokesman for the fair told MailOnline: ‘Having been made aware of the actor Simon Shelton, who played Tinky Winky in the Teletubbies, passing away, Toy Fair has liaised with the relevant licensors and have agreed to withdraw the Tinky Winky character out of respect for the rest of the fair.’

An actor dressed as Tinky Winky was seen today at The London Toy Fair at Olympia, which has 260 exhibiting companies showcasing products to industry professionals

An actor dressed as Tinky Winky was seen today at The London Toy Fair at Olympia, which has 260 exhibiting companies showcasing products to industry professionals

An actor dressed as Tinky Winky was seen today at The London Toy Fair at Olympia, which has 260 exhibiting companies showcasing products to industry professionals

Where are the Teletubbies now? How Dipsy is a stand-up comedian, Laa Laa worked on choreographing In The Night Garden and Po presents a CBeebies show

Po, Laa-Laa, Dipsy, Tinky Winky were on Teletubbies which ran on the BBC from 1997 to 2001

Po, Laa-Laa, Dipsy, Tinky Winky were on Teletubbies which ran on the BBC from 1997 to 2001

Po, Laa-Laa, Dipsy, Tinky Winky were on Teletubbies which ran on the BBC from 1997 to 2001

JOHN SIMMIT: DIPSY 

Dipsy actor John Simmit is now a comedian

Dipsy actor John Simmit is now a comedian

Dipsy actor John Simmit is now a comedian

Bright green Dipsy, the ‘coolest’ Teletubby, who was fond of hats was played by John Simmit, 54, who was and still is a stand-up comedian.

‘I was a stand-up before I became Dipsy so I carried on doing that when the series came to an end five years ago,’ he said at the show’s ten year anniversary celebrations. 

‘The stand-up circuit is pretty close-knit so people got to know that I was Dipsy – but I never mentioned it on stage.’

He tweeted yesterday: ‘What a week! RIP Simon Shelton aka Tinky Winky: remembering the many good times. Rest easy.

‘Lots of messaging between cast and crew as we became a tight bunch over six years on location. We’ll give him an appropriate send off in a couple of weeks.’

Actress Pui Fan Lee, 46, played the cute, red Po. She is pictured on set in Warwickshire

Actress Pui Fan Lee, 46, played the cute, red Po. She is pictured on set in Warwickshire

Actress Pui Fan Lee, 46, played the cute, red Po. She is pictured on set in Warwickshire

PUI FAN LEE: PO 

Actress Pui Fan Lee, 46, played the cute, red Po. 

When the show ended, the British-Chinese actress moved on to hosting CBeebies, the BBC’s channel for children aged six and under. 

She has also presented Show Me, Show Me, which was aimed at pre-school children.

In 2001, Pui stirred some controversy after playing a seductive lesbian in the Channel 4 show Metrosexuality. 

Some were shocked when, in one episode, the actress performed a sex act with another woman.

In response, Pui said: ‘I didn’t taken the lesbian role to be deliberately controversial. Yes, I was Po. 

‘But I am an actress too and the role looked interesting, exciting and challenging.’

Pui (left) has more recently presented Show Me Show Me on CBeebies with Chris Jarvis (right)

Pui (left) has more recently presented Show Me Show Me on CBeebies with Chris Jarvis (right)

Pui (left) has more recently presented Show Me Show Me on CBeebies with Chris Jarvis (right)

She added: ‘When we were in the show it was weird because we never dreamed anyone would be the slightest bit interested in us. 

‘But at the height of our popularity there were photographers jumping out of bushes.’ 

NIKKY SMEDLEY: LAA LAA

Dancer Nikky Smedley, 49, got the role of Laa Laa after replying to a newspaper advert

Dancer Nikky Smedley, 49, got the role of Laa Laa after replying to a newspaper advert

Dancer Nikky Smedley, 49, got the role of Laa Laa after replying to a newspaper advert

Dancer Nikky Smedley, 49, got the role of Laa Laa after replying to a newspaper advert.

While the Teletubbies always looked like they were having a jolly old time, life in the suit was difficult, she revealed. 

The actors worked 11 hour days and the suits were heavy and hot.

Since the show’s conclusion, Nikky’s contributed to children’s TV show Boohbah and choreographed another of the BBC’s hit children shows, In the Night Garden.

She also spoke out in 2012 to deny claims that the show was laced with gay innuendo.

Smedley said: ‘I think it’s embarrassing for the people who said it. What kind of person can take the obvious innocence and turn it into something else? We were hardly sexual beings.’

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