Teletubbies actor Simon Shelton dies aged 52

Tinky Winky was famously accused of being a "gay role model" in 1999.
Tinky Winky was famously accused of being a "gay role model" in 1999. Photo credit: BBC

The actor who played the role of purple, handbag-carrying Tinky Winky on beloved kids show Teletubbies has died.

Briton Simon Shelton Barnes passed away last week aged 52, leaving behind three children and his wife Emma. It is not clear what caused his death.

Inbetweeners actress Emily Atack, Shelton Barnes' niece, posted a tribute on Instagram to her "wonderful uncle", hailing him as "the kindest and most talented man you could ever wish to meet".

Shelton Barnes played Teletubby Tinky Winky between 1997 and the show's cancellation in early 2001, replacing comedian Dave Thompson early on in its history.

He also played the role of Dark Knight in children's game show Incredible Games.

Shelton Barnes was at the centre of huge media commotion in 1999, when US televangelist Jerry Falwell warned that Tinky Winky had become a "gay role model".

Falwell's reasoning for the label was because Tinky Winky "is purple, the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle: the gay pride symbol".

Speaking to the BBC in 2008, Shelton Barnes said he had no idea Teletubbies "would be as big as it was" when he signed up to the show, but knew "as soon as I started working on it that it had something special".

"It was actually pretty lovely, because we filmed outside in the middle of beautiful countryside for pretty much all summer," he said at the time.

"We were in the countryside with some nice people, and a lovely production company who treated us really well. We had a great time."