In The Night Garden is the creepiest kids show on TV. Every parent knows it. Angela Cuming digs deep to find out who invented this terrible and annoying show that children all over the world adore.
“That is the creepiest fucking show. My kids love it but it is creepy as fuck.”
That was my friend Ashleigh’s immediate response when I asked her thoughts on In the Night Garden. I think it is fair to say she speaks for every single parent on the face of the Earth.
If there’s ever been a toddler or two in your household you are no doubt familiar with the Night Garden phenomenon. It’s one of the world’s most popular children’s televison shows and features a cast of surreal characters including Iggle Piggle, Makka Pakka, Upsy Daisy and the Pontipines – and their adventures on the Ninky Nonk and the Pink Ponk.
They babble in baby talk and the whole think is narrated by esteemed English Shakespearean thespian Sir Derek Jacobi. The creators describe In the Night Garden as ”the magical place that exists between waking and sleeping in a child’s imagination”.
Sound crazy? You’d be right, but children the world over can’t get enough of the characters and the technicolour world they inhabit.
But since In the Night Garden first aired in 2007 it has divided viewers. There are the parents who hate it and can’t understand what the hell it’s all about, and the babies and toddlers that love it more than anything else on this Earth – thereby forcing their sleep-deprived mamas to sit through hours and hours of a weird blue creature carrying around a red blanket.
And the man who came up with In the Night Garden doesn’t even have kids.
Andrew Davenport, who also created Teletubbies, the world’s second most annoying children’s television show, was 43 when he dreamed up In the Night Garden, condemning millions of parents to a fate worse than being run over by the Ninky Nonk while probably never having to sit through an episode (other than for work) himself.
So what’s it all about, anyway?
Davenport says the opening scene where Iggle Piggle is out at sea in a little boat (”Take the little sail down/Light the little light/This is the way to the garden in the night”) is a metaphor for sleep.
But is it really? There are lots of conspiracy theories out there about In the Night Garden and its hidden meaning.
One theory says he is a sailor, lost at sea and dying, and the Night Garden is all in his mind.
Another says Davenport created Iggle Piggle to look like former British prime minister David Cameron and it helped him win the general election in 2010.
”People have said that,” a laughing Davenport told The Guardian in 2010. ”But David Cameron wasn’t on my mind at any point during the devising of Iggle Piggle.”
But did it help Cameron win? ”It might have made a contribution,” he said, laughing. ”Who knows.”
Another theory is Makka Paka has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is why he lines up all his stones and washes so many faces. There’s of course too much focus on Upsy Daisy promoting promiscuity and casual sex because she likes to get around the Night Garden with her bed in tow. It’s slut shaming if you ask me.
My favourite is that In the Night Garden is secretly teaching our children Chaucer. The theory is that Chaucer’s medieval poetry was largely based on the poet’s dream visions, just like the Night Garden, and his characters were less individuals and more representations of abstract vices and virtues, just like Iggle Piggle and his friends.
But all those theories are, again, the work of grown ups. And subliminal readings of 14th century poetry aside, it still doesn’t explain what on earth In the Night Garden is all about and why children love it so God damn much.
In my own whanau, twins Tommy and Henry, 20 months, and their big brother Charlie, three, adore this show above all others.
When 5pm rolls around the dreaded ”witching hour” kicks in Iggle Piggle steps in to pull them from the brink of a trifecta of meltdowns.
I don’t know how the show does it. Maybe I don’t want to know. There can be three screaming children and as soon as they hear the honking of the Ninky Nonk they turn into calm and peaceful angels, giggling hysterically and clapping their hands and twirling around and generally being gorgeous and happy and calm, lovely little cherubs.
I’ve always found it a wee bit silly myself, although I do have a very real fantasy about crawling into Maka Paka’s cave one day and sleeping for about 24 hours because no one would know I am there and no one could disturb me.
My husband has conflicted feelings about the show, in that he is conflicted about which character and episode he hates the most.
The episode titled ”Too Loud Tombliboos” is actually banned in our house.
Other parents I know are united in their dislike of Night Garden.
”I think it’s pretty trippy, I’ve always thought that whoever writes or directs it is on some good drugs” says one friend. ”It’s the kind of TV that could really drive a sleep-deprived mum around the bend.”
”I found it really irritating the couple of times I’ve seen it,” says another.
But maybe therein lies the secret to its success, at least as far as children are concerned.
If In the Night Garden is surreal and infuriating and annoying and too loud and too repetitive and incomprehensible that’s because THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT. It is all those things and us grown ups aren’t supposed to understand it. There are no in-jokes for parents, no wink-wink over the heads of children to let us boring oldies know that yes, it’s all a bit of silly fluff but look at the little dears, don’t they love it so?
I think the very reason children adore In the Night Garden is because it speaks to them and them only. It’s their little world, not ours, and so perhaps we should stop trying to understand it or rationalise and, like a toddler playing in mud with their good shoes on, let them be.
Maybe we should take a cue from Sir Derek Jacobi, the voice of In the Night Garden, who says worry from parents that their children are going to grow up with a vocabulary of Pinky Ponk and Ninky Nonk and Makka Pakka is all ”rather silly”.
”These may be silly words,” he told The Guardian, “but they are nice words: charming, attractive, fun words”.
(It’s also worth noting Night Garden creator Davenport has studied speech development and the play language he created highlights the sounds and word-parts typical of a toddler’s first attempts at talking).
Perhaps the last word, as it were, is best left to Davenport himself.
In a 2007 he told an interviewer of a childhood memory of going to bed at his grandmother’s house.
”At home, bedtime was much more a matter of just being stuck into bed and hearing stuff go on downstairs, but my grandmother used to make a big thing out of tucking me in very tightly, then she’d play Round and Round the Garden on my palm,” he said.
”That whole sense of being loved…It seemed the right thing to do, to make a calming programme that would capture the atmosphere that I remembered, that sense of peace and security, warmth, the moments of silliness you share with whoever reading you the story.
”To a child those moments are very grounding; that’s how you tell a child about the important things in life.”
Now, is it time to go to sleep?
This content is entirely funded by Flick, New Zealand’s fairest power deal. In the past year, their customers saved $489 on average, which would buy enough nappies for months… and months. Please support us by switching to them right now.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the days' best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.