Exclusive extract from Go By Ninky Nonk: The Uncensored Oral History of In The Night Garden...

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

DHX Media


The genre-shifting children's show In The Night Garden... which originally aired on the BBC between 2007 and 2009, was a hit with toddlers and parents alike. But behind the colourful dreamworld and its cast of trippy yet delightful characters lay a much darker reality; a tale of clashing egos, forbidden attractions, heavy work schedules and even heavier partying, and a creator with an artistic vision many believed was impossible to film. We find a show threatening to fall apart behind the scenes even as, on camera, they drew together to create paradigm-shifting art that laid the groundwork for such future television as Twin Peaks: The Return and Squid Game. In this exclusive extract from the upcoming book Go By Ninky Nonk: the Uncensored Oral History of In The Night Garden... the cast and crew reflect on returning from hiatus to shoot the Second Season Premiere, "Slow Down Everybody!" 


ANDREW DAVENPORT (SERIES CREATOR): By that point in my career, my commitment to my artistic vision was absolutely uncompromising.


MAKKA PAKKA (CAST MEMBER): When we wrapped [on Season One] we all knew we'd achieved something unique, something paradigm shifting. We'd taken children's television to places it had never been before, places people never thought it could go. But we could never be sure that the Beeb [BBC] would see it Andrew's way. He always said "If we're one and done, it was worth it to share my vision of the Haahoos. Sure, a line of creepy, bouncing six by six foot balloons set to ominous music might terrify toddlers, but they need to learn that it's a terrifying world out there". Just things like that, you know? Andy is a genius. We just weren't sure if the stilted suits in executive programming would see what we saw. But you know what, kids loved the Haahoos. I don't know, I don't really get kids. Anyway, we were all thrilled to hear we were renewed. We couldn't wait to go back.


IGGLEPIGGLE (CAST MEMBER): I didn't want to go back. 


ANDREW DAVENPORT: It was great to get the go ahead for Season Two, but also daunting. As far as we'd pushed the bounds of kids' TV with Teletubbies, then redefined the genre in Season One, we knew we'd have to raise the bar even higher. 


IGGLEPIGGLE: I was in the final audition process for Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway. I was down to the last three for Hedwig. It was the role of a lifetime, and I was feeling really good about it. England's kind of a small pond for the performing arts, really, and I felt like I'd taken the theatre and TV scene there as far as I could. So I'm waiting to hear back. but we were getting to the two month point, and I had to decide if I renewed my lease in London. At this point Davenport calls and says, it's a go, Night Garden is back on. He wanted me back for the series. What do you do? It's steady work and you've gotta pay the bills. On the other hand, it was been there, done that. And of course, there was the thing with Upsy Daisy.  


UPSY DAISY (CAST MEMBER): Only Upsy Daisy is allowed to sleep in Upsy Daisy's bed. 


ANDREW DAVENPORT: Ohh...Upsy Daisy. Brilliant performer. When she's on screen, you can't look at anyone else. She wouldn't let you look at anyone else. But the incident with the sound grip, yeah. We could have done without that.


ANNE WOOD (PRODUCER): We had a bunch of beds made for Upsy Daisy. I think there were four. That way, we always had a fresh bed ready to go for filming. She doesn't like to have to wait, and time is money. But they're prop beds, you know, not really built to last, especially with a heavy production schedule like ours. Anyway, we'd retired one of the beds; the frame was creaking. It was still in prop storage, we hadn't gotten around to throwing it out yet. 


ANDREW DAVENPORT:  We were filming the scene where Igglepiggle's blanket runs around by itself. We just couldn't get the shot right. We knew we absolutely had to nail this one. It was our Gotta Light? [Twin Peaks episode]. It was the scene that would elevate Night Garden to the next level, make people take a new look at what British Television could do. It would get everyone talking, challenge the audience, asking questions no one could answer. Well, I know the answers [laughs]. So yeah, we had to get the scene right. It just wasn't quite coming together. We'd been at it all night, everyone was starting to droop and lose focus. So Dirk [Campbell, Director] called a 30 minute break at about 3 A.M., telling everyone to clear their heads and rest, ahead of the final push to film the scene. Some of the cast and crew gathered in the cafeteria, it was getting a bit rowdy. The poor grip goes looking for a quiet place to catch some Zs, and he finds Upsy Daisy's discarded bed in the prop locker.    


UPSY DAISY: Only Upsy Daisy is allowed to sleep in Upsy Daisy's bed.


ANNE WOOD: He knew the rule about Upsy Daisy's bed, of course. Everyone knew. But he figured that since this bed was just waiting until someone could throw it in the skip bin, it would be fine. 


IGGLEPIGGLE: It wasn't fine.


UPSY DAISY: Only Upsy Daisy is allowed to sleep in Upsy Daisy's bed.


ANNE WOOD: Upsy Daisy found him. She went beserk. Her dressing room was right nearby. She grabbed the bottle of bourbon she'd been drinking, and just started pounding on this poor guy around the head and chest. He kept saying he was sorry, that he thought the bed was basically garbage now, but she didn't care; it was her bed, and she just kept swinging her bottle at him. By the time IP [Igglepiggle] and Mr. Pontipine [cast member] heard the commotion and ran in to pull her off, he really wasn't talking much anymore.


IGGLEPIGGLE: God, it was horrible. I mean, it really was unimaginably awful. People came running and I yelled "Someone call 999!". This poor guy...he was only a young guy, maybe 23. I only knew him to look at, but after Upsy Daisy got at him, his own mother wouldn't have known him to look at. His face was swollen and red, turning purple. His eyes were swollen shut, there was blood pouring from his nose, cuts on his forehead. It was a terrible scene. I tried to get him to stand up, but he could barely lift his head. He was mumbling a bit so I tried to talk to him, keep him conscious. You couldn't really understand what he was saying, apart from occasionally muttering "Daisy, sorry Daisy". And Daisy was still screaming. Pontipine and Andy Davenport eventually managed to drag her away, though she was kicking and screaming the whole time. 

The ambulance finally showed up. Even the paramedics looked kinda shocked at the scene. I think Anne went with him to the hospital. After they'd left, everyone was kind of stunned. No one knew what to say. We didn't know where Upsy Daisy was, if the police were coming or what. Eventually Andy told us that we were done for the night, to go home. If an intense perfectionist like Andy Davenport wraps up early, you know shit is serious. 


ANDREW DAVENPORT: We managed to keep the whole thing quiet. Money...was exchanged. I guess I can say that now, after all these years. We knew we had to keep it quiet. We didn't have a show without Upsy Daisy. 


UPSY DAISY: Only Upsy Daisy is allowed to sleep in Upsy Daisy's bed.


ANNE WOOD: He had a fractured skull. When he came out of surgery, the doctors said it would be a waiting game to see if he'd sustained any brain damage. His family didn't want any of us in the hospital after that, but I did learn later that although he needed several months of in patient rehabilitation, he didn't have a major brain injury. We eventually came to a financial agreement with the family. I think the non disclosure agreement is still in place. Though we're disclosing it now [laughs]. You won't print this, will you?


MAKKA PAKKA: By the time we came back, I think we were all just trying to put that night behind us. 


IGGLEPIGGLE: I couldn't put it behind me. It took me a long time to get over it. I think some of the issues I had later, with the drinking, came down to what I'd seen. I didn't know how to face Upsy Daisy, it just seemed wrong, that she got no consequences. I knew if we went back for a second season, I'd have to see her, that's why she got away with it in the first place, that she was the linchpin of the show. 

And she was always hugging and kissing me. 


ANDREW DAVENPORT: Upsy Daisy was our nucleus, but when Anne and I sat down to write the second season, we couldn't just rely on what we'd done before. My aim with In The Night Garden was always to push boundaries, to flip the narrative. I wanted audiences to come away thinking "what did I just see?" and never be quite sure where we were going to take them next. 

My original vision for "Slow Down, Everybody!" was that the Ninky Nonk would take Igglepiggle and Makka Pakka to another dimension, just as a nuclear explosion destroyed the existing garden world. Igglepiggle and Makka Pakka would find themselves in an alternative reality where their friends toil in a drab, grey sweatshop producing Night Garden merchandise to the ominous beat of bongo drums, until Tombliboo Unn stands up, says directly to camera in a distorted voice "war is the tool of the capitalist death merchants", then aims a shotgun at the camera and fires, at which stage the scene would dissolve to a 16 minute, single take shot of the inside of a snow globe.


ANNE WOOD: The BBC said absolutely not. 


ANDREW DAVENPORT: But I decided we should go in another direction. It was completely my decision. I'd never let the producers at the network interfere with the creative direction of the show. They're business people. They are not artists.  I am an artist. And I just knew I had something even more daring than the characters imprisoned in a destroyed reality as a metaphor for the joyless future for our toddler audience in the dying days of capitalism on a ruined planet. And that was what I came up with next, the Tombliboos playing the bongos. So we went with it. 


TOMBLIBOO UNN (CAST MEMBER): I was thrilled when I got the script. I've been a session musician for years. I've played on just about every rock album produced in the UK in the 2000s. That's me you hear on Take Me Out and Mr. Brightside. Well, you might not hear me, but I'm there. But at the time, I was trying to get established as an independent performer. On the strength of my session work, I'd released a single, a cover of "We Can Make The World A Whole Lot Brighter", which was originally recorded by The Brady Bunch. My label dropped me. So it was frustrating during Season One, that I didn't get a chance to show what I can actually do, music wise. I'd signed on to the show with the promise that the use of our music, played on camera, would be pivotal to the show, but all we seemed to do was run around like we were off our heads on E.


ANNE WOOD: Sometimes they were off their heads on E.


TOMBLIBOO UNN: The script for "Slow Down, Everybody!" called for us to play live, so that was exciting. I just hoped the others would bring the same dedication to the music as I would.


TOMBLIBOO EEE (CAST MEMBER): I'd viewed [Tombliboo] Ooo as a flake for years. She was part of the whole Amanda de Cadenet tabloid set, then when the rest of them grew up, she started trying to be Amy Winehouse. She was like Amy with the drugs, but not the talent. She was always in the paper for the wrong reasons - the fights outside nightclubs, the arrests. I couldn't have imagined I'd end up working with her, so when we started Night Garden, and I saw she was cast in the musical group with me, my first instinct was to run. Anne and Andy told me she'd been sober for a year, that she'd changed, she was focused on the music now. Well, okay. I'll give the show my best, and I expect the same from the people I work with. 


ANNE WOOD: I believe in second chances. Look at Hahoo Four. The pressure of being hyped as the next Tom Hanks is going to get to any 20 year old, let alone one from the dysfunctional background he came from. It just got to be too much, and when you've got a young kid, too much money, no one looking out for him - well, what happened was inevitable. But the two years in San Quentin turned out to be the making of him. He got sober, got straight, got the fire back to make something of his life. We got so much flack for casting him, look how it turned out. Maybe next time he's between starring alongside Meryl Streep and picking up the Palme d'Or, he can give his old friends a call.


ANDREW DAVENPORT: We were hoping for the same from Tombliboo Ooo. That faith...was misplaced.


TOMBLIBOO EEE: I knew she was using again. They wouldn't listen to me.


ANNE WOOD: The first day back on set and we were all pumped up. Everything was ready, the sets, the cast, the crew. We'd filled Upsy Daisy's room with the ghost orchids she insisted on, and supplied Igglepiggle with the half tonne of fresh wet sod he requested for his dressing room. I don't know what he did with it, but that's what he asked for.


IGGLEPIGGLE: Before I agreed to this interview, I said I wasn't going to talk about the sod. I think...I think we're done for now. Turn the voice recorder off, man. Turn it off. [At this stageIgglepiggle stormed out of the hotel room, but after much neogtiation, agreed to continue the interview on another day]. 


MAKKA PAKKA: We shot my scenes first. They knew they could count on me; they called me a rock. But that day, I wasn't a rock, I was magic. Sir Laurence Olivier couldn't have brought the emotion to clapping and shaking his butt that I did. I thought I was a lock for best actor at the BAFTAs, but I wasn't even nominated. It's blatant anti rock dwelling puppet discrimination.


ANDREW DAVENPORT: That was all fine, but then we had to shoot the critical scene where the Tombliboos are playing the drums in their weird, mound like house. This was the pivotal scene. We had to get it right. 


IGGLEPIGGLE: We were using the Pinky Ponk in this episode. We usually used the Ninky Nonk, which is the toy train. I hated that damn train. No one knew how big it was supposed to be. In some episodes it was shown as only a couple of inches high, and other times it was several feet tall. Andrew Davenport never explained it, and that pissed me off. 


ANDREW DAVENPORT:  Boy, I hope somebody got fired for that blunder!


IGGLEPIGGLE: And he makes that stupid joke. He's the creator. It was his blunder.


ANNE WOOD: Normally Dirk would film these scenes as director solo, but because this was such a crucial moment for the show, we worked together that day. Unn was up first, she did her drumming nice and slow, like in the script. But I could tell something was...off, with all three of them. They were all jumping around, making little twittering noises, and had enormous dilated pupils. I decided to keep rolling. 


TOMBLIBOO UNN: Ooo made us each a cup of tea that morning. To be fair, she did this sometimes, usually when she wanted forgiveness for showing up for filming five hours late. We didn't know that day, that she'd put ecstasy in the tea. 


ANNE WOOD: Ooo was up next. She was supposed to drum slowly, same pace as Unn. But she just started bashing the shit out of the drums. Derek [Jacobi, narrator] was trying to reel her in, asking her to drum nice and slowly. But she was on a tear that morning. She'd pretend to listen, then speed up again. Finally we decided to move on to Eee's part, and fill in for Ooo with B roll. But Eee's fast drumming was even worse.  

Well, it was all on from then. Unn and Ooo took off, and it set the others off as well. Upsy Daisy and Igglepiggle started fast dancing. Makka Pakka began washing his rocks at high speed. Even the Hahoos started bounding around. 


ANDREW DAVENPORT: They're full of helium. They only weigh 4kg each. Somehow they still managed to cause £600,000 damage to the set. 


ANNE WOOD: We had to stop filming. It was chaos. A couple of the camera guys managed to deflate the Hahoos by puncturing them with forks from the catering van. To get Daisy to slow down, we told her the Wottingers were heading for a nap in her bed. She immediately headed off to claim her bed. 


UPSY DAISY: Only Upsy Daisy is allowed to sleep in Upsy Daisy's bed.


ANNE WOOD: Derek Jacobi was able to calm Igglepiggle down by swaddling him tightly in his red blanket and softly intoning "you're very safe now" in his ear. Well, towards the place where his ears would be if he had any. 


IGGLEPIGGLE: I got home that day to a voicemail from my agent saying I'd booked the role of Hedwig. And I was stuck in the stupid contract for the new season. It wasn't one of my best days. All I could do was pour myself three fingers of scotch. It was the start of a very dark time for me, but that's another story.


ANDREW DAVENPORT: I went down to Makka Pakka's cave and asked if he wanted to stop washing his rocks and play backgammon with me. I lost on purpose. He thinks he's a champion backgammon player but he isn't, bless him. You've got to keep the talent happy. 


MAKKA PAKKA: First the filming, then my win at backgammon. I was on fire that day.


ANNE WOOD: That part was easy. But we still had to find the Tombliboos. Eventually we found Unn and Eee sitting behind their mound house, swaying gently as they told each other how much they loved each other, and how the stripes on their costumes were the stripiest stripes in perpetuity throughout the universe. We got the medic to check them over, and were able to work out what had happened. They were very forgiving really and didn't want to press charges. 


TOMBLIBOO UNN: I wanted to press charges. Being banged up for drugging us might have been the wake up call Ooo needed. Also I was pissed off. Her irresponsible behaviour had ruined my chance of showing the British public my range as a musician - that I can drum slow as well as fast. But they offered me  £25,000 not to press charges, so I took it. After the damage this had done to my career, I knew I needed the money. 


ANNE WOOD: Most of the cast and crew went home, but we still needed to find Tombliboo Ooo. We searched for hours. It was a closed set, there were only so many places she could be. Finally, we found her under Upsy Daisy's bed, convinced she was Grand Duchess Anastasia, awakening from suspended animation to warn George R.R. Martin to finish writing Winds of Winter before Netflix can commission the final seasons of Game of Thrones. It turns out she had taken cocaine and ketamine as well as the ecstasy, and was in what I've since learned is called a K hole. 


ANDREW DAVENPORT: We knew then the problem was bigger than any of us had realised. After Ooo was released from hospital, we paid for her to stay for three months at [mental health and addiction clinic], The Priory. I haven't been in contact with her for a few years now, but I believe she's still doing well. I did read in the Times that she has been appointed as a Senior Advisor to Boris Johnson.  


ANNE WOOD: Whilst Ooo was in rehab, Judi Dench stepped into her role and did a wonderful job. In order not to confuse our toddler audience, we didn't announce the casting change in the show.


ANDREW DAVENPORT: It was an amazing time in my life. Challenging, but amazing. I'd love to have a reunion actually, find out what everyone is up to now. 


IGGLEPIGGLE: I did a stint working as a traffic cone. It was a pilot program to test using blue traffic cones instead of the international standard orange. It didn't work out, but I'm sure the people who lost their lives would be comforted to know they furthered the cause of road safety. 


TOMBLIBOO UNN: Although I'm no longer acting or playing music, I've not abandoned the creative life. I now trade in crypto and NFTs.


MAKKA PAKKA: Eventually I tired of the industry prejudice against three foot tall beige puppets that look like an old sofa chair set out in the hard rubbish collection. I've retired as an actor; I'm now a Senior Executive in Analytics at Facebook. I still keep in touch with some of the others. I even went to see Upsy Daisy at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. She plays a strolling Bellatrix in the park. It's perfect for her. No one terrifies children like Upsy Daisy.


ANDREW DAVENPORT: Daisy hasn't lost any of her fire. That's wonderful for the craft of acting, not so good for us. If she ever finds out Tombliboo Ooo was under her bed, she'll kill us all. 

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