In the Night Garden is a television show aimed at infants between one and four years old. It takes place in a magical sunlit garden inhabited by an assortment of weird and wonderful characters. Each episode centres around a specific story featuring one or more of the characters, often involving some type of journey, process, or discovery — and each episode ends with the characters being tucked in their beds ready for a good night’s sleep. Although every one of the characters are unique and exists in the world and interacts with others in their own way, the other characters are unconditionally loving and mutually supportive.
The cast of extraordinary characters and their world they inhabit feels surreal: the blue furry Igglepiggle with his red security blanket; Upsy Daisy who lives in a field of overgrown daisies; the Tombliboos who resemble toddlers and live inside a large hollow bush; Makka Pakka a small beige creature with a bizarre tricycle loaded with a sponge and soap who likes to wash peoples’ faces, and sleeps in a borrow surrounded by neatly stacked pebbles; The Pontipines and The Wottingers are two large families, tiny wooden creatures physically resembling characters from Camberwick Green, and living in either side of an appropriately diminutive terraced house; The Haahoos are a form of colourful and benevolent balloon species, good-karma versions of the malevolent floating sphere from The Prisoner; The Ninky Nonk is a sentient train, and the Pinky Ponk an airship resembling a flying puffer fish; the Tittifers are a group of colourful birds that sing the song that heralds bedtime.
The surreal quality of the show’s characters and garden environment combines with the sometimes weirdly illogical shifts in perspective and size. The Ninky Nonk and The Pinky Ponk appear too small to carry people, but with their Tardis-like property of distorting space they appear significantly larger on the inside. And while many of the tasks the characters perform resemble ordinary chores like washing and putting on clothes, they’re often handled in an oblique way. The Tombliboos, for example, remove their trousers before going into their house, and Makka Pakka pushes his tricycle around the garden looking for people to wash.
In the world of In the Night Garden eccentricity and strangeness mirrors the experience of the 1 to 4-year-old infant where everything is new, strange and extraordinary. Many things don’t make sense, like having to brush your teeth, or to have a wash; so, the surreal aspect of things as it appears to adults might be less ‘odd’ to infants who don’t know any better. The male narrator is the guide to this quirky world. He helps to explain and make sense of the goings on — always calmly and gently describing the events.
In the Night Garden presents infants with a world where individual characters can be who they are without conforming to an externally foisted notion of what they should be. They are free to be themselves in this loving and supportive environment.