Thomas the Tank Engine

Thomas the Tank Engine

Thomas the Tank Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic tank locomotive created by the Rev. W. V. Awdry in his Railway Series books, made into the British children's television series "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" (later simplified to "Thomas and Friends") and its American spin-off "Shining Time Station".

In his first appearance in the television series he was described as follows:

Thomas the Tank Engine first appeared in 1946 in the book "Thomas the Tank Engine" as a station pilot, whose job was to shunt coaches and trucks for the bigger engines. He longed for more important jobs such as pulling the express train like Gordon, but his inexperience prevented this. Eventually he was responsible for rescuing James after an accident, and the Fat Controller (then known as the Fat Director) decided that he was a Really Useful Engine, and ready for his own branch line. He has remained in charge of this line ever since.

His closest friends are Annie and Clarabel, his two coaches. He is also very good friends with Percy (despite a lot of arguments), Toby, his old friend Edward, and his frequent substitute Duck.

Thomas is based on the E2 Class 0-6-0T locomotives built for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway between 1913 and 1916.

The Railway Series

In the Railway Series he has generally been depicted with a cheeky and even self-important personality Fact|date=January 2008. He believes that he should be more respected by the others, and he gets annoyed when he does not receive this respect. Luckily, Percy and Toby are more than capable of standing up to him, and Annie and Clarabel often rebuke him.

He is aware of his fame in the real world, and following a visit to the National Railway Museum at York he became an honorary member of the National Collection, joining such legendary locomotives as Mallard, City of Truro and Rocket.

The Thomas of the early stories looks a little different from the one shown in later ones. Following the events of the story "Thomas Comes to Breakfast", in which Thomas crashed into the Stationmaster's house and tore up his front buffer beam, it was rebuilt without the "dip" it had previously had. The Rev. Awdry had noticed that the dip had put Thomas's front buffers out of line with his back ones, hence the story. He has kept this ever since in the Railway Series. However, Thomas has always kept his curved front buffer beam in the television series.

Thomas has been the source of some friction between Christopher Awdry and his publishers, who repeatedly asked for more books centred around the character Fact|date=January 2008. Although Thomas was the most popular character in the books Fact|date=January 2008, both Wilbert and Christopher Awdry had always treated the characters in the books as an ensemble, and so before the television series there had only been two books named after Thomas ("Thomas the Tank Engine" and "Tank Engine Thomas Again"). After the debut of the television series, there were five more ("More About Thomas the Tank Engine", "Thomas and the Twins", "Thomas and the Great Railway Show", "Thomas Comes Home", "Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines"). Some of these are rather tenuous in their links with the character: "Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines" (the 50th anniversary volume, originally to be called "The Fat Controller's Engines") has only one story out of the four centred on Thomas; in "Thomas Comes Home", Thomas appears only on the last page, the rest of the book dealing with the other engines on his branch line while he was away at York.

Behind the scenes

When the Rev. W. Awdry created Thomas, the engine existed only as a push-along wooden toy made for his son, Christopher. This engine looked rather different from the character in the books and television series, and carried the letters NW on its side tanks. Awdry claimed that this stood for "No Where", but later publications identified the railway Thomas and his friends worked on as the North Western Railway.

Awdry wrote four stories about Thomas, which were collected into a book called "Thomas the Tank Engine". For this, the publisher hired an illustrator named Reginald Payne. Payne decided to base his version of Thomas on a real locomotive, an 0-6-0 E2 Class of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. Awdry was initially annoyed that Thomas in the book differed so substantially from his original model, but was satisfied when Payne explained that he was taken from a real prototype. In later books Awdry based all his characters on real locomotive classes.

One detail of Thomas's design bothered Awdry. This was the fact that the front end of his footplate featured a downward slope, which meant that his front and back buffers were at different levels. This was an illustrator's mistake that was perpetuated in subsequent books. The accident in 'Thomas Comes to Breakfast' was partly devised as a means of correcting this.

Unfortunately, despite creating the visual image of such an iconic character, Payne did not receive any credit for his work, and it is only since the publication of Brian Sibley's "The Thomas the Tank Engine Man" that he has started to receive major recognition. It had often been erroneously assumed that C. Reginald Dalby, responsible for illustrating books 3-11 and repainting the illustrations of book 1, was the character's creator.

TV Series

In the early series of Thomas the Tank Engine, Thomas's personality was similar to that used in the books. From Season 6 onwards his character was modified: he became less cheeky and pompous. He is now kind to other engines, and always ready to stand up for a friend in need. He is always eager to prove himself, and has had many exciting adventures as a result. He was not cheeky again until "Calling All Engines" or The Great Discovery.

He no longer appears to be limited to his branch line and now seems to work all over Sodor. These changes in his personality and duties are a result of his "star" status. He is the most popular character in the series, and therefore he has the largest number of appearances.

In the Japanese version of Seasons 1-8 Thomas was played by Keiko Toda, his new voice in Season 9 is provided by Junko Takeuchi.


Thomas's on-screen appearances have been produced by The Britt Allcroft Company, now Gullane Entertainment, and distributed in more than 120 countries. The TV series, first broadcast in 1984, was narrated by former Beatle Ringo Starr, Michael Angelis in later editions. (In the U.S. video releases Starr was followed by comedian George Carlin, then actor Alec Baldwin.)
* Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell composed the show's original main title theme, songs, and incidental music from the years 1984 to 2003 ( Series I to Series VII - 182 episodes).

In 2000 Thomas starred in a feature film, "Thomas and the Magic Railroad", voiced by Edward Glen and Keiko Toda in the Japanese version. He was the only engine from the television series to play a major role in the story, and he even leaves Sodor briefly. The film was a critical and financial failure, but Thomas's movie career continued in the straight-to-video format, starting with "Calling All Engines".


Thomas had his genesis, like Winnie-the-Pooh, in a toy for a small child. A wooden push-along toy from the early 1940s, predating Learning Curve by many decades, is the original Thomas made by the Rev. W. Awdry out of a piece of broomstick for his son Christopher. However, the Reverend was happy to endorse Payne's account that the locomotive was an LBSC E2, although the first Thomas on the Rev Awdry's model railway, from Stuart Reidpath, lacked extended tanks. In the 1979 Thomas Annual, the Rev Wilbert wrote:

"I bought Thomas in 1948 when I was writing "Tank Engine Thomas Again", and wanted to start modeling once more after a lapse of some twenty years. Thomas was one of Stewart Reidpath's standard models with a heavy, cast white metal body, and was fitted with his "Essar" chassis and motor. Stewart Reidpath is now dead, and his motors, let alone spare parts for them, have been unobtainable for years; but Thomas still keeps going! He is, as you might expect from his age, a temperamental old gentleman, and has to be driven very carefully indeed."

After Hornby produced the LBSC E2 tank in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Wilbert gladly adapted one to take the role of Thomas on his layout, the Ffarquhar branch.

Despite Awdry's requests for models, to which Lines Brothers (later Triang-Hornby) responded with Meccano Percy in 1967, Hornby eventually adapted the tool to be Thomas when they started Railway Series models in the 1980s.


With the popularity of the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV series among children, 'Thomas'-based merchandise has proven very lucrative. At least five different categories of trains and tracks exist: "Take Along Thomas" with grey tracks; Tomy battery-operated engines with blue tracks; Brio-type wooden engines with wooden rails and roads (by ELC and others); electric model railway (produced in O gauge by Lionel, HO/OO gauge by Hornby and Bachmann and N gauge by Tomix); and Lego engines and tracks; along with complementary videos, DVDs, books, games, puzzles, stationery, clothing and household items.

Real railways

Hit Entertainment licences "Day out with Thomas" events all over the world, in which visitors to heritage railways can meet and ride on a replica "Thomas".

Replicas are sometimes based on alternative 0-6-0 format engines such as Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0ST number 3781, which was converted from a saddle-tank to side-tank designMid-Hants Railway in colour. Alan C Butcher. 1996. ISBN 0 7110 2465 0] by engineers on the Mid-Hants Railway to create No. 1 "Thomas" in 1994.

Due to many restrictions imposed by HIT Entertainment, including the need for "Fat Controllers" to have auditions, and for intensive CRB checking, many railways in the UK have withdrawn from running 'Thomas' days.

An international tour featuring Thomas and his driver was completed in 2005 in honour of the 60th anniversary of the original stories. Former President George H.W. Bush dedicated the Presidential Train during a ceremony in 2005 Fact|date=March 2008.

A "real" Thomas was used in a special play, "The Queen's Handbag", staged to celebrate the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, starring well-loved characters from children's literature. In the play, the near 'life-sized' Thomas carried Sophie Dahl to the stage to meet The Fat Controller (Jonathan Ross) at the beginning of the show. [ [ Summary of "The Queen's Handbag"] -- accessed 26 Feb 2008] [YouTube|TQccpiN_F-I|Thomas and The Fat Controller in "The Queen's Handbag"]


External links

* [ Thomas the Tank Engine .com] Official website
* [] Refers to Thomas's inspiration of Starlight Express

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