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Annie & Clarabel with Thomas the Tank Engine (as portrayed in the television series)
Annie and Clarabel are fictional characters from The Railway Series of children's books by the Rev. W. Awdry and the related Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series. In the stories they are Thomas's own passenger coaches.

Annie and Clarabel both have seating accommodation for carrying passengers; Clarabel also has a brake compartment for luggage and a guard. They have been described by the Rev. Awdry as being old and in need of new paint; however, Thomas loves them dearly and would never dream of being separated from them.

Not only do they carry passengers for Thomas, but they also act as advisors and confidantes. On several occasions they have warned him about potential hazards, and Thomas invariably runs into trouble when he ignores their warnings. Annie and Clarabel are occasionally pulled by other engines when Thomas is busy, but Thomas always worries for their safety.

The coaches first appeared in the 1946 book Thomas the Tank Engine, in which they were awarded to Thomas along with his branch line. In this first, brief appearance, they were not named. In Tank Engine Thomas Again (1949), they were given names and their characters were greatly expanded upon. They appeared in the first season of the television programme Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and have been in every season since, although they have not had a speaking role since Season 9.

In The Railway Series, they are depicted as bogie coaches (ie each coach is supported on a pair of four-wheeled bogies or "trucks"). In the television series they are depicted as four-wheeled coaches – they are built on a rigid chassis, with fixed axles. Annie is generally depicted as having a slightly shocked expression, while Clarabel usually appears smiling. In both series they appear in a plain orangey-brown colour, and in the television series they additionally have their names painted on their bodysides.

Origins

In a sense, Annie is actually the oldest character in the Railway Series. Long before Wilbert Awdry wrote the stories, he was a model railway enthusiast. In 1927, while still at school, he built a model coach. In 1948 he constructed models of Thomas and his coaches to run at a local village fair, and so used that 1927 coach as Annie. He built a new coach to represent Clarabel.

Unlike most of the characters in the Railway Series, Annie and Clarabel do not appear to be based upon any specific prototype. However, they are fairly typical of suburban coaches, such as might have been used for branch and secondary services. Christopher Awdry has suggested in a character profile that they may have been rebuilt from older, six-wheeled coaches by The Fat Controller. Unlike most of the engines, the history of Annie and Clarabel before their first appearance in the books has been kept very vague.

The television versions of the characters bear a strong resemblance to coaches of the Metropolitan Railway, part of what is now the London Underground. Annie and Clarabel, along with Old Slow Coach, are the only coaches to have facial features, except for the Narrow Gauge Coaches from Season 4. Annie and Clarabel are also very similar to The Old Coaches from Season 1.

Accusations of sexism

The 1980s saw a number of allegations of sexism levelled at the books, so much so that Birminghammarker City Council banned the Railway Series from their libraries. The accusations centred around the fact that the engines in the books were almost invariably male, while the coaches were always female. Therefore, the "men" had all the power, while the "women" were entirely passive. Annie and Clarabel, being the most prominent coach characters in the books, were seen as the clearest examples of this allegation.

Defenders of the series pointed out that the coaches were not always passive, and that Annie and Clarabel would often prove to be more perceptive and sensible than Thomas. Britt Allcroft, the producer of the television series, claimed that gender issues were irrelevant. In her words, "Thomas and friends are neither male nor female- they are magic."

Nonetheless, for the fourth season of the television series, it was announced that there would be more female characters than ever before. Actually, one female vehicle was introduced along with eleven new male ones - no more than in previous seasons.

The accusations against Annie and Clarabel may even have been in the producers' minds when Season 7 was produced. This featured a new (and notably female) locomotive called Emily, who was given two coaches of her own.

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