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Thomas and Friends is a Britishmarker children's television series, first broadcast on the ITV network in September 1984. Until Season 7, which premiered in 2003, it was named Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. This series was shot on 35mm film. The first series was filmed in Batterseamarker, Londonmarker and thereafter at Shepperton Studiosmarker.

It is based on The Railway Series of books by the Reverend W. V. Awdry. These books deal with the adventures of a group of anthropomorphised trains and road vehicles who live on the fictional Island of Sodor. The books were based on stories Awdry told to entertain his son Christopher during his recovery from measles. Many of the stories are based on events from Awdry's personal experience.

The show has featured storytellers Ringo Starr (1984-1986), Michael Angelis (1991-present), George Carlin (1991-1995), Alec Baldwin (1998-2002), Michael Brandon (2003-present), and Pierce Brosnan (Guest Narrator).

Many businesses have been eager to cash in on the worldwide popularity of the series. 'Thomas'-themed merchandise has appeared in almost every form imaginable, from books and magazines, through vast series of models, to duvet covers, cutlery, soft drinks and even spaghetti shapes.

Heritage railways have also benefited from the series. "Day out with Thomas" events, in which passengers are given the chance to ride in full-size coaches pulled by locomotives resembling Thomas or his friends, provide a considerable source of income, and attract those who might not otherwise visit the railway.

September 4, 2009 was the 25th anniversary of Thomas & Friends, as the first ever episode "Thomas and Gordon" aired exactly 25 years ago on September 4th, 1984, on the British terrestrial channel ITV1.



The show was originally produced with live action model animation at Shepperton Studiosmarker. The use of moving models was seen at the time of the show's conception as an effective method of animating the stories. Locomotives and other vehicles were operated by radio, while humans and animals were static figures. Stop-motion was occasionally employed for instances in which a human or animal character would move. Hand-drawn animation was used in Season 3 to create bees.

Live action model animation would not deliver lip sync, but show creator Britt Allcroft and model director David Mitton did not see this as an inhibition. The show's later run, however, saw the introduction of CGI by HIT Entertainment's subsidiary HOT Animation. At first this was used to generate smoke and other effects, but later, HIT (the new owners of Thomas) announced its intent to introduce a fully-CGI series in 2009. With Series 12, CGI by Nitrogen Studios was used to animate characters' faces and to make people and animals mobile within the stories. The following series saw a transition to full CGI animation.


The original live action models were filmed on an extensive model railway layout built at the studios. The models were built to the 1:32 scale, known in model railway circles as "Gauge 1". The locomotives used chassis made by Märklin with specially-made bodies. Along with the moving-eye mechanisms, these bodies also included smoke generators. Coaches and trucks were made using Tenmille kits. Later models were constructed entirely from scratch.

In Seasons 5 through 12, some larger-scale models were used for the narrow gauge characters, to more easily fit the complex mechanisms into them while retaining a sufficient level of detail. In Season 6, the characters known as "the Pack" (construction machines) were also constructed on a large scale, and larger models of Thomas and Percy were made to interact with them. In the ninth season, another larger Thomas model was built to the same scale as the narrow gauge engines to provide greater possibilities for interaction. It was joined by a large version of James in the tenth season.


Before Series 13, narration and dialogue were performed by a single storyteller. This was the choice of Allcroft, who wanted the television stories to be an extension of the way they would be told at home in a comforting environment. All character emotions would come from the nuances of the storyteller's voice, in conjunction with facial expressions, music, and actions on-screen.

The first 130 stories were written for television by Britt Allcroft and David Mitton. For the first two seasons and the fourth season the series was closely based on stories from the Railway Series books.


The producer is in charge of every aspect of the show for the relevant series. The following people have been the series producers:

Originally the series was produced by Britt Allcroft Productions and Clearwater Features Ltd (David Mitton and Robert D. Cardona's company). Clearwater closed in 1990 and The Britt Allcroft Company (which changed to Gullane Entertainment in 2000) was the sole producer until 2002, when HiT Entertainment bought the company and now runs its operation. HIT Entertainment was acquired in 2005 by the private equity firm Apax. In the US, the series is distributed by Connecticut Public Television for PBS.


Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell composed the show's original main title theme, incidental music and songs, (see List of Thomas & Friends songs), which were used for Seasons 1 to 7 comprising 182 episodes between 1984 and 2003.

In 2004, Robert Hartshorne took their place as composer, while Ed Welch wrote the new theme tune and the songs.



The first series (1984) took stories from the first eight books, along with one specially written by the Rev. W. Awdry, Thomas's Christmas Party. The second series (1986) took stories from Book 9 (Edward the Blue Engine) to Book 30 (More About Thomas the Tank Engine). This book was unusual, as it was written specifically by Christopher Awdry to be adapted by the show. At that time it was a contractual obligation that the show could only adapt stories that appeared in print. The series also adapted a story from a Thomas Annual, "Thomas and Trevor", and an especially written stand-alone story, Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree. A single episode ("The Missing Coach") was in the process of being filmed, but was never completed because Allcroft decided it was too confusing for young children. The production team went on to adapt "Thomas, Percy and the Coal" instead.

Series 3 was broadcast 1991 to 1992 in two halves, thirteen episodes each. It was made at a cost of £1.3 million. The series was a combination of episodes derived from The Railway Series, stories in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends magazine, and original stories by Allcroft and Mitton. One of the primary reasons for diverging from the original books was that many of the stories not yet adapted featured large numbers of new characters, which would be expensive to produce. Another was that the producers wanted more stories about Thomas, the nominal main character. The Rev. W. Awdry complained that the new stories were unrealistic (see Henry the Green Engine for more details).

Series 4 was also broadcast in two halves from 1994 to 1995. The producers planned to introduce some "new" female characters, including Caroline the car, Nancy, and The Refreshment Lady. Some commentators took this as a response to accusations of sexism levelled against the series two years earlier. In reality, these were not "new" characters, but creations of the Rev. Awdry from the original Railway Series books. Series 4 was almost entirely based on The Railway Series. The narrow gauge engines were introduced, and were the focus of a number of episodes. Only one original story ("Rusty to the Rescue") was written, but this took certain elements of plot and dialogue from Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine.

The fifth series (1998) was a radical departure, as none of the stories were taken from the Railway Series. This season saw the introduction of new characters and more action-packed storylines.


Thomas and the Magic Railroad was released in 2000. It featured new characters created by Britt Allcroft, along with characters from the show that introduced Thomas to the US, Shining Time Station. The film was heavily edited late in production due to test audience responses.

Despite high production values and the popularity of the show, the film was criticised by UK reviewers who were unfamiliar with Shining Time Station. The movie was well-received by young children on both sides of the Atlantic, but made only $16 million at the US box office at matinee prices. This was obviously a net loss, as the movie cost $19 million to produce.


The sixth and seventh series continued to introduce action-packed storylines and new characters, and saw the introduction of a writing staff. The sixth series in 2002 was notable for its attempt to create a spin-off based on the successful "Bob the Builder" series. Two episodes introduced a group of construction machine characters known as "The Pack". The spin-off didn't materialize for some time. Eventually, in 2005, thirteen episodes were released straight to DVD. The fact that older sets were used and the episodes were shot on 35mm camera (as opposed to the digital camera used at the time of the episodes' release) suggest it was filmed some time before Series 8. In Series 7 (2003) the programme title was permanently shortened to Thomas and Friends.


The eighth season (2004) introduced a number of significant changes to the show. Britt Allcroft was no longer involved with the product, and the show was taken over by HIT Entertainment, a company specializing in children's entertainment. Episode runtime was increased to seven minutes. The series was produced using digital video camera, creating a somewhat different look for the show. Original composers Junior Campbell and Mike O'Donnell left the production, and a new theme song and incidental music were composed by Ed Welch and Robert Hartshorne, respectively. Other changes include the additions of CGI educational sequences and transitions between stories.

These series saw the adoption of a centralized cast, including Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby and Emily.

A straight-to-video film, Calling All Engines was released shortly before Series 9 in 2005. While featuring characters from Thomas and the Magic Railroad, it was not a direct sequel. It proved successful, and more direct-to-video specials are planned for the future.

Series 9 (2005) and 10 (2006) saw the expansion of the supporting cast with new and old characters. Series 10 aired with twenty-eight episodes rather than the twenty-six of previous years. The eleventh series (2007) was filmed in a high definition format. Twenty episodes aired in the original broadcast, while six were released direct to DVD. i3DTV was a credited production studio alongside Shepperton Studios.

The 2008 series saw the introduction of CGI effects, with the intent of producing the show entirely in CGI the following year. Only twenty episodes were broadcast (the US broadcast featured six additional episodes from Engines and Escapades).

Closed captioning was produced by CaptionMax.


HIT announced multiple changes to the show beginning in 2009. One new aspect was the introduction of live-action host segments to Thomas' home video releases. The host took the form of a character who worked on The Fat Controller's railway, who would instruct viewers in craft projects.

The other major changes were a move to production in CGI, rather than using physical models, and the addition of a voice cast to support the established narrator. The DVD feature, Hero of the Rails, was the first Thomas and Friends production to show these changes; Season 13 will be the first television series in the new format.

HIT also revealed that its theatrical division would be piloted by a "Thomas" movie, aimed for release in late-2010.

List of productions

Television productions

Series Release Episodes
Series 1 1984 26
Series 2 1986 26
Series 3 1991-1992 26
Series 4 1994-1995 26
Series 5 1998 26
Series 6 2002 26
Series 7 2003 26
Series 8 2004 26

Series Release Episodes
Series 9 2005 26
Series 10 2006 28
Series 11 2007 26
Series 12 2008 20
Series 13 2010 20
Series 14 2011 TBD

*HIT Entertainment has planned eighty new episodes to air beginning in 2009.

Films, Specials, and Miniseries

Film title Release Episodes
Thomas and the Magic Railroad 2000
Calling All Engines! 2005
On Site with Thomas (Series) 2006 13
The Great Discovery 2008
Hero of the Rails 2009
"Thomas" (projected title and release date) late-2010

Home Video History

Thomas Videos



The show revolves around the machines and people who populate the fictional Island of Sodor. Since the advent of a centralized cast, known as "The Steam Team," in 2004, the show has featured eight main characters.

Supporting characters are described in detail on other pages:


The role of the storyteller dates back to the first series. Britt Allcroft thought it essential to convey the episode as a story that would be read from a book at home.

  • Ringo Starr (Series 1-2): Former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr was storyteller for the first two series of the show. In 1989, when Britt Allcroft created Shining Time Station to introduce Thomas to American audiences, Starr performed new recordings of these stories, using some terms and phrases more familiar to Americans (like "freight cars" instead of "troublesome trucks") and some that would be more easily accepted by American audiences (like "Sir Topham Hatt" instead of "The Fat Controller"). Starr also played Mr. Conductor - the character who would relate the Thomas stories to the other characters at Shining Time. Starr didn't return when the third series of Thomas began, citing an interest to focus on his musical career. For the 2009 BBC Children in Need appeal, Ringo reprised his role as narrator, providing the voice of Thomas for The Official BBC Children in Need Medley single.

  • Michael Angelis (UK Series 3-present): Michael Angelis has had the longest tenure as storyteller of Thomas and Friends, filling the role for over seventeen years. He narrated the direct-to-video releases Calling All Engines, On Site with Thomas, Engines and Escapades and Hero Of The Rails. Angelis narrated one US video release before Michael Brandon took over. He has been involved with Thomas outside of the TV series as well, narrating the first five volumes of The Railway Series on CD, starting from 2006.

  • George Carlin (US Series 1-4): George Carlin took over the role of Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station and, in turn, retold all of the first four seasons. While Carlin was known for his adult comedy routines, Britt Allcroft attests that he was gentle and enthusiastic in his approach to the series. Allcroft states that Carlin was nervous recording his voice alone in a sound booth - their solution was to keep a teddy bear in the booth as Carlin's "audience" for the run of the show. Allcroft also recalls that the two of them discussed their lonely childhoods, and felt that Thomas was a way of "filling some kind of void." He eventually left the series to return to his career in comedy.

  • Alec Baldwin (US Series 5-6): Baldwin was selected as the new American storyteller for the fifth series, and was cast in the role of Mr. Conductor in Thomas and the Magic Railroad in 2000. Baldwin returned for one more series in 2002 before electing to return to the film industry.

  • Michael Brandon (US Series 7-present): When Thomas & Friends debuted in America in its new half-hour format in 2004, Michael Brandon was hired not only to narrate the new Series 8 episodes, but also all episodes of Series 7. He re-narrated six episodes in Series 6. Brandon provided his voice for all of the intermissions in this format. He also narrated the US releases of Calling All Engines, On Site with Thomas,Engines and Escapades and Hero Of The Rails.

  • Pierce Brosnan (Guest Narrator): Former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan narrated the DVD special, The Great Discovery. Brosnan was enthusiastic to take up the role, recalling his experience with Thomas as a father, reading the stories for his sons. In 2007, HiT Entertainment announced that Brosnan had signed on for "all English-language releases for the brand, including three upcoming Thomas & Friends television series and three DVD specials." The announcement preceded Season 12 by several months, and Brosnan recorded lines for Season 12 episodes, although he did not feature in their broadcast. Subsequently, Brosnan has been promoted as a "guest narrator" for The Great Discovery.


Recently, HIT has begun to expand the cast of the show beyond just a narrator. On home video, a live-action character, Mr. Arkwright (Robert G. Slade), speaks directly to the audience and instructs viewers in a project for the day.

Additionally, Hero of the Rails and Series 13 will see the addition of a voice cast to the narrator of the show.Confirmed actors at present include:


Popularity with autistic audience

  • In June and July 2001, the National Autistic Society conducted a survey of 81 parents of children with autism and Asperger syndrome to investigate their putative 'special relationship' with Thomas the Tank Engine. The survey confirmed the organisation's assumption from anecdotal evidence that children with autism spectrum disorders associate far more strongly with Thomas the Tank Engine than with other children's characters..
  • In the National Autistic Society's April 2007 survey, conducted with 748 UK parents of children under 10 with autism, 58% of parents reported Thomas was the first children's character their children enjoyed, with about 1/3 of parents reported their children were able to learn basic facial expressions from the characters, as all of Thomas's friends have easy-to-read expressions. 54% of parents reported that the stories contributed to their child's sense of security.



A wide range of merchandise has been manufactured to cash-in on the success of the TV Series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. It is down to the popularity and longevity of the series – having originated in 1945 with the first of The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry – that large numbers of manufacturers have sought to produce 'Thomas'-branded items.

The most popular and wide-ranging items of merchandise are the models of the characters, which have been produced in many different ranges, some including accompanying railway systems. Other popular products include videos, books and magazines, and computer games. However, 'Thomas' merchandise has also included such diverse items as: audiobooks, annual, colouring and activity books, jigsaws, board games, stationery, photo notebooks, clothing, cutlery, household items such as curtains, duvet covers and lampshades, and even soft drinks and spaghetti shapes.

Day out with Thomas

"Day out with Thomas", is a marketing name used by HiT Entertainment for special events held at heritage railways in the UK. The characteristic features of these events include locomotives wearing 'faces' to resemble 'Thomas' characters, and a "Fat Controller" character, usually performed by one of the railway's volunteers. The general idea is that the public have the chance to ride in a train pulled by 'Thomas' or one of his friends.

In the US the name also refers to "Come Ride the Rails with Thomas" [32193] which is a US tour by real trains modelled after Thomas the Tank Engine. The Thomas engine visits various historic railroads across the United States allowing visitors to play games, meet Sir Topham Hatt and to ride on a passenger car pulled by the engine. HIT Entertainment sponsors the event to promote the Thomas and Friends brand.

In the Netherlands is also a "Day out with Thomas", Een dag uit met Thomas, and is held at the South Limburg Railway Compagny a heritage railway in Simpelveldmarker in the South of the Netherlands in the province of Limburgmarker. The Thomas locomotive is shipped from the UK. The South Limburg Railway Compagny has its own Diesel locomotive.

Thomas in Amusement Parks

In 2007 Drusilla's Parkmarker near Alfriston, Sussex, England opened a railway ride featuring Thomas, Annie and Clarabel. The track runs through the Zoo Park and also features James, Diesel, Cranky and the Fat Controller.

In the 2007 summer Six Flags season, a Thomas and Friends attraction opened at Six Flags Discovery Kingdommarker (Formerly Six Flags Marine World) in Vallejo, CAmarker and at Six Flags New Englandmarker in Springfield, Massachusettsmarker. "Thomas Town"s were also opened at Six Flags Magic Mountainmarker in Los Angeles California and in Six Flags Over Georgiamarker in Atlanta Georgia in 2008. Six Flags Americamarker in Maryland is due to open their Thomas Town in 2010.

On 15 March 2008 Drayton Manormarker in the UK opened their own Thomas Landmarker just like Japan's Amusement Park which attracts 1.7 million fans every year. Thomas Landmarker at Drayton Manormarker is on the site of what was formerly Robinsons Land. In early 2009, it was announced that the original Television Series models would be put on display here.

For the 2008 & 2009 Season, Dutch Wonderlandmarker in Lancaster, Pennsylvaniamarker, USA, featured a 'Thomas and Friends Live' production.

Thomas on television and in film

The series was first broadcast in 1984 on ITV's Children's ITV in the United Kingdommarker. It was shown throughout the late eighties and into the early 90s when it was taken off the terrestrial UK network following broadcast of the third series. Between 1994 and 2003, Thomas was never shown on terrestrial UK networks, although did make a comeback on satellite through Cartoon Network in the mid 1990s and lasted until 2002, which was 5 seasons, and then Nick Jr in 2001/2002, where it has remained since and become a popular fixture, even stretching to their involvement with Gullane and HIT Entertainment on recent series of the popular children's series. The Children's Channel repeated shows from 1984 - 1998.

Thomas also made a comeback on Children's ITV in January 2003 with its sixth series of four and a half minute stories. The sixth and seventh series were shown in their entirety in 2002 and 2003. The eighth series was broadcast in 2004, but only 13 episodes were aired, possibly on account of the new format for the programme; it wasn't until July 2006 that the remaining 13 episodes were broadcast. Due to a new agreement between ITV and the Programming Authority (Ofcommarker) which allowed them to cut their children's TV output in mid 2006, five bought the rights to the series. The ninth series began showing on 10 October 2006, followed one month later on 10 November 2006 by the tenth. The channel now shows series 8-12 in rotation.

In 1989, Thomas and Friends was shown in North America, in a television series newly created by Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggerkow called Shining Time Station, which was broadcast on PBS. Storytime with Thomas was another American series featuring Mr Conductor from Shining Time Station. This aired in 1999 on the Fox Family Channel. Thomas segments were also shown on Mister Moose's Fun Time in 1997 (which also appeared on the Fox Family Channel). Today, Thomas and Friends is broadcast in more than twenty languages around the world. In 2000 Thomas moved to the big screen, with the release of Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

The Thomas and Friends stories were four and a half minutes long. The first two series showed two episodes at a time, with a show of the characters in the middle. It changed to one at a time in series three. In each series until series eight, the number of trains on the railway increases as the railway expands.

In 2004, the series began using computer animated special effects and the story length changed from five to seven minutes. A half-hour show format (aired on PBS and Treehouse TV in North America and on Nick Jr. in the UK from 2004-2008) was also adopted, showing three episodes plus puzzles, songs, and mini stories. The new series made major changes, such as changing the famous theme tune, and took on a more moralistic stance than previous series. Starting Season 10, only two episodes aired, with the middle story being replaced with Places around Sodor, a recurring mini-story which features major locations and recaps episodes from Seasons 8-10 that take place at the location. Season 11, also only two episodes aired, and Places around Sodor was replaced by Fun times with One of Sodor Engines. Season 12, the history story was called "One/Two of Thomas' favorite/special friends".

International Versions

  • In Danish, Poul Dissing and Tommy Kenter have narrated the show.
  • In Dutch, Thomas de Stoomlocomotief features former D.J. Erik de Zwart as the storyteller.
  • In German, Thomas und seine Freunde has been narrated by Sky Du Mont
  • In French, the series is called Thomas le petit train
  • The show is broadcast in Hindi with its original title on Zee TV.
  • In Greek, the show is narrated primarily by a woman, with a male voice actor for certain roles.
  • In Hungarian, Thomas a gőzmozdony has been narrated by Zoltán Csankó.
  • In Japanese, the show features a full voice cast. Lee Morimoto was the original narrator, but he and the original cast were replaced after Series 8.
  • A Spanish dub has featured Jorge Arvizu (Seasons 1-2), Eduardo Tejedo (Seasons 3-4), Salvador Delgado (Seasons 5-7), Arturo Mercado Jr. (Seasons 8-12), and Carlos Segundo (Season 13-Present) as narrators.
  • The Norwegian, Polish TV4, Portuguese, and Swedish dubs feature female narrators.
  • In Romanian, Thomas si prietenii sai has been narrated by Daniel Vulcu.
  • In Welsh, the show is called Tomos a'i Ffrindiau.
  • In Czech, the show is called Lokomotiva Tomáš.

See also


  1. How Thomas the Tank Engine Works
  2. Sibley, p320
  3. Sibley, p309
  4. Thomas & Friends and Bob the Builder Move to CGI Animation in 2009 Broadcast Season
  8. [1], Los Angeles Times - "The George Carlin I knew"
  9. [2], HIT Entertainment - Prestigious National Organizations Honor DVDs from Lionsgate and HIT Entertainment
  10. Thomas and Friends: Team Up With Thomas
  11. Thomas and Friends: Percy and the Bandstand
  13. Children with autism and Thomas the Tank Engine
  14. Autism group probes why children love Thomas the Tank Engine

External links

Production companies

cz:Lokomotiva Tomáš

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