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Thomas the Tank Engine.

Thomas the Tank Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic steam locomotive created by the Rev. W. V. Awdry as one of a number of characters in his Railway Series books, first published in the 1940s.

Thomas is a tank engine: a steam locomotive with large rectangular tanks to carry water, on each side of his boiler.

In his first appearance 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 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, with his two coaches Annie and Clarabel, and help from Percy the Small Engine and Toby the Tram Engine.

In 1979, the British writer/producer Britt Allcroft came across the books, mortgaged her house and used her savings to bring the stories to life as Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (later simplified to Thomas and Friends). The programme became an award-winning hit around the world, with a vast range of spin-off commercial products.

The Railway Series

In the Railway Series, Thomas is generally depicted with a cheeky and even self-important personality . 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 Museummarker at Yorkmarker 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 previously had. The Rev. Awdry had noticed that the dip had put Thomas's front buffers out of line with his back buffers, hence the story. Thomas kept this redesign in following stories in the Railway Series. However, Thomas has always been shown with a 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 . Although Thomas was the most popular character in the books , both Wilbert and Christopher Awdry had always treated the characters in the books as an ensemble, and so before the television series there had been only 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

Thomas' personality was faithful to the character of the books. In the eighth series, modifications have been made. 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.

Thomas's on-screen appearances were created by Britt Allcroft, and the first stories (series 1-7) were all shot on 35mm film and produced by her original company, Britt Allcroft Productions. The first series of 26 stories premièred in September 1984 on the ITV Network in the UK, with Ringo Starr as storyteller. Subsequent storytellers have been Michael Angelis (in the UK) and George Carlin and Alec Baldwin in the US. In 1988, Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow created the award-winning US show Shining Time Station, starring Thomas and, at first Ringo Starr and later George Carlin as the magical Mr Conductor.

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).


Thomas appears as a guest seen on a 1996 video called "Kids for Character."

In 2000 Thomas starred in a feature film, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, along with several of Thomas' friends, characters from Shining Time Station and newly created characters for the film. It was released first in the UK where critics were unfamiliar with the characters of Shining Time Station. It received warmer reviews in the US ("An enchanting ride." AP. "Delight for young movie-goers." Garnett News Service.) and was well-liked by the young audience for whom it was created.

In 2007, it was revealed that the released film was drastically cut down against Allcroft's wishes from the original script written and shot by her.

In 2008, Thomas starred in another feature film, The Great Discovery. This movie was narrated by Pierce Brosnan. In the movie, Thomas discovers the lost town of Great Waterton. Thomas is put in charge of restoring Great Waterton in time for Sodor Day, but when he suffers an accident, Sir Topham Hatt brings in a new engine named Stanley to do the work. Thomas becomes jealous of Stanley and tried to show Sir Topham Hatt and the other engines that he is the most useful engine on the island. Along the way, Thomas gets lost in a mine; it is Stanley who finds Thomas and they become great friends.

In 2009, Hero of the Rails is released. Narrated by Michael Angelis, this movie finds Thomas once again getting lost and this time finding an old engine named Hiro. Hiro is from Japan and was the first engine to arrive on the Island of Sodor. During his time, Hiro was called "Master of the Railway." But when Hiro broke down, no parts were available and eventually, Hiro was left in a siding. Thomas is determined to help make Hiro new so that he won't be sent to the scrap yard. Attempting to thwart Thomas is Spencer, a mainland engine who has arrived on the island to help build the summer home of the Duke and Duchess of Boxford. Thomas eventually speaks to Sir Topham Hatt about Hiro, who asks Victor to restore Hiro. At the end of the movie, Hiro goes home to Japan.


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, who acquired Gullane Entertainment, formerly the Britt Allcroft Company PLC, licences "Day out with Thomas" events all over the world, in which visitors to heritage railways can meet and ride on a train hauled by a replica "Thomas".

Thomas was based on the LB&SCR E2 class locomotives; however, none of this type has survived into preservation, so various other classes have been adapted to resemble 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 design by engineers on the Mid-Hants Railway to create No. 1 "Thomas" in 1994.

Due to the increasing licencing fees and many other restrictions imposed by HiT Entertainment, including the need for "Fat Controllers" to have auditions, and for intensive CRB checking, many heritage railways in the UK and overseas have reluctantly decided to withdraw from running "Thomas" days thus reducing the income stream to these organisations.

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.

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.

Image:Thomas at Bitton station.jpg| Thomas on the Avon Valley Railwaymarker, BittonImage:Thomas 47327 at Rushcliffe Country Park.jpg| Thomas at Rushcliffe Country Parkmarker NottinghamImage:Thomastrain.jpg| Thomas the Tank Engine at Alresfordmarker station on the Watercress LineFile:Thomas The Tank on the motorway - - 1285002.jpg|'Jinty' in Thomas the Tank Engine colour scheme on its way to a 'Thomas' event


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 Rev. W. Awdry had originally based him on the LNER Class J50 tank engine, although his OO scale model is similar to the LB&SCR E1 locomotive. Not one of the E2's has been preserved.


  1. Mid-Hants Railway in colour. Alan C Butcher. 1996. ISBN 0 7110 2465 0
  2. Summary of "The Queen's Handbag" -- accessed 26 Feb 2008

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