Annie and Clarabel
Annie travels in front carrying passengers, whilst Clarabel rides behind, capable of taking passengers, luggage and a guard. They have been described by Rev. W. Awdry, their creator, 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.
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.
In the television series, they are a pair of four-wheeled coaches, easily told apart by the fact that their names are painted on their sides. Annie is generally depicted as having a slightly shocked expression, while Clarabel usually appears smiling. In The Railway Series, they are a pair of bogie coaches (i.e. each one is supported on a pair of four-wheeled "trucks").
Their Latin American voice actresses are Patricia Acevedo (Annie) and Rosanelda Aguirre (Clarabel)
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. They are the only coaches with 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 Birmingham 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. In actual fact, 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.