The Fat Controller
Sir Topham Hatt, (Or also known as "The Fat Controller"), is the head of the railway in The Railway Series of books written by the Rev. W. V. Awdry. In the first two books in the series (The Three Railway Engines and Thomas the Tank Engine) he is known as The Fat Director. In the third book (James the Red Engine) he becomes The Fat Controller, as the railway is nationalised. His full name is revealed in the book Duck and the Diesel Engine.
His Latin American voice actors are Julio Lucena (1984), Víctor Mares (1986-2003), and Carlos Segundo (2004-)
Origin of nickname
Sir Topham Hatt is first seen in The Sad Story Of Henry in the first book in the Railway Series The Three Railway Engines. When Henry refused to leave a tunnel, the text says "a Fat Director who was on the train told the guard to get a rope". Initially this seems indicative of The Rev. W. Awdry's habit of capitalising many phrases and references which we today would not, but the character is referred to as the Fat Director/Controller for the remainder of the Railway Series, both in the narrative and by the other characters. The name Sir Topham Hatt is first mentioned in the Foreword to Henry the Green Engine' and then also appears on his luggage trunk in the same book in the story Percy And The Trousers. But it is clear that he is comfortable with the nickname. The first use of the name Sir Topham Hatt in the narrative comes in Duck and the Diesel Engine when Diesel refers to the character as "Your worthy Fat..." but is interrupted and firmly corrected by Duck who says "Sir Topham Hatt to you".
Sir Topham Hatt might best be described as a "firm but fair" leader. Every time an engine is upset he speaks to them kindly. He does not stand for any nonsense, but he is also forgiving. When an engine misbehaves, as they often do on his railway, he is willing to allow them a second chance if they are truly sorry.
He is also quite perceptive and shrewd, and is not above using elaborate schemes to get to the bottom of a problem. For example, when Diesel had been spreading rumours about Duck telling jokes about the big engines, the Fat Controller sent Duck to Edward's Branch line. Duck was chased by the trucks down the line and they pushed him into a barber shop. When The Fat Controller arrived he spoke kindly to Duck for stopping a serious accident and for being so brave (see Duck and the Diesel Engine), and revealed that sending Duck away was an elaborate scheme to expose Diesel's lies.
He is nostalgic, and the way he runs his railway recalls the better elements of the days of steam . Indeed, he is not afraid to get his hands dirty if it is on the footplate of a steam engine.
In the television series, he is also a highly philanthropic individual, performing a number of charitable acts for the people of Sodor. He gets on well with children, with he and his wife often looking after their grandchildren, Stephen and Bridget.
Biography (Railway Series)
In the Railway Series, there have actually been three Fat Controllers. This is never discussed directly in the stories, as they all look very similar and are all known as Sir Topham Hatt. However, the books 'The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways' (written by Rev. W. Awdry and George Awdry) and 'Sodor: Reading Between the Lines' (by Christopher Awdry) make this explicitly clear.
Sir Topham Hatt I
This man was a talented engineer who was apprenticed with William Stanier at the Great Western Railway's Swindon works, which gave him a great love of all things Great Western. He went on to assist A. W. Dry in the construction of the Tidmouth, Knapford and Elsbridge Light Railway (which ultimately became Thomas' branch line) and designed the locomotives that ran upon it.
When the standard gauge railways of the Island were merged into the North Western Railway in 1914, Topham Hatt was once again called upon for his engineering skill. He constructed a bridge to link Sodor with the Mainland, as well as a number of branch lines and improvements to locomotive facilities. He was immediately made a Director of the railway.
When the North Western Railway was nationalised and became part of British Railways in 1948, Topham Hatt was made Controller of the railway. 1948 also saw him made a baronet for his services to the railways of Sodor.
It is no exaggeration to say that the prosperity of modern day Sodor can be put down to this man.
Sir Topham Hatt II
Charles Topham Hatt was the son of the first Sir Topham Hatt and the second Controller of the NWR. He too served an apprenticeship with Stanier, this time working under the locomotive designer. Like his father, he was an innovative engineer and made a number of improvements to the railway and its engines. He was also the originator of the scheme to construct the Arlesdale Railway and the ballast consortium that used it.
He was responsible for the line's policy of retaining steam locomotives long after they had been abolished on the rest of British Railways, and while Richard Beeching was closing down branch lines on the Mainland, he was reopening them on Sodor.
Sir Topham Hatt III
Stephen Topham Hatt was first seen as a child in the book 'Toby the Tram Engine'. As an adult, he was elected as the third Controller of the North Western Railway. He, like his father and grandfather before him, is an innovator and a canny businessman. He has been involved in a number of schemes for improving the railways of Sodor, from assisting in the construction of new engines to plans to introduce a direct London-Sodor train service.
He has recently been investigating the possibility of obtaining a new steam engine for the North Western Railway and of using his extensive Works for the manufacture of locomotive parts for other railways.
He has a son named Richard, who, it is assumed will carry on in the family business, and eventually become Sir Topham Hatt IV.
Biography (television series)
In the television series, the Fat Controller is always the same man, with the same wife and grandchildren. There is no indication of his age and very little of his history is revealed. He is in charge of all the engines on Sodor and seemingly has a great deal of say over other vehicles. As a young man, he learnt to drive in Elizabeth the vintage Sentinel lorry.
He has overseen the construction of a number of lines and has been involved with the opening of several tourist attractions on Sodor.
The "Sir" part of his title comes from the fact that he was knighted for his services to the railways of Sodor.
Mode of dress
In his iconic top hat and morning suit, the Fat Controller looks rather old fashioned and formal. However, it should be noted that until at least the late 1950s it was customary for railway officials in Britain to be so dressed — for Sir Topham Hatt to be dressed any other way would be far more unusual.
American fans have also noted that this outfit resembles a 19th century railroad baron, although this is purely coincidence.
Sir Topham's suit has often been used for comic effect, being augmented with scarf and mittens in winter. The television series plays on the outdated nature of this outfit, giving Sir Topham an entire wardrobe of old-fashioned and unnecessarily formal clothes for occasions when he is not "on duty" and making the character look faintly ridiculous. In the Season 8 episode "Halloween", he is shown wearing pajamas and a nightcap, and in the Season 9 episode "Flour Power", he is briefly shown wearing a wizard costume.
Sir Topham's household
Wife: Lady Hatt
Lady Jane Hatt, formerly Jane Brown, helps her husband run the railway, and is happiest when she sees new lines opened, and has had some special birthday parties (but most of the time surprises occur on her birthday). She likes the railway, but had a certain dislike of Annie and Clarabel. Later, she took a liking to them, after they got new coats of paint. Although her husband runs a railway, she likes a day out on a boat or in their car.
She first appeared in Season 1, and has had a few appearances throughout the series, her late appearance is The Green Controller.
Mother: Dowager Hatt
Dowager Hatt visited Sodor once, and her son held a party for her. Her dalmatian dog (soon to be named Gremlin) ran away. She says the Railway is really useful, and the Fat Controller says she is always right!
Dowager Hatt was introduced in Season 5, made a cameo in Season 6, and appears again in a Season 9 Story. Her full title is Dowager Hatt, revealed in the Season 9 episode in the UK.
She is the only member of the household to originate in the television series, never having appeared in the books.
Grandson: Stephen Hatt
Stephen Topham Hatt lives on the Island of Sodor, and regularly has outings and holidays with his grandparents and sister. Stephen loves trains, and was excited when he first met Toby the Tram Engine. Stephen also has a bit of knowledge about the Island, of which is the reason they discovered the Old Castle and the mine (in which Bertram was found).
Stephen Hatt only appeared in a few Season 1 and 5 episodes, but made cameos in 'Thomas and the Tuba' and 'Thomas and the Circus'.
In the Railway Series, Stephen ultimately took the railway over, and is the current Fat Controller. However, in the television series he has always remained a child.
Granddaughter: Bridget Hatt
Bridget Amanda Hatt lives on Sodor, and regularly goes for outings and holidays with her grandparents. On one occasion they went to Toby the Tram Engine's old line, and she thought he was an electric tram! But, apart from that, they had a wonderful holiday, and Toby enjoyed it too. Sometimes they also go to the seaside, which one time led to a hunt for an old castle and a mine, in which Toby ended up making a new friend. Bridget Hatt loves living on Sodor, and seeing the trains.
Bridget Hatt's full name is Bridget Amanda Hatt (her middle name being her mother's). Her parents (mentioned only in the book 'Sodor: Reading Between the Lines') are Charles and Amanda Hatt. Bridget was last featured in Season 5, but made a cameo in Thomas and the Tuba, and Thomas and the Circus in Season 8.
Sir Topham Hatt has a butler who is featured in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV Series. He is a loyal and trustworthy butler, who answers the phone for the Fat Controller, and does many other household jobs. Sir Topham Hatt's Butler has only been featured in two stories, "Thomas in Trouble" ("Thomas Breaks the Rules" in the U.S.) in Season 1, and "Fergus Breaks The Rules", in Season 7, but made a good impression.
Sir Topham Hatt/the Fat Controller owns a blue car featured in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV Series. This is based on his ownership of one in the book Troublesome Engines. He uses it to go to places when the engines are busy, or to go see what the engines are doing. It once caused trouble when he drove it into a pothole in the road, but he thinks it very reliable, and wouldn't want to get to work in any other vehicle. It helped when some trucks ran away from Percy.
Despite its usual blue colour, Sir Topham's car has taken on many forms throughout the years. It was blue in The Railway Series, but consisted of three different models in the TV Series. In the puzzles and other merchandise, the car is yellow, and in one is seen as being red. It is possible that the Fat Controller has more than one car.
In all cases, his car is presented as a typical vehicle of the 1940s and 50s.
Several suggestions have been made as to who the Fat Controller was based upon. One of the most persistent names is that of Rev. Teddy Boston, who was in real life a railway enthusiast, a somewhat large-built figure and a good friend of Rev. W. Awdry. He appeared in person in Small Railway Engines and Duke the Lost Engine as "the Fat Clergyman". However, the Fat Controller appeared in the books long before Rev. W. Awdry knew Teddy Boston.
Another common suggestion is Horace May, who was General Manager of the Bluebell Railway during the 1960s. This man also appears in the Railway Series as Stepney's Controller in Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine, and does resemble the Fat Controller as portrayed by illustrator John T. Kenney. But again, it should be noted that the Fat Controller had been in the books since 1945, long before Horace May rose to prominence in railway preservation circles.
The same book also implies that Sir Topham Hatt III (see above) might have something of Christopher Awdry himself in him:
- Christopher Awdry saw the engine that inspired the character of Toby the Tram Engine when he was on holiday as a boy. In the book Toby the Tram Engine, Stephen Topham Hatt, who would later become Sir Topham Hatt III, sees Toby while on holiday.
- Sir Topham Hatt III takes over the North Western Railway at around the time of the book Really Useful Engines, which was when Christopher Awdry took over writing the Railway Series.
- Sir Topham Hatt III is described in Sodor: Reading Between The Lines as being partly responsible for the construction of Jock, which was a project close to his father's heart. Christopher Awdry wrote the first stories to actually feature Jock, but his father created the character without featuring him in any stories.
In The Thomas the Tank Engine Man, Rev. W. Awdry states that he considers the Fat Controller to be something of a God figure, but this appears to have been a later development, as the earliest stories featuring the character depict him as more of a comical figure.
Real Fat Controllers
"Day Out With Thomas" events are a popular way of raising money for heritage railways. These events are an opportunity for children to meet characters from the books and television series (or at least, engines that have been "dressed up" to resemble them). These events are invariably presided over by a Fat Controller, played by a railway volunteer of appropriate age and build.
The copyright holders are strict about how these volunteers should appear - the South Devon Railway's Fat Controller was forced to either quit or shave off his beard (see external link), and it is absolutely forbidden for a Fat Controller to be too thin.
Impact on popular culture
The Fat Controller has proven to be a popular figure outside of the world of Thomas. In British slang, the name has come to symbolise any authority figure linked with transportation, or any authority figure of large build. The most notable figure of recent years to be compared to Sir Topham is the British Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. A rather more contemptuous term, "fat cat controller", has been applied to the executives of transport firms. Freddy Shepherd, the chairman of Newcastle United Football Club is also sometimes referred to as the "Fat Controller".
One of the Fat Controller's most identifiable quotes is "You're a Very Useful Engine". This is apparently the highest compliment an engine can receive and usually results in the engine's eyes spinning and/or blushing. The phrase has a certain nostalgic popularity outside the world of Thomas when used as a compliment in a similar tone to Sir Topham Hatt's. Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber paid tribute to this catchphrase by naming his theatre group The Really Useful Theatre Company.
Other uses of the name "Fat Controller"
The name "Fat Controller" has also been given to a student magazine (see Fat Controller Magazine), an electronic snow glove and at least one public house in the United Kingdom.
It is also the nickname given Samuel Northcliffe, the malevolent influence on the life of protagonist Ian Wharton in British novelist Will Self's 1993 novel My Idea of Fun.
Mid-90s British band The Catherine Wheel recorded a song, Here Comes the Fat Controller on their 1997 album Adam and Eve.