Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends

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Thomas & Friends
TV thomas the tank engine screenshot.jpg
Thomas the Tank Engine
Genre Children's television series
Created by Wilbert Vere Awdry
Britt Allcroft
Robert D. Cardona (1984-1986)
David Mitton (1984-2003)
Simon Spencer (2004-present)
Steve Asquith (2004-present)
Starring Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends
Narrated by Ringo Starr (1984-1986) (UK and U.S. series)
Michael Angelis (1991) (UK series)
George Carlin (1991-1998) (U.S. series)
Alec Baldwin (1998-2003) (U.S. series))
Michael Brandon (2004-present) (U.S. series)
Pierce Brosnan (2008) (UK and U.S. series)
Country of origin UK
No. of episodes 368
Running time five minutes (season 1-7) seven minutes (season 8-12) eight minutes and forty-five seconds (season 13-onwards)
Original channel United Kingdom ITV (1984-1991), Cartoon Network (1995-2001), Nick Jr., Noggin and Tiny Pop

Flag of the United States PBS
Flag of Australia ABC
Flag of Japan Tokyo MX
Flag of Brazil Rede Manchete,
Flag of Canada TVO, BBC Kids, Treehouse TV
Flag of Germany RTL
Flag of Italy Rai Due, Rai Tre
Flag of Malaysia RTM2, Astro Ceria
Flag of Mexico Azteca 7, Azteca 13, Proyecto 40
Flag of the Netherlands Yorin
Flag of Norway NRK 1
Flag of the Philippines 3ABN
Flag of Poland TV4

Original run 1984 – Present

Thomas & Friends (formerly Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends) is a British children's television series which was first broadcast in 1984.

The series was based on The Railway Series, a series of books created by the Reverend Wilbert V. Awdry. They deal with the adventures of a group of subanthropomorphised 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. During the 1980s the television rights were sold to Britt Allcroft and she started producing the series. It premiered in the UK in 1984. The show has been narrated by Ringo Starr, Michael Angelis, George Carlin, Alec Baldwin, Michael Brandon and Pierce Brosnan.

Many businesses have been eager to cash-in on the world-wide 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 benefitted from the series. "Days Out With Thomas" events, where passengers are given the chance to ride on full-size trains pulled by Thomas or his friends, provide a considerable source of income, without which many such railways would struggle to survive.

Format and Animation

Each episode consists of a five-minute (seasons 1-7) or seven-minute (season 8 onwards) story, told by a narrator.

The series is animated using live-action models, seen at the time of first production as the most effective way of realising the stories without the cost and expense of conventional animation. The locomotives and other vehicles move, but people and animals are generally static. Stop-motion is generally used for instances in which a human or animal character is seen to move. In recent seasons, CGI has been used to generate smoke and other effects.

The use of a narrator removes the need to make characters' mouths move when they speak. However, their eyes do move by use of remote controlled mechanisms. The characters' faces are sculpted from foam rubber. Each character has several different faces to convey different emotions.

The models were initially built to a scale of 10 millimetres to the foot (known in model railway circles as Gauge 1). They used chassis made by Marklin with specially made bodies. As well as the eye mechanisms, these bodies also include smoke generators. Coaches and trucks were made using Tenmille kits. Models were later constructed entirely from scratch.

From Season 5 onwards, some larger scale models were used for the narrow gauge characters, in order to make it easier to 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 to a large scale, and large models of Thomas and Percy were made to interact with them. Beginning with the ninth season, the Thomas model also interacted with the narrow gauge engines. It was joined by a large version of James in the tenth season.

In 2008 it was announced that the show would be transferring to CGI. Season 12 was the first season to feature the mouths moving, along with people and animals being able to move easily. Harold became a completely CGI element in this season. Pierce Brosnan had been scheduled to narrate the series, but was marked only as a guest narrator for The Great Discovery.

In 2009 major changes took place. The series moved to Nitrogen Studios in Canada, Greg Tiernan was hired as director, and a voice cast was hired. Hero Of The Rails was the first feature to use complete CGI.

Series history

For the first two seasons the series was closely based on stories from the Railway Series. The first season took stories from the first eight books, along with one specially written by the Rev. W. Awdry, Thomas's Christmas Party.

The second season took stories from Book 9 (Edward the Blue Engine) to Book 30 (More About Thomas the Tank Engine). This last book was unusual, in that it was written specifically by Christopher Awdry in order to be adapted for the series, as a contractual obligation of the series at that time was that it could not create original stories that had not previously 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.

The third season (1991) made at a cost of £1.3 million[1] was a combination of episodes derived from the Railway Series, from stories in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends magazine and original stories. There were two primary reasons for diverging from the original books. The first was that many of the books not yet adapted featured large numbers of new characters, and so would be expensive to produce. The second was that the producers wanted more stories centering on Thomas, the nominal main character. The Rev. W. Awdry complained that the new stories were unrealistic and not true to the spirit of the books (see Henry the Green Engine for more details on this) [1].

For the fourth season (1995), the producers planned to introduce some "new" female characters, including Mavis the diesel engine, Caroline the car, Nancy the guard's daughter and The Refreshment Lady.[2]. Some commentators took this as a response to a number of accusations of sexism that had been levelled against the series two years earlier[3]. In reality, they were not "new" characters, but creations of the Rev. Awdry, borrowed from The Railway Series.

Season 4 was almost entirely based on the Railway Series, the last season so to do. The narrow gauge engines were introduced, greatly increasing the number of stories that could be produced. Only one original story was used, namely 'Rusty to the Rescue', but this took certain elements of plot and dialogue from the book Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine.

The fifth season was a radical departure, as it was entirely original. This season saw the introduction of new characters and more action-packed storylines [citation needed].

Following this season, the film 'Thomas and the Magic Railroad' was released. It featured only a small number of characters from the television series and was rather more fantasy based. Despite high production values and the popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, the movie was criticised for being confusing, badly written, poorly directed, poorly acted and not true to the spirit of either the Railway Series or the television adaptation by UK audiences [citation needed]. It was well received by young children at whom it was aimed[citation needed] and made $16 million at the box office; however, no reference to the film has ever been made in the television series. New episodes that had been written by Britt Allcroft and director David Mitton were from then on scripted by hired-in writers.

The sixth and seventh seasons continued the policy of action-packed storylines and new characters. The sixth season was notable for its attempt to create a spin-off series. In this sixth season, two episodes were produced centering around a group of new characters known as 'The Pack'. These were construction machines, and it has been speculated that this was an attempt to cash in on the success of Bob the Builder [citation needed]. The spin-off never materialised, and as the models of the Pack were incompatible with the other characters in the series (having been built to a larger scale), they have not been seen in the series since. However, they have recently appeared in a straight-to-video spin-off release called On Site with Thomas.

Starting with Season 7, the title was shortened to Thomas & Friends.

Following Season 7, a number of significant changes took place. The series was taken over by HIT Entertainment (the owners of Bob the Builder). Episode length was increased from five to seven minutes, and a new theme tune was composed. The number of characters was greatly reduced, with stories focusing on Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby and Emily. Following complaints from parent action groups concerning the number of accidents in the series, the stories' emphasis was moved from action to character, with episodes generally focusing upon morals [citation needed].

Shortly before the release of Series 9, a straight-to-video film, 'Calling All Engines', was released. This featured characters from 'Thomas and the Magic Railroad', but was not a sequel as such. It received a far better reception than the earlier film[citation needed], and HIT are thought to be considering the possibility of similar specials in the future[citation needed].

Series 9 and 10 featured the introductions of new characters, as well as returns of several older ones. The show format generally remained the same as Series 8. Season 10, (2006), became the first season to ever feature 28 episodes, as opposed to the standard 26 episodes per season.

Series 11 aired in 2007. However, only 20 episodes were aired on TV. Episodes 21-26, were kept aside for a special DVD. Engines and Escapades was released on October 22, 2007 in the UK, and on March 4, 2008 in the US. These six episodes focused soley on the Narrow Gauge Engines. These six episodes aired on PBS in the US in September 2008.

Directly before Series 12, a second special, The Great Discovery, was released. This was the last production to feature stop-motion completely, and the first and only feature to be narrated by Pierce Brosnan.

Season 12 (2008) featured many changes, the most shocking among them being that the episode order being cut short to 20 episodes. This was the last season to use the models and the model sets.

Hero Of The Rails (2009) was the first feature to use full CGI and a voice cast. Many characters returned and 3 new characters were introduced.

Season 13 (2010) again featured only 20 episodes, but was quite superb. A change that could easily be noticed, though, was that accidents seems to no longer be part of the show. The only real accident being in "Snow Tracks".

Characters from the series

The characters are split to separate pages. These pages are:

Season index

Cinema movies

Direct-to-video adventures

Thomas on television and in film

The series was first broadcast in 1984 on ITV in the United Kingdom. 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 2001, 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.

Thomas also made a comeback on ITV in January 2003 with its sixth series of five minute stories. The sixth and seventh series were shown in their entirety in 2003 and 2004. The eighth series was broadcast in 2005, 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 which allowed them to cut their children's TV output in mid 2005, five bought the rights to the series. The ninth series began showing on October 10 2006, followed one month later on November 10 by the tenth.

In 1989, Thomas and Friends was shown in North America, in a television series called Shining Time Station which was broadcast on PBS. Storytime with Thomas is another American spin-off that aired in 1999 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. However, the film was not a success.

The Thomas and Friends stories were five 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) 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 episides 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.


  • Ringo Starr (UK and U.S. narrator seasons 1-2). Ringo Starr, drummer from The Beatles, narrated the first two TV series of Thomas and Friends from 1984 to 1989. Ringo did the original UK narration for the series, and then when exported to the US, parts of it were renarrated and replaced. Ringo also contributed his services to Ladybird Audio Book tie-ins for the series, and appeared in Shining Time Station as the first Mr Conductor, before returning to pursue his musical career with his All Starr Band. Starr's celebrity status was a useful factor in gaining publicity for the show in its first season, and he is now the narrator most associated with Thomas.
  • Michael Angelis (UK narrator season 3-present) U.S. narrator season 7 (New Friends for Thomas DVD only)). Angelis has narrated the series since 1991, and been the longest standing narrator for the series in its history. He began in the 3rd series, and continues to narrate the British series. Angelis also replaced Baldwin for the beginning of the seventh season of the U.S. version for only one DVD called "New Friends for Thomas". He has also narrated the direct-to-video releases Calling All Engines, On Site With Thomas, Engines And Escapades, and Hero Of The Rails. Angelis also narrated the first three volumes of The Railway Series for CD release in the UK in March 2006.
  • Pierce Brosnan (UK and U.S. Narrator The Great Discovery). It was announced in July 2007 that former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan would take over narration duties for the series. After narrating the DVD-exclusive The Great Discovery in Autumn 2008 however, Michael Angelis and Michael Brandon continued to narrate the TV Series. Simply, Brosnan has been promoted as a guest narrator.
  • George Carlin (U.S. narrator seasons 1-4). Carlin was the first American to narrate the series; he replaced Starr in 1991 for the American series and "Shining Time Station" as the Mr Conductor character. In the American series, Carlin re-narrated the first two seasons due to Shining Time; in 1998, he left the series to return to his career in comedy.
  • Alec Baldwin (U.S. narrator seasons 5-6). Baldwin replaced Carlin in 1998 for the U.S. series; he left the series to pursue film roles. In the American series, Baldwin renarrated seasons 5-6 due to Storytime With Thomas. He also appeared in the movie Thomas and the Magic Railroad, where he became the third actor to play Mr Conductor.
  • Michael Brandon (U.S. narrator season 7-present). Brandon has so far narrated the seventh through tenth series, and renarrated part of the 6th season for television broadcast, as well as the straight to DVD specials - Calling All Engines, On Site with Thomas, Engines And Escapades, and Hero Of The Rails. He continues to narrate the series as of now.


Actor Region Role(s)
Ben Small UK/AUS Thomas, Ferdinand
Teresa Gallagher UK/AUS Emily, Mavis, Rosie, Lady Hatt, Bridget Hatt
Keith Wickham UK/AUS Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, The Fat Controller, Dowager Hatt, Sir Lowham Hatt, Harold, Salty, Whiff, Bill and Ben, Captain, Dash, Mr. Bubbles, The Mayor of Sodor
Matt Wilkinson UK/AUS Toby, Spencer, Victor, Kevin, Rocky, Cranky, Charlie, Bash
Jules de Jongh UK/AUS Alicia Botti
Kerry Shale UK/AUS Diesel
Togo Igawa UK/AUS/
Michael Brandon US/CAN Diesel
Martin Sherman US/CAN Thomas
Kerry Shale US/CAN The Fat Controller, Gordon, Henry, James, Kevin, Harold, Bash, Ferdinand, Sir Lowham Hatt
William Hope US/CAN Edward, Percy, Toby, Whiff, Charlie, Farmer Trotter, Stephen Hatt
Keith Wickham US/CAN Salty, Captain, Dowager Hatt
Jules de Jongh US/CAN Emily, Mavis, Rosie, Alicia Botti, Bridget Hatt, Lady Hatt
Glenn Wrage US/CAN Spencer, Rocky, Cranky
David Bedella US/CAN Victor, The Mayor of Sodor

Production history

The series has gone through numerous changes throughout its run. The producer is in charge of every aspect of the show for the relevant season(s)

  • Seasons 01-02: Britt Allcroft (executive producer), David Mitton, and Robert D. Cardona
  • Seasons 03-05: Britt Allcroft, David Mitton
  • Seasons 06-07: Phil Fehrle
  • Seasons 08-10: Simon Spencer

Originally the series was produced by The Britt Allcroft Company 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 Private Equity firm Apax.

The series has always been filmed at Shepperton Studios.

Television series trivia

  • Since 1984, the show has been filmed at West London's Shepperton Studios. The layouts are expansive and fit in a hangar-sized room. The train miniatures are set on remote control and filmed using a 35mm camera, in order to get quality shots from such small objects. [1]
  • From Season 5 onwards stories were written especially for television. First by the then-producers of the show Britt Allcroft and David Mitton (series 5), and then by a much larger team of hired writers (series 6 onwards).
  • Throughout series 6 and 7, David Mitton continued to provide storylines and wrote his final script during the show's sixth run, "Edward the Very Useful Engine".
  • The narrator provides the story and the character voices.
  • In the Japanese and Korean versions, individual voice actors did the characters' voices instead of the narrator. Thomas and Percy were voiced by women.
  • In some episodes, old models used in Thomas' short-lived sister show, TUGS appear.
  • Season 7 was the last season to use 35mm film and the original Thomas the Tank Engine theme tune.
  • Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell composed the show's original theme song and music from the years 1984 to 2003. In 2004, Robert Hartshorne took their place as composer, while Ed Welch wrote the new theme tune and the songs.
  • David Mitton directed until he retired in 2003. Steve Asquith replaced him in 2004.
  • In the Portuguese, Polish and Swedish versions, the narrator is a woman.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine was in The Guinness Book of World Records 2004 as the world's largest model railway. The model of James for "Thomas and Friends Live" holds the record as the worl'ds largest model engine.
  • Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby, Bertie, Annie, Clarabel, Henrietta, The Fat Controller and The Troublesome Trucks are the only characters to appear in every season of the show.
  • Three real engines have been featured on the show - Stepney has made a number of appearances (Stepney is also a real engine from the Bluebell Railway), and City of Truro and Flying Scotsman played minor roles in two Season 3 episodes.



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, annuals, colouring and activity books, jigsaws, board games, stationery, 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", also referred to as "Come Ride the Rails with Thomas" [2] 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.

Similar events are staged at UK steam railways.

Thomas in Amusement Parks

In the upcoming 2007 Summer Six Flags Season, a Thomas and Friends land will be opened at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (Formerly Six Flags Marine World) in Vallejo, CA, which is located about 30 miles north of San Francisco.

Next spring the UK midlands will open their own Thomas Land just like Japan's Amusement Park which attracts 1.7 million fans every year as this year 2007. HIT Entertainment is lauching a Thomas Land Campaign.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sibley, Brian (1995). The Thomas the Tank Engine Man. Heinemann, p318. ISBN 0 434 96909 5.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "sibley" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Sibley, p320
  3. Sibley, p309

See also

External links

The world of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends
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Book series: The Railway Series
TV Series: Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends
Series particulars
List of Railway Series Books
TV Series Seasons:

Movie and spin-off releases: Thomas and the Magic RailroadCalling All EnginesOn Site with ThomasThe Great DiscoveryHero of the RailsMisty Island RescueDay of the DieselsBlue Mountain MysteryKing of the Railway

ThomasEdwardHenryGordonJamesPercyTobyDuckDonald and DouglasEmily
The Fat ControllerBertieTerenceTrevorHarold

The Railway Series: Major CharactersMinor CharactersUnfeatured Characters
TV Series: Major characters Narrow gauge enginesRolling StockNon-rail vehiclesPeople & animals
Movies: Movie-only characters

Island of Sodor
Railways: North WesternSkarloeyArlesdaleCuldee FellMid SodorSodor & Mainland"Other"

Other locations - The Railway SeriesTV Series

Significant people and organisations
Rev. W.V. Awdry (series creator)Christopher Awdry
The Britt Allcroft CompanyGullane EntertainmentHIT Entertainment
Other relevant pages
Thomas and Friends Portal
The Railway Stories (audiobooks)Thomas and Friends video releasesShining Time Station
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends merchandise
TUGS (redirects to TUGS at Ship Spotting World)
Thomas & Friends fan fiction

Fan Fiction Character Glossary

Fan Fiction Series

Last of the Railroads • The Sodor Engines • Thomas and Friends: The New Life • Thomas and his chums • Thomas the Trackmaster Adventures • Thomas the Wooden Engine

Human Series

Garcia And Friends • Human Thomas and Friends

Merchandise Ideas

Wooden Railway • Trackmaster • Railway Series Books • Thomas Story Time • DVDs • DVD Gift Sets • CDs • Video Games • Take-n-Play • Voice Cast • Episodes • Bachmann • Hornby • Movies/Specials


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