Behind the Scenes

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Background Information

The Original Thomas


The First Thomas

When the Reverend W. Awdry created Thomas, he existed only as a wooden toy made for his son, Christopher. This engine looked rather different from the character in the books and television series, and was based on an LNER J50 or a Hudswell Clarke with smaller side tanks and splashers. He was painted teal-green with yellow lining, and carried the number 1 on his bunker on both sides in yellow and also carried the letters "NW" on his side tanks in yellow. Awdry claimed that this stood for "No Where," but later works would identify the railway Thomas and his friends worked on as the North Western Railway.

For the illustrations of Thomas the Tank Engine, Edmund Ward, then-publisher of the Railway Series, hired illustrator Reginald Payne, who decided to base Thomas on the LB&SCR E2 Class. (Awdry was annoyed that Thomas was obviously not the tank engine he had first drawn, but he was satisfied when Payne explained that he was drawn after a real prototype). Unfortunately, Payne did not receive any credit for his work; it is only since the publication of Brian Sibley's The Thomas the Tank Engine Man that he has received recognition.

Running Plate Problems


Thomas with his flat footplate

Thomas' running plate was allegedly a source of contention for the Rev. W. Awdry during the course of the Railway Series. As originally drawn, Thomas had a distinctive dip at the front of his running plate, but not on the back. The story goes that to Awdry's eyes, this meant that Thomas' buffers would be at different levels, an operational inaccuracy and impossibility. This seems curious on Awdry's part, as all the artists had drawn Thomas as having an extra-deep rear bufferbeam to compensate, this putting the front and rear buffers at the same level.

Be it a matter of taste or inaccuracy, the issue of the running plate had to be settled: thus Thomas' excursion into the stationmaster's house at Ffarquhar was arranged. After his repairs at Crovan's Gate, Thomas returned with a new modified running plate that was flat and level from smokebox to bunker. In the television series, Thomas' running plate was never changed, even after the events of Thomas Comes to Breakfast were adapted. However, his buffers at his front and rear end are measured at the exact same level, regardless of the dip on his front bufferbeam.

Too Much Thomas?

While he may seem innocent enough, poor Thomas created a fair bit of trouble for Christopher Awdry and Egmont Books, publishers of the Railway Series, when the latter started asking for more books about the happy little tank engine. Granted, Thomas was the most popular character in the original Railway Series books, but Egmont went too far and thus the problem continues. With the advent of the television series, Egmont started asking for more Thomas and to this day Thomas has eight Railway Series volumes under his undercarriage. Two of the titles actually have very little to do with Thomas - Thomas Comes Home focuses on the adventures of the branch line engines during Thomas' visit to York, while Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines only featured one story about Thomas, although he did appear in two of the other three stories. As a result of Thomas' fame, classic characters, like Oliver and Bear, have become largely neglected.

Behind the Scenes

The Original Thomas

A wooden push-along toy from the early 1940s is the original Thomas made by the Reverend Awdry out of a piece of broomstick for his son Christopher. This engine looked rather different from the character in the books and television series and was based on an LNER Class J50 with smaller side tanks and splashers. He was painted blue with yellow lining and carried the letters NW on his side tanks.

Awdry claimed that this stood for "No Where", but later works would identify the railway Thomas and his friends worked on as the fictional North Western Railway. Christopher Awdry lost this model when he was in the US, although it was recreated for a sizzle promo for the 70th Anniversary.

Awdry's model

The Reverend was happy to endorse Payne's account that Thomas was an LBSC E2, although the first Thomas on the Awdry's model railway, from Stuart Reidpath, lacked extended tanks. In the 1979 Thomas Annual, Awdry wrote:

"I bought Thomas in 1948 when I was writing "Tank Engine Thomas Again", and wanted to start modelling 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 E2 tank in the later 70s, the Rev gladly adapted one to take the role of Thomas on Ffarquhar.

Gauge 1 model

The Pack model

The Wharf model

Close-up model

Behind the Scenes

Life-size model

CGI model

Thomas in Popular Culture

Since his debut in the Railway Series and the launch of the television series, Thomas has become an extraordinarily popular character, appearing in over twenty seasons and starring in several direct-to-video films. Because of his popularity, Thomas has even appeared or has been mentioned in other popular shows and films, as well as appearing in many public events too.

Thomas appeared in the 2009 Children in Need charity single produced by the BBC. In it, he was voiced by Ringo Starr, the former narrator of the television series.

In 2014, a balloon of Thomas was launched for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to celebrate the upcoming 70th Anniversary of the Railway Series, and he has continued to appear in the parade since then. Thomas was also featured in the Toronto Santa Claus parade alongside Percy and Rosie on 15th November, 2015.

In the 2015 Marvel film, Ant-Man, Thomas made a cameo appearance in the form of a model train. Bachmann HO scale models of him, Annie, Clarabel, and Emily's coaches were used for the film, and his large scale model was used for, with the face digitally altered to resemble the one on the HO scale model.

In the Robot Chicken parody sketch Blow Some Steam, Thomas was voiced by Harry Potter actor, Daniel Radcliffe. His Bachmann model was used throughout the sketch.

Voice Actors