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Thomas & Friends

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Thomas & Friends
Thomas & Friends logo
Genre Animated television series
Format Children's television series
Starring Ringo Starr (UK: 1984–1986)
Michael Angelis (UK: 1991–present)
George Carlin (US: 1991–1995)
Alec Baldwin (US: 1998–2003)
Michael Brandon (US: 2003-present)
Country of origin United Kingdom
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 15
No. of episodes 380 (episodes)
5 (films) (List of Episodes)
Executive producer(s) Britt Allcroft
Running time 22 minutes
Composer(s) Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell
Robert Hartshorne (2004–present)
Ed Welch (2004–2008)
Production company(s) Clearwater (1984)
The Britt Allcroft Company (1991)
Gullane Entertainment (2000)
HiT Entertainment (2001–present)
Original run Original Series:
September 4, 1984 – present
Cartoon Network:
June 21, 1999 - August 20, 2001
Status Active Broadcast (Original Series)
Ended (Cartoon Network)

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends as seen on Cartoon Network UK.

Thomas & Friends (previously called Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends from 1984-2003) is a British children's television series that was previously broadcasted on CITV from 1984-2004 and is currently broadcast on Channel 5. Only the first five series' were broadcast on Cartoon Network UK from 1999-2001.



Before the airing of the first episode of Thomas & Friends in 1984, previous attempts had been made to adapt Awdry's stories for television.[2] The first was in 1953 when the editor of the Railway Series books, Eric Marriott, was approached by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), who wished to use live-action model trains to re-create two stories from Awdry's first book, The Three Railway Engines.[2] The engines were portrayed by 00 gauge Hornby Dublo models and driven on authentic sets in the style of the original illustrations; the first episode, based on "The Sad Story of Henry", was broadcast live on the evening of Sunday 14 June 1953 from Lime Grove Studios.[2][3][4] Unfortunately, the live broadcast did not fare well: a failure to switch the points caused the model of Henry to derail and viewers of the live broadcast witnessed a human hand picking him up and placing him back on the rails, models moved jerkily, and all effects and music had to be superimposed.[2][3][4] By 23 February, news of the broadcast hit the front pages of the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail; Awdry himself branded the episode as 'unprofessional', and the point-switching debacle as an 'elementary mistake'.[2][3][4] As a result, the second episode scheduled for 28 June 1953 was put on hold, and then later cancelled.[2][3][4] After the "Sad Story of Henry" fiasco, the BBC did attempt to rescue the project by offering to give Awdry and the Railway Series publishers greater creative control over the production of the episodes, but the publishers declined the offer, preferring to focus on publishing new books for the series.[2]

Nearly twenty years later, the BBC incorporated Awdry's stories once again. Fourteen years before Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends was aired, Ted Ray, sitting in a stationmaster's office, read out five Railway Series books between 20 September to 2 October 1970 on the popular children's television story-telling show Jackanory.[2][5]

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends

In 1979, British television producer Britt Allcroft was producing a documentary on the Bluebell Railway,[2][3] a heritage railway in Sussex which actually featured in the Railway Series book Stepney the Bluebell Engine.[6] As part of her research before filming, Allcroft read some books in The Railway Series and was highly entertained and impressed with the stories which Awdry had written, later remarking that "There was something in the stories that I felt I could develop that would connect with children"; "I saw a strong emotional content that would carry with little children's experiences with life."[3] Allcroft worked to convince Awdry that she could, with funding, convert the stories into a successful television show – her efforts were successful, and she purchased the television rights from the publishers of The Railway Series at a cost of what was then £50,000.[2][3] But Allcroft still had to work to raise the money to finance production as so far all potential backers, despite showing a keen interest, wanted a level of creative control which she did not want to forego; in the end, after several years of searching and having to place a second mortgage on her home, Allcroft raised sufficient funding from her local bank manager.[2][3][7][8]

The series started production in 1984 by Britt Allcroft Productions, Clearwater Features Ltd (David Mitton and Robert D. Cardona's company) and the ITV company Central Independent Television.[9] The series was originally shot and produced with live action models at the Clearwater in house studio in Battersea London, (Series 1), then relocating to Shepperton Studios, Middlesex, southwest of London for subsequent series. The use of moving models was seen at the time of the show's conception as an effective method of animating the stories. Locomotives and other vehicles were operated by radio, while humans and animals were static figures. Stop-motion was occasionally employed for instances in which a human or animal character would move. Hand-drawn animation was used in Series 3 to create bees.

The first series (1984) used stories from the first eight books, along with one specially written by the Rev. W. Awdry, Thomas's Christmas Party. The second series (1986) used stories from Book 9 (Edward the Blue Engine) to Book 30 (More About Thomas the Tank Engine). This book was unusual, as it was written specifically by Christopher Awdry to be adapted by the show. At that time it was a contractual obligation that the show could only adapt stories that appeared in print. The series also used a story from a Thomas Annual, "Thomas and Trevor", and a specially written stand-alone story, Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree. The second series was actually a 27-episode series, as a single (unaired) episode ("The Missing Coach") was in the process of being filmed, but despite being filmed it was never shown because Allcroft decided it was too confusing for young children/younger viewers. The production team went on to use "Thomas, Percy and the Coal" instead.[10]

In between production of the second and third series, the production team were focused in producing two other television series: Tugs which ran for one series from 1988 to 1989 for TVS.[11] The American television Shining Time Station, repackaged Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends for the American television market from 1989 to 1995.

Just before production of series three, Clearwater closed in 1990, with The Britt Allcroft Company becoming the sole producer. Series three was broadcast from to 1991 and 1992 in two parts, one part having 16 episodes and the other having 10. It was made at a cost of £1.3 million.[12] The series was a combination of episodes derived from The Railway Series, stories in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends magazine, and original stories by Britt Allcroft and David Mitton. One of the primary reasons for diverging from the original books was that many of the stories not yet used featured large numbers of new characters, which would be expensive to produce. Another was that the producers wanted more stories about Thomas, the nominal main character. The Rev. W. Awdry complained that the new stories were unrealistic (see Henry the Green Engine for more details).[12] Robert D. Cardona left as producer, while Britt Allcroft joined David Mitton as co-producer. Angus Wright took over as executive producer.

Series four was also broadcast in two parts (one part having 10 episodes and the other having 16) from 1994 to 1995. The producers planned to introduce some new female characters, including motor car Caroline, Nancy, and The Refreshment Lady.[13] Some commentators took this as a response to accusations of sexism levelled against the series two years earlier.[14] In reality, these were not "new" characters, but creations of the Rev. Awdry from the original Railway Series books. Series four was almost entirely based on The Railway Series. The narrow gauge engines were introduced, and were the focus of a number of episodes. Only one original story ("Rusty to the Rescue") was used, but this took certain elements of plot and dialogue from Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine.

The fifth series (1998) was a radical shift, as all episodes were written by Britt Allcroft and David Mitton with no further stories being adapted from the Railway Series. This series saw the introduction of new characters, such as Cranky, The Horrid Lorries and Old Slow Coach. It also focused on more dramatic and edgy plot-lines, with more severe accidents, than in the earlier seasons.[15] After series 5, Angus Wright stepped down as executive producer.

Thomas and the Magic Railroad was released in July 2000 in the UK. It featured new characters created by Britt Allcroft, along with characters from the show that introduced Thomas to the US, Shining Time Station. Despite high production values and the popularity of the show, the film was criticised by UK reviewers who were unfamiliar with Shining Time Station. The movie was well received by young children on both sides of the Atlantic, but made only $16 million at the US box office at matinee prices, against a cost of $19 million to produce. The film was broadcast on BBC1 on 1 January 2004 and again on 29 December 2008.

Hit Entertainment

The Britt Allcroft Company (which changed to Gullane Entertainment in 2001) was bought over by HiT Entertainment in September 2002,[16][17] a company specialising in children's entertainment.

The sixth and seventh series continued to introduce action-packed storylines and new characters, and saw the introduction of a writing staff. The sixth series in 2002 was notable for its attempt to create a spin-off based on the successful "Bob the Builder" series. Two episodes introduced a group of construction machine characters known as "The Pack". The spin-off didn't materialise for some time. Eventually, in 2006, thirteen episodes were released straight to DVD. The fact that older sets were used and the episodes were shot on 35mm camera (as opposed to the digital camera used at the time of the episodes' release) suggest it was filmed some time before Series 8. In Series 7 (2003) the programme title was officially shortened to Thomas & Friends, this name having been used on merchandise and video covers for three years previously. Phil Fehrle replaced Allcroft and Mitton as producer, though Mitton remained as the director. Executive producer Angus Wright was replaced by Peter Urie and Britt Allcroft as executive producers for Series 6.

In 2003, Britt Allcroft stepped down as executive producer, making Peter Urie the sole executive producer for Gullane Entertainment, and Jocelyn Stevenson was the executive producer for HiT Entertainment.

The eighth series (2004) introduced a number of significant changes to the show. Many of the original founding team involved in the original show since 1984 left the production, notably Britt Allcroft, director and writer David Mitton, and original composers Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell all departed, and the composers became embroiled in a protracted legal dispute with HIT.[18][19] Steve Asquith took over as director, while Simon Spencer replaced Phil Fehrle as producer. A new theme song and incidental music was composed by Ed Welch and Robert Hartshorne, respectively. Episode runtime was increased to seven minutes. The series was produced using digital video camera, creating a somewhat different look for the show. Other changes include the additions of CGI educational sequences and transitions between stories. Executive producer Peter Urie also left, while Jocelyn Stevenson remained in her role as executive producer. Sam Barlow became the story executive, while Abi Grant and Paul Larson served as script editors. This series saw the adoption of a centralised cast, including Thomas the Tank Engine, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby and Emily.

Hit Entertainment was itself then acquired by Apax Partners, a private equity company, in March 2005.[20]

A straight-to-video film, Calling All Engines! was released shortly before Series 9 in 2005. While featuring characters from Thomas and the Magic Railroad, it was not a direct sequel. It proved successful, which resulted in more direct-to-video specials being produced.[21]

Series 9 (2005) and 10 (2006) saw the expansion of the supporting cast with new and old characters. From Series 9 the Narrator would call out the episodes' names and from Series 11 the theme song was sung starting with the sound of a train whistle. Series 10 aired with twenty-eight episodes rather than the twenty-six of previous years. The eleventh series (2007) was filmed in a high definition format. Twenty episodes aired in the original broadcast, while six were released direct to DVD. Jocelyn Stevenson had stepped down as executive producer after Series 10, with Christopher Skala taking her place as executive producer for Series 11. Sharon Miller became the script editor from Series 9 to 11.

Series 12 (2008) saw the introduction of CGI effects, with the intent of producing the show entirely in CGI the following year.[22] The traditional models and sets were used, but with computer animated faces superimposed on the models to allow for changing facial expressions. Humans and animals were fully computer animated to allow for walking movement. Only twenty episodes were broadcast (the US broadcast featured six additional episodes from Engines and Escapades). Sharon Miller became the head writer, starting with Series 12.

HiT announced multiple changes to the show beginning in 2009. One new aspect was the introduction of live-action host segments to Thomas' home video releases. The host took the form of a character who worked on The Fat Controller's railway, who would instruct viewers in craft projects. For the final 2 DVDs released for Season 12 in 2009, the host was named Mr. Arkwright (played by Robert Slate). In 2010 for the CGI Series, the host was named Mr. Perkins (played by Ben Forster) and has remained host ever since.

The other major changes were a move to production in CGI, rather than using physical models, and the addition of a voice cast to support the established narrator. The DVD feature, Hero of the Rails, was the first Thomas & Friends production to show these changes; Series 13 was the first television series in the new format. The CGI animation for the series was provided by Nitrogen Studios of Vancouver.

In September 2010, Apax was preparing to sell off HiT Entertainment and its franchises, including Thomas – regarded as the single most valuable asset – in order to help clear HiT's debts[23][24][25] and in February 2012, sold the company, along with the Thomas properties, to US toy giant Mattel.[26]

During production of Series 16 (2012), Sharon Miller stepped down as head writer, with Andrew Brenner assuming the role after serving as script editor for Blue Mountain Mystery. Additionally, Sam Barlow stepped down as story executive after the sixteenth series, and the production of the CGI animation was moved from Nitrogen Studios (of Vancouver) to Arc Productions (of Toronto).[27] King of the Railway and Series 17, both released during 2013, serve as the first special and series developed by the new animation and production team respectively.

2014 saw Tale of the Brave and Series 18, the second special and series animated by Arc, respectively.

2015 so far has seen The Adventure Begins, a special to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the franchise. September will bring Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure and Series 19 is set to air in late 2015.



See Railway Engines, Narrow gauge engines, Rolling stock, Non-rail vehicles


Before Series 13, narration and dialogue were performed by a single storyteller. This was the choice of Allcroft, who wanted the television stories to be an extension of the way they would be told at home in a comforting environment. All character emotions would come from the nuances of the storyteller's voice, in conjunction with facial expressions, music, and actions on-screen.


The original live action models were filmed on an extensive model railway layout built at the studios. The models were built to the 1:32 scale, known in model railway circles as "Gauge 1". The locomotives used chassis made by Märklin with specially made bodies. Along with the moving-eye and eyelid mechanisms and clay faces, these bodies also included smoke generators. Coaches and trucks were made using Tenmille kits. Later models were constructed entirely from scratch. Some of the models from the sister television series Tugs were reused in later episodes of the series.

From Series 4 to 12, some larger-scale models were used for the narrow gauge characters, to more easily fit the complex mechanisms into them while retaining a sufficient level of detail. In Series 6, the characters known as "the Pack" (construction machines) were also constructed on a large scale, and larger models of Thomas and Percy were made to interact with them. In the ninth series, another larger Thomas model was built to the same scale as the narrow gauge engines to provide greater possibilities for interaction. It was joined by a large version of James in the tenth series. In 2009, some of these models were put on display in a special exhibit at Drayton Manor Theme Park's Thomas Land.[28] Nitrogen Studios, who provided the animation for the series from series 12 to 16, also has some of the original models on display.

Face movements

At the show's conception in 1984, live action model animation would not deliver lip sync, but show co-creator Britt Allcroft and model director David Mitton did not see this as an inhibition. About 20 years later however, with advancement in technology, the show saw the introduction of CGI by HIT Entertainment's subsidiary HOT Animation.[29] At first this was used to generate smoke and other effects, but later, HIT (the new owners of Thomas) announced its intent to introduce a fully CGI series in 2009.[30] With Series 12, CGI by Nitrogen Studios was used to animate characters' faces and to make people and animals mobile within the stories. The following series saw a transition to full CGI animation.


Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell composed the show's original main title theme, incidental music and songs, which were used for Series 1 to 7 comprising 182 episodes between 1984 and 2003.

In 2004, Robert Hartshorne took O'Donnell and Campbell's place as composer, while Ed Welch became the show's songwriter from Series 8 to The Great Discovery, and Welch left after The Great Discovery and Hartshorne took his place as songwriter from Series 12 and onwards. Peter Hartshorne joined his father Robert Hartshorne as composer and songwriter in 2011, starting with Day of the Diesels.

Head writer

Since series 12, there has been a head writer for the series. Prior to the introduction of a head writer, the script editor performed similar duties. Sharon Miller served as head writer from series 12–16 and stepped down after series 16 and was replaced by Andrew Brenner, the writer of Tractor Tom, for series 17 and onwards.

Script editors
  • Abi Grant (series 6)
  • Jan Page (series 7)
  • Abi Grant and Paul Larson (series 8)
  • Sharon Miller (series 9-11)
  • Becky Evans (series 16, last few episodes)
Head writer
  • Sharon Miller (series 12–16)
  • Andrew Brenner (series 17-Present)

List of productions

Television series

Main article: List of Thomas & Friends episodes

Series Year Episodes DVD release date (R2) DVD release date (R4) DVD release date (R1)
1 1984 26 31 January 2005[31] 2 May 2006[32] 26 October 2004[33]
2 1986 26 18 April 2005[34] 13 April 2006[35]
3 1991–1992 26 23 January 2006[36] 6 July 2006[37]
4 1994–1995 26 24 July 2006[38] 8 September 2006[39]
5 1998 26 5 February 2007[40] 8 September 2006[41]
6 2002 26 2 July 2007[42] 5 January 2009[43]
7 2003 26 14 January 2008[44] 4 June 2009[45]
8 2004 26 28 July 2008[46] 4 June 2009[47]
9 2005 26 19 January 2009[48] 2 March 2010[49]
10 2006 28 17 May 2010[50] 2 June 2010[51]
11 2007 26 26 July 2010[52] 2 June 2011[53]
12 2008 20 21 February 2011[54] 1 March 2012[55]
13 2010 20 13 February 2012[56]

14 2010 20 22 July 2013[57]

15 2011 20 7 July 2014

16 2012 20 25 May 2015[58]

17 2013–2014 26

18 2014–2015 26

19 2015

Films, specials, and miniseries

Main article: Thomas & Friends (franchise) § Direct-to-video specials

Home video history

Main article: Thomas and Friends video releases

Over the history of the programme, the TV episodes and specials have been released for home viewing in a variety of compilations, formats and languages, by a variety of publishing houses.

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