Thomas and Friends, previously known as Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, is the name of the television series based on the Railway Series by the Reverend W. Awdry. It was adapted for television by Britt Allcroft using original stories from the Railway Series before using television-exclusive stories written by independent writers. The series has spawned seventeen television seasons, a movie, and seven feature-length specials, with a second movie in the works.
Thomas and Friends revolves around the railway engines that live on the Island of Sodor. The show is mainly about the title character, Thomas, a cheeky little blue tank engine with six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler, and a short stumpy dome. Thomas and Friends takes place on the standard gauge North Western Railway and the narrow gauge Skarloey Railway. The head of the North Western Railway is Sir Topham Hatt, affectionately nicknamed "The Fat Controller" by the engines and staff. Since the second season, there has been a rivalry between the steam and Diesel engines.
The first known attempt to make a television adaption of the Railway Series was by BBC in 1953. It was decided that Hornby Dublo models would be used and everything went ahead. But it was sadly not to be. During the live airing of the first episode, Henry derailed and a hand was seen coming down to put him back on track. Nothing is known to remain of this project. There have been several other attempts, however. The first somewhat successful run was on the children's show "Jackanory" in 1970. The Railway Series books were read out loud by host Ted Ray. Five books were read in all until October 2nd, 1970. The current television series got its start in 1979 when the Reverend Awdry was interviewed for a feature on steam trains. The producer, Britt Allcroft, had read some of the books before the interview. She had become fascinated with the characters and after getting funding from her local bank, acquired the series so she could adapt it for television.
Allcroft rounded up a production crew, which included model director David Mitton, narrator Ringo Starr, and composers Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell. The first season premiered in September 1984 and with its success, came another in 1986. After two successful seasons, Britt Allcroft set another goal: bringing Thomas into the United States. Due to stricter broadcasting schedules, Britt had to create a half hour program to go with the five and a half minute episodes. The result was Shining Time Station, starring Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor. This was another hit for Allcroft and was the beginning of the "Thomas craze" in America.
When the television series returned in 1991, there were some big changes. Instead of following closely to the Railway Series, Allcroft and Mitton loosely adapted stories and even wrote their own episodes, much to the Reverend's disdain. The fourth season only had one original episode however and featured many new characters such as the Skarloey Railway engines. The series was doing incredibly well after that and a full-length theatrical film soon loomed ahead. Britt Allcroft decided to drift completely away from Railway Series stories and the fifth season contained all original storylines. This was so Britt could showcase the series as her own before the upcoming film.
The film gained the title "Thomas and the Magic Railroad" and after many changes from the original script, premiered in July of 2000. The film was a huge failure and Allcroft was forced off the series. Her company was sold to Gullane Entertainment and they, in turn, were later sold. In 2001, the idea for a spin-off focusing on the non-rail vehicles was being tossed around at Gullane. During the process, the sixth series was produced and aired, as was the seventh. The buyer turned out to be HiT Entertainment
- Season 1 (1984)
- Season 2 (1986)
- Season 3 (1991-1992)
- Season 4 (1994-1995)
- Season 5 (1998)
- Season 6 (2002)
- Season 7 (2003)
Specials and Movies
These are theatrical films, specials, and special episodes:
- Thomas and the U.K. Trip (1993)
- Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends: The Great Mission to Save Mrs. Kyndley! (1995)
- Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)
These are the narrators of the show in the United Kingdom and the United States:
- Ringo Starr (UK narrator for seasons 1–2; 1984–1986; US narrator for Seasons 1-2, 1989–1990)
- Michael Angelis (UK narrator for seasons 3–16; 1991–2012, US narrator for the New Friends for Thomas and Other Adventures VHS/DVD, 2004)
- George Carlin (US narrator for seasons 3–4, re-dubbed seasons 1–2; 1991–1996)
- Alec Baldwin (US narrator for seasons 5–6; 1999–2003)
- Michael Brandon (US narrator for seasons 7–16, re-dubbed six season 6 episodes; 2003–2012)
Around the World
Main article: Other Languages
English is by no means the only language in which the series is broadcast in:
- Wales: Tomos a'i Ffrindiau, narrated by John Ogwen and often broadcast on S4C's "Planed Plant Bach"
- Scotland/Gaelic: Tomas is a Threud, usually broadcasting on BBC Alba.
- Japan: きかんしゃトーマス, or, literally, Kikansha Tōmasu
- Norway: Lokomotivet Thomas/Thomas og Vennene Hans
- Germany: Thomas die kleine Lokomotive/Thomas Und Seine Freunde
- Greece: Τόμας το Τρενάκι/Tomas to Trenaki
- Finland: Tuomas Veturi
- France: Thomas et ses Amis
- Italy: Il trenino Thomas e i suoi amici
- Poland: Parowóz Tomeki i jego Przyjaciele/Tomek i Przyjaciele
- Portugal: Thomas o Trem Azul
- Romania: Locomotiva Thomas și Prietenii Săi
- Sweden: Thomas och Vännerna
- China: 火車頭日記
- Taiwan: 湯瑪士小火車
- South Korea: 꼬마기관차 토마스와 친구들
- The Netherlands: Thomas de Stoomlocomotief
- Mexico/Latin America: Thomas y sus amigos
- Brazil: Thomas e seus amigos
- Hungary: Thomas a gözmozdony
- Russia: "Томас и друзья" (Tomas i Druz'ya)
- Ukraine: "Паровоз Томас і його друзі" (Paravoz Tomas i y̆ogo druzi)
- Nominated - British Academy of Film and Television Arts - Best Animated Film, 1985 and 1987.
- From 1984-2008, the show was filmed at West London's Shepperton Studios. The layouts were expansive and fit in a hangar-sized room. The train miniatures were set on remote control and filmed using a 35 mm camera, in order to get quality shots from such small objects. Sodor Island Fansite's Behind the Scenes page
- The seventh season was the last to use 35 mm film and the original theme tune.
- Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell composed the show's original main title theme, songs and incidental music from 1984 to 2003.
- Three real engines have been featured in the show - Stepney has made a number of appearances, and City of Truro and Flying Scotsman played minor roles in two third season episodes.
- 2001 did not to feature a new season.
- In the third season episode, Escape, the Fat Controller clearly states that steam engines are rare, but from the sixth season and onwards more and more steam engines have appeared in the television series. To date, just under twenty new steam engines have been introduced.
- Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby, Annie, Clarabel, Henrietta, Bertie, and The Fat Controller are the only characters who have appeared in every season of the series.
- Despite being aimed at toddlers, most of the series' audience is age 15 or older.