75 facts you might not know about Thomas the Tank Engine on his 75th anniversary (2024)

To mark Thomas the Tank Engine’s 75th anniversary, Prince Harry is introducing a new story about the impish train.

To celebrate, here are 75 facts about the lovable locomotive.

1. Thomas was created by Rev Wilbert Awdry when his son Christopher was suffering from measles and asked him for stories.

2. In Christmas that same year, Awdry made a toy tank engine called Thomas, for Christopher.

3. Christopher kept correcting his father during his frequent retellings so Rev Awdry decided it was time to commit the stories to print.

4. Rev Awdry was a lifelong train lover. He said: “I inherited my father’s love of railways. I used to lie in bed at night, listening to the engines struggling up the hill... and imagining that they were talking to themselves.”

5. The Reverend said of trains and the Church: “Both are firmly convinced that they are the best means of getting man to his ultimate destination.”

6. Awdry sent his stories to several children’s publishers and received many rejections before being accepted.

7. In the first book in The Railway Series, artist William Middleton was not faithful to Awdry’s vision for Henry’s wheel arrangement. Awdry said later: “I was so annoyed that I endeavoured to kill Henry off.”

8. Henry was not in the third book but was reinstated after children wrote to Awdry worrying about him.

9. Rev Awry gave much of the profits from Thomas to charity.

10. When he started to become famous, newspapers nicknamed him The Puff Puff Parson.

11. Thomas didn’t feature in the first Railway Series book in 1946, The Three Railway Engines. The focus was on Edward, Henry and Gordon.

12. On a visit to the Isle of Man, Awdry discovered that the Bishop there is known as The Bishop of Sodor and Man. Awdry used the name Sodor as his fictional island setting.

13. The NW painted on Thomas at first stood for “nowhere”, and later for North Western Railway.

14. The Fat Controller was based on The Rev Teddy Boston.

15. Thomas is based on Billington E2-Class 0-6-0T locomotives.

16. Thomas got the number 1 because it was the easiest number to paint.

17. Thomas arrived in book two, alongside James the Red Engine.

18. Grumpy train Gordon was named by Christopher after a grumpy pal.

19. Gordon was based on a Gresley A3 Pacific from the London and North Eastern Railway.

20. Percy was patterned after an old Avonside locomotive.

21. The Scottish Twins, Donald and Douglas, are based on members of the 812 Caledonian class of 1899.

22. By the time of The Railway Series, the industry had shifted toward diesel and electric. But on the island of Sodor, steam locomotives are used because Rev Awdry disliked change.

23. The Fat Controller was originally the Fat Director. He became known as The Fat Controller in Britain in 1948 when railways were nationalised.

24. In 1987 the Dean Forest Railway named one of its engines Wilbert.

25. Americans disliked the nickname Fat and so used the character’s name – Sir Topham Hatt – instead.

26. Topham’s first name is Bertram and his brother is Lowham Hatt.

27. Awdry wrote 27 books, the last one before he retired in 1972.

28. Christopher, by then a dad too, wrote 40 more, following his father’s template for his stories.

29. The younger Awdry introduced readers to Harold the Helicopter and fast trains Pip and Emma.

30. Neither Rev Awdry nor Christopher ever thought Thomas was the star of the books.

31. Thomas’s television debut was a 1953 BBC version.

32. The train portraying Henry came off the tracks, and a hand came into shot put him back. The show was cancelled, with Reverend Awdry calling it “unprofessional”.

33. Britt Allcroft developed the later TV series. She discovered Awdry’s books in 1979, while working on a documentary about steam trains.

34. Britt bought the television rights from the book publishers for £50,000. She spent several years trying to raise the money to produce the series herself and put a second mortgage on her home to raise the capital. The show was first broadcast in the UK in 1984.

35. Finding a storyteller to narrate the films was hard for Britt. Then she heard a voice on a chat show. It was ex-Beatle Ringo Starr.

36. Ringo continued his association with Thomas by taking the on-camera part of Mr Conductor in addition to his narration duties. He remained with the show until 1991.

37. Thomas was brought to life at Shepperton Studios, on the outskirts of London. The train characters are models built to a 1:32 scale.

38. Models were built from scratch by three full-time model makers and two part-time freelancers,

39. The characters’ faces were changed between shooting sequences and held in place with double-sided sticky tape.

40. Thomas had more than 40 faces cast for him, while the other engines have five or six each.

41. Episode three of the first series has been described as a “horror story” by fans as Henry is entombed forever for refusing to go to work.

42. Britt signed a deal with US television station PBS and in 1989 created a half-hour children’s program called Shining Time Station.

43. In America, trucks became “freight cars” and “points” became “switches.”

44. In the US version, Thomas’s impudence and self-importance have been toned down.

45. In America’s version, Thomas shows more kindness to Sir Topham Hatt and the stories focus more on friendship and cooperation.

46. US TV executives suggested Edward become Alice to have more female characters.

47. The first female in the Steam Team, Emily, appeared in 2003.

48. Annie and Clarabel didn’t speak until series 12.

49. In 2013, Labour Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh said the franchise set a bad example for girl wannabe train engineers.

50. Rev Awdry’s granddaughter, Claire Chambers, welcomed more female characters, saying: “If the gender-balanced Steam Team encourages more girls to maintain an interest then that can only be a good thing.”

51. In 2002, HIT Entertainment bought Britt’s company Gullane Entertainment though she still considers herself “Thomas’ mum”.

52. There have been 23 series of the UK version of Thomas the Tank engine – that’s 551 episodes.

53. Thomas is shown around the world in more than 45 languages, including Mandarin.

54. Former James Bond Pierce Brosnan narrated Thomas and Friends: The Great Discovery in 2008.

55. Alec Baldwin narrated the US version from 1998 to 2003.

56. Former Brookside, Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Holby star Mark Moraghan has voiced Thomas since 2013.

57. Gwyneth Paltrow was once in talks to become the first female storyteller for the UK series.

58. The first Thomas memorabilia was produced in 1957: cardboard kits for children to build.

59. Thomas Land the theme park is in Drayton Manor Park.

60. When Mattel bought Thomas from British company Hit Entertainment in 2011, annual global sales stood at £615 million.

61. The television series is currently broadcast to more than a billion households in 160 countries.

62. On his first day at school, Prince Harry carried a Thomas the Tank Engine schoolbag.

63. Sir John Hurt voiced Sailor John in the 2015 Thomas film Legend of the Lost Treasure.

64. Eddie Redmayne voiced Ryan in the same film and Olivia Colman was the voice of Marion.

65. Thomas was originally teal green before changing to blue.

66. Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville voiced Merlin in the 2017 film Thomas & Friends: Journey Beyond Sodor.

67. Rosamund Pike voiced The duch*ess in Thomas & Friends: The Royal Engine.

68. Thomas actor Martin T Sherman quit the American version in 2014, blaming his “very low wage” in an open letter to fans.

69. In 2018 film Thomas and Friends: Big World! Big Adventures, Thomas travels to China, India and Australia.

70. New characters in the Big World film included Ashima from India, Yong Bao from China and Shane from Australia.

71. Peter Andre voiced the Australian character Ace in the film.

72. A Thomas toy, or one of his many friends, is sold somewhere in the world every two seconds.

73. Producers introduced Kenyan refugee Nia in 2018.

74. The home where the books were written in Emneth, Norfolk, was on sale in March for £895,000.

75. Reverend Awdry said: “I should like my epitaph to say, ‘He helped people see God in the ordinary things of life, and he made children laugh’.”

75 facts you might not know about Thomas the Tank Engine on his 75th anniversary (2024)


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