Thomas the Tank Engine

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Thomas the Tank Engine
The Railway Series/Thomas & Friends/Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go character
Thomas the Tank Engine 1946.webp
Thomas as illustrated by Reginald Payne in his first appearance (1946).
First appearance Thomas the Tank Engine (1946)
Created by Wilbert Awdry
Christopher Awdry
Designed by L. B. Billinton (in universe)
Reginald Payne
Voiced byUK:


  • Martin Sherman (2009–2015)
  • Joseph May (2015–2021)
  • Meesha Contreras (All Engines Go, 2021–2023) [1]
  • David Kohlsmith (All Engines Go, 2023)
  • Kai Harris (All Engines Go, 2023–present)


NumberNWR 1 (formerly, L.B.S.C. 70 in Thomas & Friends)
In-universe information
Species Steam locomotive
NationalityEnglish (formerly)

Thomas the Tank Engine is an anthropomorphised fictional tank locomotive in the British Railway Series books by Wilbert Awdry and his son, Christopher, published from 1945. He became the most popular and famous character in the series, and is the titular protagonist in the accompanying television adaptation series Thomas & Friends [2] and its reboot Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go .


All of the vehicles in The Railway Series were based on prototypical engines; Thomas's basis is the LB&SCR E2 class. [3] Thomas first appeared in 1946 in the second book in the series, Thomas the Tank Engine , and was the focus of the four short stories contained within. In The Railway Series and early episodes of Thomas & Friends, Thomas's best friends are Percy and Toby, though he is also close friends with Edward. Later episodes of Thomas & Friends have Thomas in a trio with James and Percy, and Percy is known as his best friend.

In 1979, British writer and producer Britt Allcroft came across the books, [4] and arranged a deal to bring the stories to life as the TV series Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (later simplified to Thomas & Friends). The programme became an award-winning hit around the world, with a vast range of spin-off commercial products.

Prototype and background

The TV series and Hornby based Thomas on this prototype belonging to the LB&SCR E2 class. Bricklayer's Arms Depot abandoned ex-LB&SC 0-6-0T geograph-2687638-by-Ben-Brooksbank.jpg
The TV series and Hornby based Thomas on this prototype belonging to the LB&SCR E2 class.

When Awdry based Thomas on a wooden toy made for his son Christopher. This toy looked rather different from the character in the books and television series, and carried the letters NW on its side tanks, which stood for "No Where" according to Awdry. [5]

The first Thomas model was not based on a prototype. [6] After Awdry's wife encouraged him to publish the stories, [7] the publisher of the second book in The Railway Series ( Thomas the Tank Engine ) hired illustrator Reginald Payne. Awdry selected a real locomotive for Payne to work from to create authenticity: a Billinton designed 0-6-0 E2 Class of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. [8] This may have been chosen simply because Awdry had a photograph to hand. [6]

The models of Thomas used in the TV series and produced by Hornby are based on the E2 locomotives fitted with an extension to the front of the water tanks. [9] Awdry was unsatisfied with one detail of the illustration—the front end of his running board sloped downward which meant that his front and back buffers were at different heights. This was an illustrator's mistake that was perpetuated in subsequent books. The accident, in Thomas Comes to Breakfast , was partly devised as a means of correcting this. Thomas has always been shown with a curved running board in the television series.

Payne was not credited for his illustrations at the time, and it is only since the publication of Brian Sibley's The Thomas the Tank Engine Man that he has received recognition. It had often been erroneously assumed that C. Reginald Dalby created the character, as he was responsible for illustrating books 3–11 and repainting the illustrations of books 1 and 2.

All of the prototype LB&SCR E2 class locomotives were scrapped between 1961 and 1963. Thomas locomotives used on Day Out with Thomas days on heritage railways are either unpowered replicas or converted from other locomotives. [10]

The Railway Series

Despite becoming the most popular character in The Railway Series, Thomas was not featured in the first book, The Three Railway Engines .

Thomas was described in the opening to "Thomas and Gordon", the first story in book number two, Thomas the Tank Engine , as: [11]

...a tank engine who lived at a Big Station. He had six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler and a short stumpy dome. He was a fussy little engine, always pulling coaches about. [...] He was cheeky, too.

Thomas arrived on Sodor shortly after he was built in 1915, when The Fat Controller bought the locomotive for a nominal sum to be a pilot engine at Vicarstown. Thomas was used initially as a station pilot engine in the first three stories in book 2, but longed for more important jobs such as pulling the express train like Gordon; his inexperience prevented this. In the fourth story, Thomas and the Breakdown Train, Thomas rescues James and is rewarded with his own branch line. [12]

TV series

Thomas' model in Series 8 (2004) Thomas Tank Engine 1.JPG
Thomas' model in Series 8 (2004)

Thomas's on-screen appearances in the TV series were developed by Britt Allcroft. The first series of 26 stories premiered in October 1984 on the ITV Network in the UK, with former Beatles drummer/vocalist Ringo Starr as storyteller. The stories were featured as segments as part of Shining Time Station in the US beginning in 1989 with Starr as the show's Mr. Conductor character. From 1991 to 1993, George Carlin replaced Starr as both the storyteller and as Mr. Conductor for Shining Time Station. Carlin also told the Thomas stories for Shining Time Station in 1995.

In 1996, the Thomas stories were segments for Mr. Conductor's Thomas Tales, again featuring George Carlin. Alec Baldwin portrayed Mr. Conductor in the first theatrical film, Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000), and narrated the series for the US from 1998 to 2003. Michael Angelis narrated the series from 1991 to 2012 in the UK, while Michael Brandon narrated the series from 2004 to 2012 in the US. From 2013 to 2017, the series was narrated by Mark Moraghan. From 2018, the episodes were told from Thomas's point of view.

Thomas's personality in the TV shows was originally consistent to the books. As the show branched away from the books, modifications were made. Thomas became less arrogant and self-absorbed, developing a more friendly, altruistic and happy-go-lucky side.[ citation needed ] He is not limited to his branch line and works all over Sodor.

From Hero of the Rails until Series 18, Thomas was voiced by Martin Sherman (US) and Ben Small (UK). [13] From 2015-2021, Thomas was voiced by John Hasler in the UK, and by Joseph May in the US. Both ended their roles after the 24th series was produced. The role was taken by child actors in Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go . Meesha Contreras voices Thomas in the US [1] and Aaron Barashi voices him in the UK. David Kolsmith later took over from Contreras before getting replaced himself by Kai Harris for the third season.

In The Adventure Begins which is a retelling of Thomas's early days on Sodor, he is a bluish-green colour when he first arrives on Sodor, his tanks are lettered "LBSC" (for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway) with the number 70 on his bunker. The 70 is a reference to 2015 being the 70th anniversary for The Railway Series, while the LB&SCR E2 class were actually numbered from 100–109. The real life LBSC no. 70 is an A1 class.

Voice actors




Thomas had his genesis in a wooden push-along toy from the early 1940s made by Wilbert 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, which was going to be his originally intended basis, with smaller side tanks and splashers. [14] He was painted blue with yellow lining and carried the letters NW on his side tanks. Christopher lost this model, which was recreated for the 70th anniversary. Awdry happily endorsed Payne's account that the locomotive was an LBSC E2, although the first Thomas on Awdry's model railway, from Stuart Reidpath, lacked extended tanks. In the 1979 Thomas Annual, he wrote: [15]

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.

Thomas Mk1 was retired with its coaches in 1979, Thomas Mk2 having been produced the year before using a Tri-ang 'Jinty' 3F 0-6-0T. After the British model railways manufacturing company Hornby produced the LBSC E2 tank, Awdry gladly adapted one in 1980 to take the role of Thomas Mk3 on his layout, the Ffarquhar branch.

Awdry's requested models, to which Lines Bros. subsidiary, Meccano Ltd, responded with Percy and wagons in 1967. [14] Hornby Hobbies launched their 'The World of Thomas the Tank Engine' in the 1985. This was a 00 gauge range of model railway train sets and models which they made for the next 30 years. For Thomas they used their 1979 model of a LB&SCR model of a Class E2 tank engine which they suitably altered with a face and extended tanks to look like Thomas. Many of the characters in the 'Railway Series' books were thus modelled (with faces) by Hornby, including characters added for the television series. They also supplied suitable coaches, wagons and lineside buildings within the series.


Thomas was the only fictional character included in The Independent on Sunday's 2009 "Happy List", recognised alongside 98 real-life adults and a therapy dog for making Britain a better and happier place. [16] In 2011, Thomas the Tank Engine featured on a series of 1st class UK postage stamps issued by the Royal Mail to mark the centenary of the birth of its creator, Reverend Wilbert Awdry. [17]

A Thomas the Tank Engine themed JNR Class C11 train in Japan, 2014 JNR C11 227 20140824 001.jpg
A Thomas the Tank Engine themed JNR Class C11 train in Japan, 2014

Thomas has been referenced, featured and parodied in popular culture. In 1988, he was parodied on ITV's Spitting Image where he was portrayed as a drunk who went "completely off the rails." [18] In 2009, he appeared in "The Official BBC Children in Need Medley" where he was voiced by Ringo Starr, who narrated the first two series of Thomas and Friends. [19] In the British comedy show Bobby Davro's TV Weekly, a spoof was created titled "Thomas the Tanked Up Engine" involving Jeremy, the pink engine. Bobby Davro provided the narration by impersonating Ringo Starr.

In Cartoon Network's MAD , Thomas the Tank Engine appears in "Thomas the Unstoppable Tank Engine", a crossover between Thomas the Tank Engine and Unstoppable . [20] A parody of Thomas the Tank Engine was in Robot Chicken . The skit was called "Blow Some Steam". The narrator (Seth Green) spoke like Ringo Starr who was the first narrator for Thomas and Friends. Thomas was voiced by Daniel Radcliffe. [21]

The 2015 Marvel superhero film Ant-Man features a Bachmann HO scale model of Thomas. In the film's climactic battle, Ant-Man and Yellowjacket fight atop Thomas while in their insect sizes until Yellowjacket derails Thomas off the model train tracks and throws him at Ant-Man, who knocks him onto a windowsill. An accident during the fight results in Thomas suddenly growing to the size of a real train and demolishing a large portion of Ant-Man's daughter's house before falling on top of a police car. [22] [23] [24]

Video game players have frequently modified released games to include Thomas and other characters, typically by replacing a boss character with Thomas and using sounds and music from the show. One of the first popular efforts was replacing dragons with engines and trucks in the game The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in 2013, and Thomas has since been incorporated into other games like Grand Theft Auto V , Sonic the Hedgehog and the 2019 Resident Evil 2 remake. [25]

See also

General and cited references

Related Research Articles

<i>Thomas & Friends</i> British childrens television series

Thomas & Friends is a British children's television series that aired across 24 series from 1984 to 2021. Based on The Railway Series books by Rev. W. Awdry and his son Christopher, the series was developed for television by Britt Allcroft. The series follows the adventures of Thomas, an anthropomorphised blue steam locomotive on the fictional North Western Railway on the Island of Sodor, and many other anthropomorphised locomotives on the North Western Railway, including Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, and Toby. They work for Sir Topham Hatt, primarily known as the "Fat Controller".

<i>Shining Time Station</i> American childrens television series

Shining Time Station is a children's television series jointly created by British television producer Britt Allcroft and American television producer Rick Siggelkow. The series was produced by Quality Family Entertainment, in association with Catalyst Entertainment in seasons 2 and 3, for New York City's PBS station WNET, and was originally taped in New York City during its first season and in Toronto during the rest of its run. It incorporated sequences from the British television show Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, which was in turn based on the books of The Railway Series written by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry. The series aired on PBS from January 29, 1989, until June 11, 1993, with four hour-long "Family Specials" premiering in primetime throughout 1995. Reruns continued to air on PBS until June 11, 1998. Shining Time Station reruns aired on Fox Family from 1998 to 1999, and on Nick Jr. from June to August 2000 to promote the theatrical release of Thomas and the Magic Railroad. The series also aired on Canadian television networks such as APTN and SCN. Elements from the show were incorporated into the 2000 film Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

Britt Allcroft is a British writer, producer, director and voice actress. She is the creator of the children's television series Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, Shining Time Station, Mr. Conductor's Thomas Tales and Magic Adventures of Mumfie. She also wrote, co-produced and directed the film Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wilbert Awdry</span> British author and vicar (1911–1997)

Wilbert Vere Awdry, often credited as Rev. W. Awdry, was an English Anglican minister, railway enthusiast, and children's author. He is best remembered as the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine and several other characters who appeared in his Railway Series.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christopher Awdry</span> British writer (born 1940)

Christopher Vere Awdry is an English author. He is best known for his contributions to The Railway Series of books featuring Thomas the Tank Engine, which was started by his late father, Wilbert Awdry (1911–1997). He also produced children's books based on a number of other railways, as well as non-fiction articles and books on heritage railways. He was born at Devizes, the family moving to Kings Norton, Birmingham, when he was aged five months. Awdry was educated at Worksop College, a public school in North Nottinghamshire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Fat Controller</span> Fictional character

The Fat Controller, whose real name is Sir Topham Hatt, is a fictional character in The Railway Series books written by Reverend W. Awdry and his son, Christopher Awdry. In the first two books in the series he is known as The Fat Director, and as of the third book he becomes The Fat Controller, as the railway has been nationalised. Sir Topham Hatt's full name is revealed in the foreword to the 1951 book Henry the Green Engine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James the Red Engine</span> Fictional steam locomotive

James the Red Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic red tender locomotive from The Railway Series children's books by the Reverend Awdry and the TV series adaptation Thomas & Friends. He has a 2-6-0 ("Mogul") wheel arrangement and is engine number 5 on the North Western Railway, the Fat Controller's railway on the Island of Sodor.

<i>The Railway Series</i> British fictional book series about trains and railways

The Railway Series is a series of British books about a railway known as the North Western Railway, located on the fictional Island of Sodor. There are 42 books in the series, the first published in May 1945 by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry. Twenty-six books were written by Awdry, the final one being written in October 1972. Sixteen more were written by his son, Christopher Awdry, between September 1983 and July 2011. The series features many anthropomorphic vehicles, including Thomas the Tank Engine. Thomas became the most popular and famous character in the series and the titular character of the television series Thomas & Friends from 1984 to 2021. The children's television series originated as adaptations of these stories.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toby the Tram Engine</span> Fictional antronomorphic tram

Toby is a fictional anthropomorphic tram locomotive in The Railway Series by the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry and his son, Christopher; he also appears in the television series adaptation Thomas & Friends and its reboot, Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go. Toby has cowcatchers and sideplates, and is the North Western Railway's number 7. He works on the same Ffarquhar branch line as Thomas the Tank Engine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sodor (fictional island)</span> Fictional island in The Railway Series books

The Island of Sodor is a fictional island that is the setting for The Railway Series books by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry. It is also the setting of the Thomas & Friends television series, though it is significantly different from the island in the books. Sodor is depicted in the Irish Sea between the British Crown Dependency of the Isle of Man and the United Kingdom's English mainland, near Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria; the real-life Walney Island is included in Sodor.

<i>Thomas & Friends</i> (series 1) Season of television series

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends is a children's television series about the engines and other characters working on the railways of the Island of Sodor, and is based on The Railway Series books written by the Reverend W. Awdry.

<i>Thomas & Friends</i> (series 2) Season of television series

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends is a children's television series about the engines and other characters working on the railways of the Island of Sodor, and is based on The Railway Series books written by the Reverend W. Awdry. It was produced by Clearwater Features Ltd. for Britt Allcroft (Thomas) Ltd. and Central Independent Television.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">LB&SCR E2 class</span> Steam locomotive class

The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) E2 class was a class of 0-6-0T steam locomotives designed by Lawson Billinton, intended for shunting and short distance freight trains. Ten examples were built between 1913 and 1916, and were withdrawn from service and scrapped between 1961 and 1963.

Clive Spong is an English illustrator of The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry. He illustrated the books written by Christopher Awdry published since 1983.

<i>Thomas & Friends</i> merchandise

Merchandise for the Thomas & Friends franchise has been produced to capitalize on the success of the television series Thomas & Friends. Whilst merchandise was produced alongside due to the popularity of the first of The Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry since 1945, and the original broadcast of the television series in 1984 in the United Kingdom, large numbers of manufacturers have sought to produce Thomas-branded items after the television series was broadcast in the United States and Japan.

Thomas & Friends is a media franchise created by Rev. W. Awdry and Britt Allcroft. The franchise revolves around a railway, called the North Western Railway, located on the fictional Island of Sodor. The current title character of the franchise is Thomas the Tank Engine, an anthropomorphised steam locomotive, who works with other engines, including Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby and many others. The franchise began with stories told from Wilbert Awdry to his son. In 1984, it was turned into a television series, which spawned a reboot series, titled Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go.

<i>Thomas & Friends: Sodors Legend of the Lost Treasure</i> 2015 British film

Thomas & Friends: Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure is a 2015 British animated fantasy adventure comedy film and the ninth feature-length special movie of the British television series, Thomas & Friends. The film is produced by HIT Entertainment and animated by Arc Productions.


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