Can you tell the fans how you
first became involved with Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends?
The route by which I became involved with Thomas was simply
that I had been a core employee of Clearwater Films for some years in the Model Shop, and the management asked me to head
up the team to make Thomas. The workshop at that time employed a variable number of people, depending on the amount of work
going through - Clearwater was a major British Animation House - If We’d kept going, Aardman would never have risen
to the prominence that they did. While we were making Thomas, the rest of the Model making Team - headed up by John Pennicott,
continued to produce animated commercials.
Were you familiar
with the Thomas characters beforehand?
Yes, I knew the Awdry Books. I was a fan - well, I liked the
quaintness of them - the format - the illustrations - the whole visual ambience. I don’t think I owned any….
Did you work with
David Mitton and Robert Cardona? Would you be able to share any insight with us about what it was like working with them?
worked with David and Robert, yes... I didn’t know Robert particularly well - and David, with Ken Turner was one of
the founders of Clearwater - but he wasn’t as busy a director as Ken or David Lane - We were all part of a team - it
was an exciting time - as I say, Clearwater was a prominent animation production company - there was a great sense of community
in the early days. We were d**n busy – I’m so sorry David’s gone….
You were part of
a team breaking new ground into Children’s television. What was the atmosphere like on the set during building, setting
everything up, and filming?
I’m not sure it was exactly breaking new ground - We were really
repeating what Gerry Anderson had done ten years earlier; - at least as regards methodology - it was very much a matter of
striving for topographic realism at Gauge One scales - without the pyros!
David Lane and Ken Turner had been part of
Gerry Anderson’s crew - too, although there was no direct model making lineage from Thunderbirds to Thomas...
Your mention of David
Lane intrigues me. We know that his name isn't listed in the Series-1 credits. Was David Lane somehow involved
in the early production setup of the inaugural series?
I can't be absolutely sure,
but I know that Dave Lane was on and off set, and after all David Mitton hadn't been directing before Thomas. He was,
as far as I can remember, just producer up to that point.
You mentioned that
you sculpted the faces for the engine characters. Can you tell us to some detail how you constructed them from design to moulding?
I recall, I did most of those early faces - sculpted them in Plastiline - that’s a French product - moulded them in
Silicon Rubber, and cast them in Polyester Resin, sanding them back until they were lovely and smooth - then sprayed them
grey. The eyes were always hollowed - sculpted against spheres of the same diameter as the eyes in the RC mounts. There wasn’t
a great deal of interference from the Art Director, I was just following the books as best as I could, whilst trying to visually
ground the characters a bit more than the original illustrations had - they tended to vary quite a bit due to the naiive illustration
As far as I can recall, I did the first faces for Thomas,
Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Annie & Clarabel, Percy, Bertie – and that’s about it… oh and I made the
human characters, too – large and small scale.
Can you tell us more about making
Regarding the figures: Two scales, the smaller in
line with Gauge One, the larger figures with the large scale CU stuff we built - I can't recall that scale.
In both cases they were carved in jeluton (soft carving
timber) I think, primer-sprayed, and cast in silicon. Then the main features (clothing, etc) were masked and sprayed
in nitro-cellulose. Facial features and details hand-painted on, possibly with acrylics or, as you suggested, a fine
I only built and painted the originals, as you will realise,
and those would have been, I think - Thomas' Engineer and Guard, The Fat Controller small scale - and ditto big scale.
The railway populations would have just been cast and duplicated
small scale from the original three, and painted at random to use as passengers and incidental characters. We might have added
female clothing to one or two of the original first pulls, and then re-moulded them for economy.
Can you tell us about
your other work on the show?
I was in charge of the model making during that first series: I input
on everything whenever there was an area I could get to grips with - for instance – On the engines from the original
pilot episode - which I think we shot again – there was an automobile cigar lighter with smoke oil syringed on to it
to create smoke. It was actually not good, since apart from running hot, off the twelve volts from the tracks – it kept
needing recharging – and it didn’t puff.
I came up with a novel idea – I had some small rectangular
glass phials blown with piping inlets and outlets. The inlet went to the floor of the phial – so as to be under the
surface of the liquid that they were filled with, and the outlet extended from the top surface. We filled them with Titanium
Tetrachloride – a liquid that smokes on contact with air (often used in those days to simulate hot food in TV Ads) then
the inlet tube was attached to a small diaphragm pump driven off the main driving wheels of the engines. The outlet tube ran
up to the funnel. As the engine ran air was pumped in pulses under the Titanium Tet in the phials, it created smoke that bubbled
out of the outlet to the funnel, and hence the engines puffed as they ran! Totally cold, and dynamic with it!
An unresolved mystery with the fans is
the presence of an unmodified Marklin1 engine seen in a photograph of the crew likely setting up a scene for 'Tenders and Turntables'. Would
you be able to provide any insight about this photo? (photo source: 'The Making of Thomas', Chris
Leigh, Model Railway Constructor - Dec. 1984)
I can partly help with the characters in the pic - Foreground
is Bob Gauld-Galliers, Art Director - left of David Mitton is Jamie Bowering - Modelmaker. Leaning over in front of Bob is
Jamie Jackson-Moore, Modelmaker - and looking through the camera is Terry Permane.2
Interestingly, I've suddenly remembered - and this was prompted by the white magazine on the camera
- (usually denoting High Speed) footage - a lot of the Thomas footage was overcranked to slow the smoke down, and give a little
more 'weight' to the movement of the engines.
Unfortunately, I don't actually recall us using a standard Marklin engine as a stand in - but there
it is, undeniably...
|Crew setting up 'Tenders & Turntables' with Marklin present on the set (Photo: CHRIS LEIGH )
Was fishing line ever used during
filming to assist loaded engines along?
We certainly did use fishing line to help with some
of the shots - as I recall for close ups at low speed, sometimes the power transmission from the tracks resulted in jerky
motion, so we would not use the power at all - but pull the engines past camera with fishing line - careful of course, not
to show the wheels, as, unpowered, they locked up and didn't revolve (this problem may have been solved in later series).
Do you have any anecdotes
that you could share with the fans of working on the show and with the rest of the crew?
a long time ago…. I recall that the day we commenced shooting – We had all been awake for about 72 hours putting
the final touches to Knapford., and the opening shot called for a snow scene. The whole set (about forty feet square) was
covered with Dendritic salt – which was standard for model snow, as it crystallises very easily and is very stable.
– for some reason, it interfered with the electrical transmission within the brass Gauge One rails that we had laid.
(the engines picked up their power from the lines)
Me and, I think Dave Payne, drove all the way to Epsom, (about
25 miles) to buy up a whole load of stainless steel track in order to replace it. Dave was trying to keep me awake at the
wheel, while trying to keep himself awake at the same time! Needless to say, we made it – stripped all the salt and
the brass track off, replaced it, and turned over (successfully) on the set the next day.
Do you still keep
in touch with any of your former colleagues from the show?
Yes, I still see some of my old colleagues
from time to time – unfortunately, film and TV model making has largely bitten the dust in the wake of digital effects,
so opportunities being much scarcer than they used to be, a lot of them are engaged in other things’ which is a great
shame, because there was a time when British Models and Special Effects were the best in the World.
SiF would like to once again
thank Tim for his insight and to wish him and his musical career all the best!
 For readers who are unfamiliar with the story - Ever since
its appearance in Chris Leigh's article in the December 1984 issue of Model Railway Constructor, the unconverted Marklin has
become a source of continued debate amongst fans. A few have gone as far as describing the enigmatic engine as the equivalent
of Sodor's 'Bigfoot', with sightings of the engine in various episodes, but without conclusive proof. We can surmise that
the engine was used as a spare for some off-camera shunting where the train makes a run-by without the viewer ever seeing
the engine. The photo of what appears to be the crew setting up to film a scene for 'Tenders and Turntables' supports this
theory (re: camera's position). In the episode, as James is going onto the turntable and just before Gordon arrives, the tail-end
of a train (the brakevan) is briefly seen in the foreground exiting to the right. Considering the position of the Marklin
train in the photo, we can make an educated guess that this brakevan was indeed part of the train being pulled by our mystery
Marklin - even if we never see the engine itself!
 With special thanks to Robert Gauld-Galliers for
positive identification of the crew.(2009-01-29)