a Look at Thomas Merchandise

A look at some of the classic merchandise associated with Thomas & Friends and the Railway Series

Thomas & Friends Merchandise Playlist

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A Look At The Classic Thomas ERTLS

Written by CPK & Ryan

An original Thomas with sticker-face

From 1984 to 2004, the Thomas ERTL die-cast range was the iconic main associated toy-brand for the series.   After the first series was televised in 1984, ERTL soon released a die-cast model replica of Thomas that featured a decal sticker sheet. This was so you could alter Thomas’ face to make him either happy or sad. Soon afterwards, the Thomas model was released in a 3-piece set with Henry and James, although they featured no alternate faces. Also released in this year was a larger, motorised version of Thomas.

Motorised ERTL Thomas

In 1985, ERTL’s range started over. There were no longer any decal sheets included, and Thomas, Henry and James were all given red buffer beams to replace the older white ones. ERTL also released models of Percy, Toby, Bertie and Annie & Clarabel this year, although Annie & Clarabel could only be purchased in a 3-piece set with either Thomas or Percy.   ERTL now further diversified their product line, by adding larger die-cast, motorised, models of Percy, as well as two large plastic models of Thomas, one that was a moneybox, and the other that was remote controlled.

Edward in 1988

In 1988, two more models were added to the collection, Edward and Gordon. But ERTL was now facing demands from the general public to produce more characters.  ERTL listened to these demands in 1990, by releasing Duck, Diesel, Trevor, The Fat Controller (Sir Topham Hatt) with a Porter, and the Troublesome Trucks. This year also marked the end of the sticker-faced engines. They were no replaced with plastic faces, as were the previous releases from previous years. This was most likely due to the fact that the sticker faces were prone to falling off.

There was also a new sub-range, feature miniature models of the more well known characters, such as Thomas, Edward, Percy, James, Toby, Duck, Diesel, Bill, Ben, Trevor, Harold, Annie, Clarabel, and the Troublesome Trucks. These were released in packs of 3, as well as with play sets. Popular as they were, these miniatures did not last very long, and were soon out of production.

Percy in the mid-1990s packaging

In 1993, the entire Thomas brand was given a re-vamp. Due to this, ERTL models were now packaged in a different way from this year onwards. The packaging now featured a highly detailed painting the engine on the packaging, and, dependant on the type of vehicle that they were, a differing background. 

Models were now released every year, averaging 6 new models annually, in correspondence to those new to the TV series, with “oddities” such as Sodor Soft Side truck being released to fill gaps between television series.

Gold Thomas

In 1995, the Railway Series (what Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends is based on) was 50 years old. In commemoration of this, ERTL released a limited edition gold plated Thomas model. In 1998, ERTL released 4 more limited edition models, this time, with gleaming metallic paint. The models were: Thomas, Percy, Duncan, and Rheneas. In 1999, a further four metallic engines were released, the engines being: Lord Harry, Duke, Rusty, and Sir Handel. In 2000, the year of the millennium, ERTL release a platinum plated model of Thomas to celebrate.  During this time, the ERTL miniature range came back for a short while, however, they were now a key ring range, and did not feature Bertie, Annie, Clarabel, or the Troublesome Trucks.

ERTL Toys Magazine 1998 advert
1998 ERTL Toys magazine advert

Diesel 10 in Magic Railroad packaging

During the release of Thomas & The Magic Railroad in 2000, also, there were a selection of character models released in Magic Railroad packaging, with new models including Diesel 10, Lady, Splatter, Dodge, and a special release with Thomas and Mr Conductor.   

The set soon totalled over 70 models. At this time, the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends brand was renamed Thomas & Friends. Once this was done, the packaging changed again, and now matched every other piece of Thomas & Friends merchandise. This packaging was to house almost 30 new models, until Gullane (owners of the Thomas & Friends brand) were brought by HiT Entertainment.

Chinese Dragon in the 3rd edition packaging

This caused the packaging to change yet again. This fourth style is the currently used one, and has managed to bring the total of models to over 100.  However, by this point, all major TV Series characters had been created as ERTL models, and the makers were relying on non-televised Railway Series characters such as Neil, Bear, Catherine the Mountain Coach and Isabel the Auto Coach to help further develop the brand.  Most of the new Railway Series related ERTLs appeared toward the end of the run in 2003, alongside characters from Series 6 and 7.

Fergus in the final edition packaging

However the newer models would only be released in the UK, as from 2001, the ERTL range had been discontinued in North America, and instead the Thomas Take-Along range was moving in to take its place.  The UK would also see production ceased by 2004, but before this happened, the Miniatures Range was re-released in new style packaging with new models such as Henry and Mavis.  The ERTL range also changed the style of coupling that had been employed for nigh on twenty years, from the “hook and eye” style, to a new “U – hook” style, believed to be more sturdier, and last longer. 

However, once production had stopped on the ERTL range, and collectors were scrambling to complete their collections, the value of some rarer models shot up.  Emily, Jock and Spencer became particularly valuable if they remained in the original packaging, fetching up to £40 and £50 on e-Bay, given the short supply they found themselves in.

Take Along & Take And Play models

 

Take Along / Take & Play 'Thomas'

The Take Along Thomas range was initially launched in America in 2001, when the Thomas ERTL range was discontinued within this territory.  These were produced under the Learning Curve / RC2 banner, which would go on to replace the Thomas ERTL range in all territories effective of 2004.  The Take Along toys were of a completely different design to the Thomas ERTLs, despite the similarity of being die-cast metal also, the models are chunkier, look a lot more like ‘toys’ and are significantly less detailed than their predecessors.

Duck with metallic paint

The Take-Along range followed some of the precedents set by the ERTL range, with various metallic limited editions and Railway Series characters such as D199, Culdee and others becoming part of the range.  The new models have also used technology to further their appeal with children, with the new Talking Thomas & Friends, which uses the individual voice cast from both the UK and US territories saying various phrases commonly heard in the new CGI TV Series.

Take & Play Talking Henry

However, it has also taken advantage of the TV series further to produce special toys to promote the brand – such as tie-in toys for The Great Discovery, Hero of the Rails and most recently a Misty Island Rescue playset.  Other recent cash-ins from the new CGI TV Series include ‘Scenes From The TV Series’ where special models are released for children to re-enact episodes.

In 2009, the range was handed over to Fisher Price who rebranded it as ‘Take-n-Play’, the models were of the same design set from 2001, and they remained compatible with the existing ‘Take-Along’ merchandise that had come before, and continues as one of the main toy ranges of the current Thomas & Friends brand.

Take n Play 2013

In 2013, Take-n-Play,  reintroduced its range of characters with a new look. Existing and new characters have slimmer packaging with a promotional image of the featured friend prominently displayed in the lower corner.  The most noteworthy change is the replacement of the classic character faces with their new CGI-styled versions.

YouTube's Leokimvideo provides a very interesting and in-depth comparison of the manufacturing and cosmetic differences seen in the versions observed over the years of this toy brand below.

Thomas Ladybird Books (1985 to 1988)

When you hear Thomas whistle... 'Peep Peep!' ... Turn the page!

Toby & The Stout Gentleman / Thomas In Trouble

As per a number of classic brands from the 1980s, the Book & Audio Cassette format was capitalised upon by Britt Allcroft and Ladybird Books, who produced some of the first and best loved TV Series spin-off books, using a selection of TV Series stories.  The books contained two (and on occasion, three) stories adapted, and occasionally expanded upon from the original television series episodes, with still pictures taken by Kenny MacArthur, Terry Permane and David Mitton, often with scenes that had not made it into the actual episode.  The accompanying audio cassette (Produced by Pickwick Tell-A-Tale) had then TV Series storyteller, Ringo Starr, reading along to the specially written text.  Before the beginning of the story, Ringo would remind young listeners 'When you hear Thomas whistle... 'Peep! Peep!' ... Turn the page.' to keep up with the events.

Sad Story of Henry - 1988 release

The books were released in two batches in 1985 (Series 1) and 1987 (Series 2), although two special releases with single stories were made for Thomas’s Christmas Party and Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree, this one had specially created screens taken by the Britt Allcroft company following the end of her association with Clearwater Features, who were likely to have been in pre-production for TUGS at this point.  A final Ladybird Thomas book was produced in the late 1988 featuring The Sad Story of Henry, Thomas’s Train and Thomas & The Guard, concluding the series at 15 books overall, the final becoming one of the most rare and sought after, and produced in a slightly different format to its predecessors.  A special bumper edition of Series 1 stories was also made available.  The Ladybird books have a recurring presence on e-bay, and have become a very collectable piece of Thomas merchandise.

Thomas Buzz Books

Buzz Book for Tender Engines

In the early 1990s, around the time of the third series, the Britt Allcroft Company signed a new deal with Buzz Books to produce new tie-in books for the series.  These would be similar to the previously released Ladybird releases (The same episodes from Series 1 and 2 Ladybird Books were re-used for Buzz Books) with images taken from the TV Series production, but the fundamental difference would be that they would not have accompanying cassette tapes, and they would only include one story per book.

 

The Buzz Books took a selection of 50 stories from across Series 1 to 4 (Series 4 only received 4 books as part of the tie-ins), and the series ceased in 1996, with Four Little Engines as the concluding book.

My Thomas Story Library

My Thomas Story Library - Thomas

The Thomas Story Library range was launched by Egmont in 2003 with its first ten titles. The paperback series focused on a chosen character, with his/her story being loosely adapted from the original Railway Series books or from a recent episode of the TV Series. The illustrations for all the titles were by Robin Davies, who had provided early illustrations for previous Thomas books drawn up to tie-in with the “My First Thomas” range of products. The books also featured some remaining canonical aspects of the Railway Series, such as Donald and Douglas painted blue, Isabel and Dulcie as Oliver’s coaches, and even Wilbert making a surprise cameo in Percy’s engine workshop.

My Thomas Story Library - Haunted Henry

As the range continued to expand, additional storybook compilations were released along with complete boxsets. From 2007 the range was to increase further with additional products; TV series storyteller Michael Angelis was to narrate only seven of the titles for a readalong series of CDs, while seasonal one-offs began a year later, some of which were adaptations from early and recent TV Series episodes and two personalized storybooks for any child’s name to be included were also published. A one off rewritten/reprint was also specially made for World Book Day 2010. Additional artists were later involved with further releases, including Clive Spong who contributed to Boco’s storybook.

My Thomas Story Library - BOCO

Although more characters were introduced to the TV Series after 2010, Egmont  began to see a decrease in sales of the current books and were left to discontinue the range, but not before the last five regular titles were published along with two TV episode tie-ins and the World Book Day reprint. The final title The Spring Surprise was published in 2011, bringing the book series to a conclusion with 70 books. A box set of 68 (minus the personalized titles and The Snowy Special) was released in 2011, the same year Egmont reintroduced the series by reprinting 50 titles with new covers and title names, though the stories and illustrations remained as originally published. From July 2014, four of the books were re-introduced as board books for children under three years as “My first Railway Library” which will include fewer pages and redrawn illustrations. As of  July, 2014,  ten titles have been released for Kindle.

Thomas Story Time

Thomas Story Time - Express Coming Through

Egmont replaced the Story Library with a new range of storybooks that were direct adaptations of the CGI TV series instead of being devoted to the characters themselves using Nitrogen/Arc images instead of illustrations. Named the“Thomas Story Time” range, the first sixteen titles were published in 2012, currently taking the series up to twenty seven titles overall. In April 2014 the entire range was released on digital for Kindle with  more titles expected with the more recent TV series that have been, or have yet to be broadcasted.

Thomas Magazines - from Marvel to Egmont

by Christopher Signore
 
For many fans, if  their first introduction to Thomas wasn't through the Railway Series books or the Television Series, it was by the magazines. In many respects, they have as much history as the Awdry books themselves as they have undergone many changes over the years.

Marvel Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends comic #1

In 1987, Marvel Comics - more widely known for its Action Hero characters such as X-Men, Spiderman, Iron Man and the Hulk - were given the contract to publish a fortnightly Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends magazine, part of a line of "kiddie" comics for younger readers at the time. The layout of the original magazines consisted of three stories per issue (these varied from two to four pages long) along with puzzles, pull-out posters, competitions to enter and the chance to post letters or artwork for the Fat Controller to print and answer in subsequent issues of the magazine.

It was in these magazines that first introduced us to writer Andrew Brenner and artist Tim Marwood's talents. Andrew was given the task of adapting the first two seasons of the Television Series as magazine stories; then when those were used up, Andrew set about writing fresh material exclusively for the comics, making extensive use of characters already introduced in the TV Series to add familiarity - even making Diesel a regular character (something that the Reverend Awdry was reluctant to do whilst writing his own books) who would venture between the big harbour, the quarry and the station yard.

Andrew's stories maintained strong continuity, often spreading themselves throughout several issues, intertwining the TV Series with the Magazine Multiverse. This saw the introduction of a Safari Park on Sodor, to which Percy made many visits there (the park itself would not be in the TV Series until Season 14). But above all, Andrew continued the Awdry "tradition" by centring stories on unusual happenings during a regular working day on the railway.

However, at the time of Season 3 of the TV Series, David and Britt were under contract at the time that new Thomas stories had to be in print before being adapted to television, hence why Christopher Awdry wrote "More About Thomas the Tank Engine" for Series 2. Instead, the producers opted to "borrow" some of Andrew's magazine stories to be adapted as TV Episodes - with no credit given. These contained the following;

TV Episode Title
Magazine Story Title
Magazine Issue
Thomas Gets Bumped
A Bump On The Line

Hello, Thomas!
28 (12/11/88)

3 (28/11/88)
Thomas, Percy and
the Dragon
Percy's Night Out
 
Percy and the Dragon
 
26 (15/10/88)

58 (6/1/90)
Diesel Does it Again
Trouble in the Harbour Yard
 
Bumps
38 (1/4/89)
Henry's Forest
Henry's Forest
68 (26/5/90)
 
Hurricane
 
Clearing Up
39 (15/04/89)
No Joke For James
The Express
 
A Passenger for James
69 (9/6/90)
Thomas, Percy and
the Post Train
The Post Train
 
After the Last Train
70 (23/6/90)
 
71 (7/7/90)
Edward, Trevor and
the Really Useful Party
Edward and the Vicar
 
The Vicar's Fête
30 (21/1/88)
 
19 (9/7/88)
One Good Turn
Head On
 
Pulling Together
52 (14/10/89)
Percy, James and
the Fruitful Day
Percy Gets Jammed
28 (12/11/88)
Heroes
In a Muddle
 
Heroes
35 (18/02/88)
Trust Thomas
Bertie's Bumpy Road
53 (14/10/89)

So far, Andrew has been the only magazine writer identified let alone credited in the magazines - although Audrey Wong and Emily Stead received credit as future writers throughout the 2004 issues.

Timothy Marwood became one of the longest-standing artists for the Thomas Magazines throughout his lifetime. At first he had stuck very true to the original appearance of the TV Series models until, as time progressed, he eventually found his own drawing style to represent the characters, and continued to draw for the Thomas Magazines until his passing in 2008. Today, though, his original illustrations can often be found for auction on eBay.

Redan's Fun to Learn issue #149

Meanwhile, Redan Publishing began printing a Thomas Magazine of their own - the "Fun To Learn" series, which was more for educational purposes, teaching children how to count, colour and learning a great many topics (railways included). Unlike the regular Magazine, Fun To Learn only contained one main story and a brief rhyming tale. But as with Marvel's Magazine, both Thomas magazines often came with a "free gift" as an added bonus for readers, as well as various images from the Television Series to accompany the illustrations.

Both magazines had a steady run and remained consistent for a time. Then on September 23rd 1994, the Main Thomas Magazine was revamped for Issue #181, which saw extra pages added for more stories, puzzles, character profiles and (for a time) an Alphabet Mural for readers to pull out and hang on the wall. One can assume that by this point Andrew was no longer involved with the Thomas Magazines as other writers and artists came into play.

It paved the way for further changes to come as page layouts and content varied. From #221 in 1996, the story count per issue was raised to five - one series of stories which encourages readers to colour in the illustrations and another known as the "Stephen and Bridget Stories". These saw further adventures of the Hatt Family on their many visits beyond and within the Main Station Yard - these would eventually be replaced by a three-page rhyming story by Issue #317 in 2000.

Eventually, for reasons unknown (perhaps termination of contract), Marvel quietly slipped away by Issue #305 in 1999 where Egmont took the reigns for further publishing which it continues to do today.
 
By this time, all characters introduced in Seasons 3 and 4 of the TV Series had became regular players for further storytelling - which included Mavis, Oliver, George and the Narrow Gauge Engines. Even one-off / minor characters such as S.C.Ruffey, Bulstrode, The Diesel, the Horrid Lorries and Bulgy were given starring roles from time to time. It would continue for every new character introduced in the TV Series - which at least gave the likes of Neville, Dennis, Molly and Mighty Mac far more to do than they had in their debut episodes…!

For a time, Egmont also introduced "Thomas Tokens", which gave readers the chance to collect special cut-out tokens for half-price offers on all Thomas-related products / characterware. In addition, Egmont saw eventual release of their Thomas magazines worldwide - available in France, Italy, Sweden, Poland and other countries.

Thomas and Friends issue #487.

Perhaps what many fans recall of the magazines is the amount of "new" characters introduced, which were again exclusively for the Magazine Multiverse. These were mainly one-shot wonders, created to gain the interest of its readers - including 'Old Victor' (Issue #327), 'Sidney' the Scenic Engine and 'Angus' the old-fashioned Fire Engine (#310).

It is also vital to note that, unlike the classic illustrations for the Railway Series, the images for the magazines, while extremely detailed and fun, were not always consistent in comparison to the TV Series. And the story continuity built up early on by Andrew Brenner had long since dissolved as the magazine stories slowly became centred more over "special trains" and unrealistic situations (not as maddening as the CGI series past, but still questionable).

Thomas Play and Learn issue #43

As for the Fun and Learn Magazines, while they continued much as they were with their original format (which soon introduced a pull-out workbook), they were the more surprising for featuring Railway Series Characters from time to time - these varied from the Mountain Engines to D199! They continued on a steady fortnight release under Redan Publishing right up to Issue #223 in 2000 where Egmont took over that line as well, rebranding it as a "new" magazine series "Play and Learn" and stuck to the same page layout as before.

At the turn of 2008, Egmont began tinkering with the layout formats for both the Regular Magazine and the Fun and Learn issues, making them more colourful and bright to suit the new, younger audience. "Play and Learn" has since become "Thomas Express" soon after the TV Series made the CGI changeover. However, both magazines look so colourful and bright, to this day they almost look identical to one another.

Thomas & Friends and Thomas Express magazines

The story content seemed to have suffered in addition to this. Adaptations of the CGI Series have become the only main story to feature, while Egmont (perhaps as a means of saving money) relied on reprints of previous magazine stories from their 2000 issues, albeit 'updated' to fit the new magazine look. And when new stories do feature, they only make use of retraced / edited illustrations rather than fresh images altogether.

Many of Marvel's earliest magazines have become scarce to find these days, but if you're very lucky you might come across one of their Collected Editions. These were published monthly to suit each season (Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring respectively) and contained a majority of stories from previous issues, working their way down from the very earliest to the late 90's during its run.

Thomas & Friends De Agostini

Magazine publisher De Agostini introduced a fortnightly collectable magazine series in 2004. Each issue would include puzzles, activates, sticker sheets and stories taken from the TV Series familiar to the current Thomas Magazines in print, but would also be included with a toy engine / accessory and track piece to help build up an entire train set layout. 52 Issues were published running from 2004 to 2006, bringing out 32 characters and various rolling stock and destinations.

De Agostini Play Set

Thomas Bachmann Models

 

Thomas in Bachmann

Bachmann Industries introduced their Thomas range in 2002 to produce a set of quality model trains for the North American fanbase.These models stand out as very accurate to the television series characters and stock, but clearly intended as toys with their all-moulded bodies and weaker motors compared to the other locomotives in Bachmann's catalogues. The engines all contain an eye mechanism that moves the eyes left and right as the locomotive moved along the track.

Bachmann Percy

The model releases of Bachmann can be separated into specific 'generations' of releases, as there were no yearly updates to the range. The first ‘generation’ release contained the most popular characters of the Thomas universe - Thomas, Percy, and James. These engines stood out with their bright colors, accurate looks, and inexpensive cost. These models were released without front couplings, a criticism that has been rectified with every subsequent 'generation'. Annie and Clarabel, along with two Troublesome Trucks, made up the rolling stock, while Bertie, Harold, Cranky and Sir Topham Hatt (a.k.a. The Fat Controller) were also produced. Three sets were created to further market this new product line: two simple circle sets (one with Thomas, Annie and Clarabel, and one with Percy and the Troublesome Trucks) and one oval that included Thomas and the coaches, plus Bertie, Harold, and Sir Topham Hatt. All sets came with Bachmann's EZ-Track system and a basic controller for ease of operations.

Bachmann Gordon

In the second 'generation' released in and around 2005, Gordon and Henry were both introduced, along with two sets of Express Coaches (one composite and brake in Crimson and Cream, as well as the same in Green and Cream and labeled 'Gordon's Express Coaches') and several different wagons. The locomotives had front couplers as well as those found on the rear, as well as slightly more powerful motors to be able to cope better than the previous release's locomotives had.

Bachmann Toby

By 2006 to 2007, 'generation' three was making its rounds and proved to have more surprises for the fans. Emily, Spencer, and Toby were revealed as new locomotives in the range and were well-received by the fans. Emily was unique as the first new ready-to-run Single Wheeler (an engine with only one pair of driving wheels) since Triang-Hornby introduced their models of the Dean Single and the Caledonian Single in the 1960s. A few new stock items were released, including Emily's carriages to match the engine. As well, a new set featuring Gordon and the Express was released, as well as a 'Thomas' Fun with Freight' set that included Thomas, S.C. Ruffey, and some other stock with the new Conductor figurine.

Bachmann Edward

'Generation' four was released in and around 2008 and 2009, and featured several new updates to the already well-developed range. The packaging insert was given new colors to match the redesigned Thomas merchandising scheme implemented at the time. All engines were billed as 'Deluxe' models, but no changes were made to the products themselves. Edward, Mavis, and Salty were introduced in this release, and all featured styling that was once again incredibly accurate to the television series. Power was more improved in all the newly released locomotives. More new wagons, including an open wagon and a flatbed with paint drums (clearly referenced from the special 'Calling All Engines') had been released by this point, as well as a Mail coach and Henrietta for Percy and Toby respectively. By this point several buildings had been introduced in the range, mainly being repainted and relabeled items in the North American range.  A set featuring Emily and her carriages was released, as well as a Christmas set featuring Thomas wearing an exclusive snowplough and a hat, among other exclusives.

Large Scale Bachmann James

At this point, Bachmann set its sights on capturing a larger audience; namely, the Large Scale market. Thomas, Percy, Annie and Clarabel, and the Troublesome Trucks were introduced in this range, taking their looks from the models being seen on television at the time - as such, these models feature looks heavily based on the CGI cartoon rather than the model series. The stock is compatible with most comparable Large-scale stock, and has proven to be mildly successful.

Bachmann Donald

The fifth 'generation' was released between 2010 and 2011, and featured four new locomotives - the most in any 'generation' so far. Bill and Ben were introduced in late 2010, while Donald and Douglas - long requested in the model world of Thomas - were introduced within 2011. A third wagon was released as a Troublesome Truck, namely being a cattle van with a unique face. Farmer McColl was announced as a new figurine to complement Sir Topham Hatt and the Conductor, but the biggest news was the introduction of a fully-functioning Tidmouth Sheds package. This included a turntable and five berths for Tidmouth Sheds to be included into any EZ-Track layout, with extra berths being available for sale if required. A Knapford Station building kit was also announced, with a Sodor Lighthouse on the way. A set featuring Salty and some wagons was released at this point as well.

Bachmann's HO/OO Model of Duck

Bachmann certainly did not disappoint fans in 2012. With great demand and approval, Duck was released in the HO/OO range, along with a large scale Emily. Arry and Bert were next in line for 2013, accompanied by Jeremy the Jet Plane and a speed-activated sound Thomas along with a Christmas themed set, while Toby became the latest recruit for the large scale range.

Bachmann Large Scale Toby (2013)

Bachmann isn't sharing the same manufacturing problems that Hornby is having with the Thomas Line. The Bachmann range is expanding with the addition of Toby into the large scale line-up with additional random rolling-stock. For 2014's HO/OO range, the long-awaited red branch line coaches alongside a new series of resin buildings similar to what Horby released in 2005. The new buildings include a signal box, Maithwaite Station, Brendam Warehouse and a Black Loch folly (castle turret).

Bachmann Celebration Thomas

2015/16 is looking to becoming Bachmann’s most promising year, along with more additional resin buildings and Winston announced for large scale, the HO range is to bring two of the most requested characters previously produced by Hornby but currently unable to be found at any affordable price even at second hand, Oliver and Toad were kept aside a secret from Bachmann itself continually responding “no plans” to be made at first, but both will officially join the range this year, along with the familiar red branch line coaches and a special edition Thomas to celebrate the 70th Anniversary event.

Bachmann will also start its own Narrow Gauge HO range that will be suitable for N scale track, with Skarloey being its first addition of many.

At this point, the history of Bachmann's Thomas range is not over yet, and as Bachmann continues to develop and expand its range fans everywhere can take heart in being able to operate this 'Really Useful Engine' across their HO/OO scale railway for a long time to come.

Thomas Hornby Range

Hornby Thomas

Hornby Railways launched one of the early TV Series tie-ins, with Thomas and Percy being released for model railways in 1985, with an assortment of rolling stock to accompany them.  Thomas was created from Hornby’s E2 Billington tank engine mould, whilst Percy was a completely original design using Hornby’s standard 0-4-0 chassis.  In addition to the two-rail electric versions, Thomas and Percy were also released as clockwork 'Playtrains'. Percy used the same moulding as his electric counterpart, but Thomas had an entirely unique body which ran on an inaccurate 0-4-0 chassis.  The first six-wheeled Thomas was released as part of a Thomas and Bertie’s Great Race play-set, which saw a battery-powered Annie providing the propulsion.

Hornby James

Throughout the 1980s, they were joined by representations of Gordon, Duck, Diesel and James, all created using older tooling from the Triang systems.  However, throughout the 1990s, Gordon, Duck and Diesel were quietly discontinued from the range, along with several items of rolling stock accessories, leaving the more popular characters of Thomas, Percy and James to become the primary focus of the Hornby Thomas The Tank Engine range.

Hornby Toby

In the 2000, when Thomas & Friends began to see a resurgence, the characters of Gordon, Duck and Diesel were reintroduced to the range again – however, the manufacturers continued to use the outdated tooling.  They were joined by Toby, Bill & Ben and The (Bowled Out) Diesel and to make further use of Triang’s 08 Diesel body, ‘Arry and Bert – albeit with Splatter and Dodge’s faces from the movie.

Hornby Henry

Hornby’s faith in the brand saw them use outdated tooling to create characters such as Henry, Stepney and Oliver, as well as trying to embrace the Railway Series roots by placing a face on Flying Scotsman and introducing Bear as 7101.  However, the efforts to create some of the characters were somewhat sloppy, and some fans would argue that Edward and Emily are prime example of this.  Whilst a slightly accurate 4-4-0 locomotive was sought for Edward, it did not match the character in the way that fans had hoped for – and Emily’s model was created from the wrong type of single locomotive...

Skaledale Great Waterton Station

An attempt was made by Hornby to try and develop the range by capitalising on the 2008 Feature Length Special – The Great Discovery.  The buildings for the town and station of Great Waterton were incorporated into Hornby’s Skaledale range and were praised highly by Model Railway critics.  In the same year, Hornby launched a representation of Spencer from their A4 Pacific model.

Hornby Duck

Very little was done to develop the range until 2011 until the launch of 9F Murdoch, and a new Diesel character, Dart, from the Feature Length Special – Day of the Diesels.  However, by this point in time, a great number of items had been pulled unceremoniously from the range.  In terms of locomotive characters, Duck, Diesel, Stepney, Oliver, 7101, Henry, Spencer, Bill, Ben, ‘Arry and Bert had all been discontinued.  Meanwhile, Thomas, Percy and James were being sold at inflated prices as part of a limited edition range of 1,000 for the Royal Stamp Collection.

 

In November 2012, low sales of their London 2012 range forced Hornby to scale back their Thomas & Friends line with no new models scheduled for 2013 and things didn't get any better throughout that year, due to manufacturing cuts in China and the administration of Hornby's leading retailer ModelZone. New and reissued model releases were again dropped for 2014, despite Hornby's manufacturing returning to the UK.

Hornby Dart

The greatest criticisms of the Thomas Hornby range stem from the over-inflated pricing on the engines and the use of the out-dated tooling used to create them, which may well tie-in together and make for a more expensive building process, which in turn, makes the range unattractive to parents and elder fans who may be unwilling to buy such an expensive ‘toy’. Discontinued items from the range are currently gaining inflated prices even when second hand, Oliver in particular, following his recent return to the TV Series has been often found unaffordable to most modellers, which some claiming him to be the most valuable character Hornby has produced thus far.

Hornby Thomas the Tank Engine Set - 2015

2015 marks the 70th Anniversary of Thomas and Friends but also the 30th year Hornby had the character as part of their brand, it was announced at the start of the year that Hornby was to produce some “new” items for the range marking its comeback after its eventful three year absence. It was upon the day of Thomas’s Anniversary itself that Hornby revealed the first wave of the new range to be released in time for Christmas. Whilst news the range became good news for model retailers, it became mixed news upon modellers showing no change from the current models original tooling design. The range however sees the return of the first six engines (Henry included) along with various wagon packs and three sets, all at fair RRP prices set out by Hornby that retailers will most likely offer cheap at special offer.

Along with a successful boost of profits for Hornby since its manufacturing and delivery issues, it is hoped the range will continue to place the company back on track.

Thomal LIONEL TRAINS Models

LIONEL Trains'  G scale Thomas

American model train maker LIONEL predated Bachmann to provide Thomas and Friends electric trains to fans around 1992. Lionel's first release was in G scale  for Thomas and James, the engines being large enough for young children to hold and operate.

G Scale Thomas train set by LIONEL

Additional themed sets, accessories and rolling stock were made available, including a sound play mat for  additional sound realism, Sir Topham Hatt and Porter figures, the famous Windmill, Wellsworth Station and a water tower. Thomas and   James had moving eyes,  and with the trucks also had interchangeable faces with different expressions.

Lionel's O scale model of Percy

The G scale range was discontinued around the turn of the millenium when Lionel moved on up to O scale trains. The first O scale train set featuring Thomas, Annie and Clarabel with a circus theme, this time, adding Percy to the range in 2005. Thomas and James were reissued in 2006 as standalone engines.

Lionel's O scale model of Diesel

Whilst Annie and Clarabel were only included with the Thomas Set, there were also additional rolling stock of Troublesome Truck and Sodor Freight packs, they however despite their 'Sodor' theme, were tooled using traditional American railroad freight car design. As before, the engines have the ability to change their facial expressions. The range however did not grow as large as Hornby's or Bachmann's, and by 2007, Diesel was later added along with an Iron 'Arry and Bert twin engine pack in 2008.

Whilst locomotives are currently on a slim side, additional accessories followed, including a Sodor Diorama with a CGI landscape, a Sodor Station Platform and Train shed. The Classic Thomas set is due to be reissued in 2012 with a new Remote Control operating system and along with a Sodor Works Train pack, the troublesome trucks will be loaded with Christmas Presents in time for the 2012 holiday season.

Lionel's CGI O scale backdrop

Leaving Bachmann in the lead with a large selection of Thomas HO and Large scales, Lionel appears to have the market on the O scaled version of the brand. It is hoped that more characters will be added to their O scale range in the years to come.

Thomas Wooden Railway

 

Early version of Wooden Railway Thomas

The Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway line is one of the most iconic and well-known ranges of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends toys. From its introduction to present day, most toy shops sell them, most kids would’ve owned or played with them, and is one of the longest running ranges of Thomas toys.Learning Curve was created in late 1992. The models came out shortly after. They were fairly simple, being made only out of wood, with plastic wheels and faces, staples, and magnets. The chassis were stapled onto the main bodies, which were many pieces glued together.

Wooden Railway Knapford Express

The parts themselves were pretty simple. They were all squared off, being prisms or cylinders. The line itself had a good selection since its introduction in 1992, having sixteen models available; Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby, Mavis, Bill, Ben, Henrietta, Annie, Clarabel, a Troublesome Truck, Harold, and Terence. The “new” items for 1994 were available in 1993, having a wonderful range of items. The items available in 1994 were Duck, Donald, Douglas, Daisy, BoCo, Express Coach, Troublesome Brakevan, Sodor Line Caboose, Diesel, Milk Tanker, Henry’s Log Car, Bertie, Crosby Cargo Truck, Sir Topham Hatt’s car, Tugboat, and a Cargo Ship (The two had pegs at the back and front respectively, to connect the two).

Wooden Railway track set

In addition to the engines/cars, a full range of track, buildings/sheds, and accessories were available, such as a turntable, trees, workmen, etc. 1994 also saw the introduction of “Clickety-Clack” track, a design that would be its signature for the next 7 years. To add to all this, the models were upgraded, such as rounded funnels and domes, better construction, and more accurate detail to the models.

Wooden Railway Skarloey

1995 saw the introduction of narrow gauge engines. More engines and cars were added, and extravagant sets and destinations were available. In 1996, the range was brought over to the UK. For the next few years in the UK, however, the 1992-1996 lineup were the only items available. This year also saw the introduction of Railway Series characters. The two were Culdee and D199. By this year, over 40 characters were available, as well as many unique and extravagant buildings and track designs not found in any other systems.

Wooden Railway "Come Out Henry" play set

 In 1997, the first “Character Story” packs were available. The first was a “Percy Takes the Plunge” set, which included a pop-up book. By 1998, all the narrow gauge engines were available, and two more “Character Story” packs came out. They were Come Out, Henry, and Thomas and Bertie’s Great Race. These, however didn’t have pop-up books, but they were the first characters to have different faces. Henry had a sad face, and Thomas had an “out of puff” face. By 1999, 9 Railway Series characters were available (9 characters were available but a three pack of Ada, Jane, and Mabel existed, so there were 7 pack).

Wooden Railway "Thomas 10 Years in America"

 In 1999, a set called the “Thomas Ten Years in America” pack was released to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the introduction of Thomas to the USA through “Shining Time Station”. This included a limited edition Thomas, and an exclusive passenger coach, all in a wonderfully decorated box. Character cards were introduced this year. They had a description of the characters, as well as a picture of the characters. The models were revamped in 1999, having a plastic funnel and dome, as well as names printed on the bottoms of eight wheeled engines. The rest of the models had them printed on one year later.

Wooden Railway Dodge and Splatter

The early 2000s had some major changes and upgrades to the line. Many different packs and sets were released with the new movie, “Thomas and the Magic Railroad”. Dodge and Splatter, Diesel 10, Lady, and Thomas were released in “Magic Railroad” packaging. A very rare and collectable pack with all 5 of the engines was released. A “Muffle Mountain” set was released, and a “Zany Brainy” store exclusive set that had figures of some human characters remains one of the most desirable sets in Wooden Railway. 2001 was the very last year of their iconic “Clickety-Clack” track design. This was due to the introduction of battery powered engines. Thomas, Percy, and James were introduced. “Traction-Rail” track was introduced in 2002, which had track that had a design that made the wheels grip.

Wooden Railway 2002 character relaunch

2002 was perhaps the biggest revamp in the line. The new track was introduced, the main 7 engines, Annie and Clarabel, and Bertie had a new design, having the addition of stripes, brand new faces, and a new shape. The Magic Railroad characters now had the standard packaging, and Dodge and Splatter became available separately. 2003 was the first year to have “reintroduced characters”. They were older models that were upgraded and re-released. The first one was Stepney, who was released with the Museum Cars. A new “Limited Edition” series of characters came into the line. They had a piece with track and a building, a special edition character, and a certificate of authenticity.

Wooden Railway "A Better View for Gordon"

The first two to come in were “Thomas Comes to Breakfast”, and “James Goes Buzz Buzz”. Though released for only 1 year, the former was later rereleased in 2006. “A Better View for Gordon” came in 2004. “James Goes Buzz Buzz” remains the rarest out of all three. 2004 was another major turning point for Wooden Railway. With the exception of the Battery Powered engines, it introduced many toys that could light up and make noise. Due to this, many items were plastic instead of the traditional “wood” construction. Seven destinations, two sets (one being a Deluxe Sights and Sounds set that had every destination that lit up or made noise available), and two new characters came out that used batteries.

Wooden Railway Henry variant  (2005)

2005 was more or less the same, having more reintroductions of characters and more items with batteries. Two 60th Anniversary sets were released. One was a set with Thomas and Henry which included a golden piece of track. The second was a set that had Henry. He was green in the process of being painted blue. A special card which had heavily condensed versions of the stories The Sad Story of Henry and Edward, Gordon, and Henry was included.

Wooden Railway variant James x 2

2006 had more reintroductions, but were different from the rest. They advertised them as “Available for one year only”. The group that was released had a similar theme to them, and they were heavily upgraded. This year, they had Oliver, S.C. Ruffey, and Toad. 2007’s reintroductions were Daisy and Derek. This year also marked the recall of lead paint. Many trains with red and yellow paint were recalled back to the factory. Those people that sent in their recalled train(s) received a replacement and a random train/car.

Wooden Railway Knapford Station Set

2008 had the reintroductions of Sir Handel and Peter Sam. 2009 brought back the same theme like Magic Railroad. The characters like Stanley and Mud-Covered Thomas had “As seen in the Great Discovery” packaging. Two characters that appeared for one episode/scene were introduced this year, Smudger and Proteus. The “Talking Railway Series” was also introduced in this year. The characters in the range had a special magnet casing which went over a special piece of track said a command along with the name of the engine. 2009 also saw the end of character cards. With the Hero of the Rails movie, the packaging for Hiro, Patchwork Hiro, Victor, and Kevin had Hero of the Rails trim. These were released in mid-2009, but not seen for another few months (in the movie), and not being mentioned by Wooden Railway until 2010.

Wooden Railway Early Engineers James (2010)

2010 had Misty Island Rescue characters (Bash, Dash, Ferdinand, and Captain) with the same packaging style. It saw the introduction of yet another spin-off line, “Early Engineers”. These models had four wheels for each model, and were shorter and taller than their standard Wooden Railway counterparts. This line only lasted one year and is presumed to be discontinued, as it was not mentioned by Wooden Railway for 2011, nor was the Talking Railway.

Wooden Railway "Percy at the Dieselworks" (2011)

2011 saw the reintroduction of Skarloey, which completes the reintroduction of the original 7 narrow gaugers. A surprise to most was that Dodge and Splatter were also reintroduced.  And finally, as part of the 2011 Special, the Day Of The Diesels characters, Den, Dart, Flynn, Belle, Diesel 10 (revamped), along with a Dieselworks set, and a couple character packs were released with special packaging. All in all, the line saw numerous changes, and had similar themes and patterns stay the same from the beginning.

2013 re-release of Wooden Flying Scotsman

In 2011, RC2 Learning Curve was in acquisition by TOMY who took over the Wooden Railway licence, but only for as short time. As of 2013, Mattel and Fisher Price reintroduced The Thomas Wooden Railway at the same retail price. Changes to the line included slimmer packaging, rounded edges and feature the return of accurate wheel-dates designed to reduce edge-wear. 2013 saw the re-release of Fergus, Diesel D199 and most popular of all, Flying Scotsman which had over the years become a much sought-after collectible.

Wooden Railway Sam

The range took a further change of pace in 2014 bringing out sets based on special book stories, also bringing a toy exclusive created character that many believed was to be a newcomer to the TV Series, with his profile unveiled on the Official Website’s engine depot page, Mattel also have fans the opportunity to create their own custom character and have it featured in a special book.

The two “newcomers”, Logan and Sam were at first characters created just for the wooden range but later were specially promoted and animated by Arc for their sales, giving them full CGI renders.

Wooden Railway 70th Anniversary 2-pack

Products created to commemorate the 70th Anniversary included a black painted James, familiar to how he looked when first introduced in the Railway Series and The Adventure Begins, but also a special edition Thomas 2-pack, including one that resembled Christopher Awdry’s original Thomas toy that Wilbert carved for him in 1942. With the line still around today, with endless possibilities for characters, destinations, layouts, and accessories. It has been one of the longest running Thomas ranges of merchandise, and hopefully will still be around for many years and for future generations to enjoy.

TOMY TOMICA TRACKMASTER Thomas range

 

TOMY first launched the Thomas range of motorized toys trains in 1992. Tomy trains' Thomas range initially only included the first 6 engines, the troublesome trucks and The Fat Controller, with dark blue coloured track instead if the now-familiar light blue track of Tomica World.

TOMY TRAINS range
Example of the TOMY TRAINS product range

TOMIA WORLD

It was then around 1996 that the range was relaunched and improved upon with the release of the Tomica World system (based upon the Plarail system already in use in Japan).
 
In contrast to the TOMY Trains, these toys were smaller in size operating on a light blue track system. The new range offered up more characters and rolling stock, including special edition engines such as Talking Thomas, Percy and James, to road characters such as Bertie and Bulgy.

THOMAS Road & Rail Special Edition - Jet Engine

Tomica World was later rebranded as Thomas Motor Road and Rail in 2003, forcing TOMY to discontinue the EuroStar, Silver Streak and other various trains they produced in the range.
 
Special Edition Engines were made during 2005 including a Thomas 60th Anniversary set that featured "Safe Steam" (Thomas emits cool puffs of child-safe steam from his funnel), a Jet Engine Thomas with shocked face and even a Chocolate Covered Percy.

In 2007 the Motor Road and Rail line was discontinued for America was replaced by a new track system called "Trackmaster" released by the HiT Toy Company. Compatible with the same TOMY engines, the track system was completely redesigned to replace the plain blue track with a version that included finer detail such as sleepers and ballast.
 
Ever since the 2008 feature release of Thomas and the Great Discovery, special Trackmaster sets were made to tie in with the release of Thomas movies. A Day of the Diesels themed set is due to be released late 2011.

Trackmaster tie-in: Thomas and the Great Discovery
Trackmaster Feature tie-in set for Thomas and the Great Discovery

Some of the engines could flip their faces (facial expressions) for sets such as "James at Boulder Mountain" and "Toby at the Copper Mine".
 
TOMY continued distributing the Trackmaster range in the UK, replacing the old blue track for the newer versions. By 2010 they had discontinued their range of toys and passed over licensing and production on to Fisher Price. New editions of the characters were made, whilst others from old stock were still being distributed in the original packaging. One significant change is that character releases now include less rolling stock, which has become somewhat of a disappointment for Trackmaster fans.

Trackmaster "James at Boulder Mountain" , FP model
Trackmaster "James at Boulder Mountain" and new version of Trackmaster Thomas by Fisher Price

Japanese Plarail Misty Island Rescue set
Japanese Plarail Misty Island Rescue set

Japan however still continues the Plarail range with the light blue track, recently making new sets for Hero of the Rails and Misty Island Rescue with additional episode/special themed sets to come. Trackmaster being licensed by Mattel gave TOMY an opportunity to reintroduce their own compatible Tomica World range to a new generation.

Longest Trackmaster Layout - Drayton Manor 2008
Drayton Manor 2008

This track system has recently steamed itself into the Guinness World record books beginning on the 23 August, 2006  for the longest laid track at Ediage/Aqua City, Odaiba, Japan. Attempts to beat this record began in earnest with Drayton Manor's own Thomas Land Theme Park in 2008,  setting a world record at 1.8 kilometres in length with Thomas going around the circuit in 2.5 hours on 10,530 pieces of track.
 
Not to be outdone, Australia’s Rail Museum at Ipswich did their own challenge in 2010, using 10,197 pieces of track measuring 2.014 kilometres. It took their Thomas however a little longer to steam around their layout despite breaking the record in length, also beating the original record set in Japan. On 28 July in 2011, Japan attempted to reclaim the record with the pla-rail system, with 2,221.514 metres of track, 207 m greater than the previous record holder. This attempt used 10,575 pieces of track, but this was beaten by the Chinese in 2012, with a track line measuring 2,888 metres and using 13,769 pieces.

New Trackmaster design for James

After more new products, reintroductions and tie-ins made for the most recent Thomas specials, Mattel launched a newly revamped Trackmaster line in 2014 with redesigned track and engines. Now only requiring two AAA batteries instead of one AA or C size, they provide an enhanced faster performance and are now able to climb steeper gradients of layouts than previous sets. However consumers  have been left critically disappointed about the design of the new engines, and the lack of compatibility with previous Trackmaster sets.  Despite current sets providing track adapters, the range will not work well on the Tomica/Pla-rail system and is better suited to its own track design (to read up the fact sheet of the new design click here). Despite these recent changes, it's not difficult to see why this popular range of plastic motorized toys will still be a joy for Thomas fans for years to come!

Links of interest:

 

I was first made aware of the minis through twitter and I was curious at first thinking they were a US exclusive product, thinking I would never see these slightly unusual produce. However I was wrong, walked into Sainsburys to buy a drink and I saw them on the shelf!

What keeps drawing me back to the minis is the price. For what you are getting, the price of £1.99 is spectacular. The minis are quite possibly the best looking toys on the market. The faces, which aren't a separate piece, they are painted on! (With the exception of Diesel 10) are honestly some of the best faces I have seen in years on a Thomas product. They are incredibly accurate for the scale they are. The detail on the paint work on each one of the engines is lovely also. You can always clearly tell which one is which! One think I was worried about when I first saw them was the wheels. I did think to myself "are these going to be flimsy little things?" But they are as robust as the Take N Play wheels, made of a thick plastic which roll easily.

But the minis are also the most creative Thomas and Friends merchandise ever! Not only do they produce our favourite characters in the forms we know and love, they also do more creative looking ones. Making the engines looking like they are part robots, or they have just bounced back to the eighties, or they look like pirates! Honestly I think this is fantastic on these toys it makes the product unique. I only have five at the moment (Original Thomas, Diesel 10, Metallic James, Old School Diesel and Racer Gordon) and I am very pleased with my purchases. I have seen others that look awesome too, Robot and Neon Toby, Pirate Salty and the latest set to be seen, the San Diego Comic Con exclusives: Thomas and DC super heroes collaboration, featuring Diesel as Batman, the irony!

For those who don't know, the minis are sold in two ways (one way at the moment in the UK) One way is in the blind bags, like trading cards, so you don't know who you are getting which is a blessing and a curse really. The blessing is that you always have an element of surprise because you don't know who you are going to get but the curse is because of this you do risk the chance of getting doubles. Thats if you if you don't know the codes on the front of the packet (Kudos to @SFSreloaded and Leokimvideo). The other way you can buy them is in blister packaging in either three or six, clearly seeing who you are getting. This being the better system to know who you are getting and avoiding doubles.

I know I have five at the moment, but I am really hoping to expand my collection as soon as possible. But I can honestly say to you dear readers if you go out with a little bit of cash you see them, I really wouldn't hesitate, they are great value for money, they look great and so great to play with! (My favourite game is flick the engine and see who goes the furthest!) I honestly feel they are the best merchandise on the market, and I hope you'll feel the same when you buy them!

Thomas Video Games & Software

 

The Thomas interactive video game format was first introduced in 1990 for the Amstrad CPC (Colour Personal Computer), Sinclair ZX Spectrum systems by Alternative Software under the title: Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Due to the console’s period limited 8-bit graphics capabilities, Thomas was rendered on-screen as a coarse white character. The game’s code was loaded into the console’s memory via a cassette tape. A version of the same game was released for the Commodore 64 that same year with better colour graphics. The game was later upgraded to take advantage of the Commodore Amiga’s higher quality graphics in 1993, with a bonus Memory Game played with 12-18 cards for 1-2 player (or vs. computer) action.

The aim of the game was to help Thomas complete seven different delivery jobs before sundown over the course of a week. The 7 tasks chosen in any order by the player included taking 1) children to the seaside, 2) delivering the mail, 3) bringing a tractor to the station, 4) medicine to the hospital, 5) logs to the sawmill, 6) coal to the power plant, and 7) oil to the refinery. Points are awarded at certain locations along the line and the game play involved getting to the destination whilst avoiding running into obstacles and other engines. The game featured a difficulty level of ‘easy’ for youngsters, and ‘normal’ for the more experienced player.


Above: Cassette tape jacket for Spectrum game - click image to view next slide

Alternative Software and Peak Entertainment also released a lesser-known educational game in 1990 for the Amstrad CPC,  ZX Spectrum and C-64 systems titled Thomas the Tank Engine’s Fun with Words, and an upgraded graphics version of the game was released for the  Commodore Amiga in 1993.

Fun with Words offered a variety of game play options, from guessing a word from a picture clue, filling in the blanks to complete a word, identifying and correcting misspelled words, to matching letter shapes.


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CLICK IMAGE TO SEE LARGER VERSION

A sequel to Alternative Software's first game  followed in 1993 for the Commodore Amiga,  PC DOS and Atari ST  called Thomas' Big Race and known popularly as Thomas the Tank Engine 2. This  racing game pitted you  in your choice of being Thomas, Percy, Gordon, Bill, Ben, Toby, James,or Bertie against another character in a race to the finish on one of  four rail line race courses to choose from: Main Line, Postal Run, Waterway or Wood Glade. Attention to fuel levels and obstacles on the line provided additional player challenges. It's interesting to note for the benefit of purists that Gordon and James race without their tenders in this game! Click the image pictured right to see a larger version of the game's cover for the Atari ST. Screencaptures of the gameplay are featured below.


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Other games for the Amiga released during that period included Thomas the Tank Engine Paint Box, which was a simple Print Studio where young players painted characters, created Birthday Cards, banners and calendars. and mixed colours on screen with child-friendly controls.  In 1995 a game titled Thomas the Tank Engine Pinball was released for the Amiga/DOS, becoming the first Thomas game released on CD. This was a classic arcade pinball game offering the player one of four backdrops to play on: Thomas, James, Toby or Percy.  The musical theme for each of the characters is played in the background for their respective screen during gameplay. An oversight by the game's programmer resulted in Toby's and James' themes being switched with one another!


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In 1993, THQ released two games for other gaming systems under the title: Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends Adventure Series. The  version created for the Sega Genesis  gave players  the option of  carrying out railway tasks such as finding and delivering rolling stock to a specific destination, freely exploring Sodor's railways, race other engines, and colouring-in Thomas, Percy, James, Toby and Duck.


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The other game released for the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) differed in playability from the Sega Genesis version. The SNES version featured quizes, jigsaw and sliding puzzles, as Thomas - race against Bertie or Percy, perform tasks to set switches and fixing tracks, and two read along stories. A game was planned for a release for the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1993 but was later cancelled for unknown reasons.


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Thomas video games were about to take a whole new change of direction in 1999 when Hasbro Interactive created two new interactive 3D games for the PC distributed on CD for Windows 98. The Great Festival Adventure game came first,  featuring 3D animated graphics. Several characters, especially the human ones are based and rendered from their TV Series model counterparts.
 
The backstory involved Thomas and Friends preparing for the great Sodor festival, with the player carrying out various tasks including cleaning and maintaining the engines, clearing rubble from the tracks with Harold the Helicopter's help, Cranky loading trucks at Brendam Docks,  assembling fun fair rides, herding sheep with Terrence, loading passengers into Annie, and finally,  even making music at the festival by having the mucisians play their instruments individually or all together! 
 
A certificate is awarded to the player after each task is completed, and these can be viewed in The Fat Controller's office along with task scenes and the roster of individual characters.  An attractive game feature for parents of younger players is the ability to print off a hardcopy of the certificates, task scenes and individual characters in either colour or black & white for the child to later colour-in with crayons.


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The second game Trouble on the Tracks was released shortly thereafter, and was appeared to be loosely based on the story Thomas and the Breakdown Train, where Thomas helps James after an accident.  Only in this version, by performing certain tasks, Harold the Helicopter, Thomas and Percy help to get James back on track in time for his evening passenger run. Even a Horrid Lorry is enlisted whose task is to fetch coal for the other engines!
 
The gameplay tasks consist of guiding Harold to find James, help the Horrid Lorry load up with coal, repair the breakdown crane's gear box, find a new whistle for James, guide Cranky to load crates of parts into Thomas'' trucks, help Percy find a lanp for James, repair, coal up, water and finally, build up steam in the now-repaired James.
 
Like the Festival Adventure game, the Fat Controller's Office options to view and print characters, task scenes and certificates have the same functionality.

The game featured original series music composed by Mike O’ Donnell and Junior Campbell Music, with the storytelling performed by Michael Angelis (UK) and Robin Smith (US). The characters featured in this game are again rendered based on the TV models and figurines.


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A UK Exclusive, Thomas and the Magic Railroad Print Studio, was released by Hasbro Interactive in 1999, as a tie-in for the release of Thomas and the Magic Railroad in 2000, featuring the voice of Michael Angelis and some characters not seen in the film, including Terence.

Thomas and the Magic Railroad Print Studio
Thomas and the Magic Railroad Print Studio

Other Thomas games were released for the Sony PlayStation System in Japan, but these were not introduced in the UK or US. Additional Japanese game titles were also released for the PC, Game Boy Color, and Nintendo DS systems. A few of these games are featured in the slideshow below. 


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2001 saw the arrival of Railway Adventures, a game with a specially made console that is attached to the PC's keyboard.  This allowed a child playing the game to drive Thomas in a wonderful 3D Sodor environment performing various tasks, playing mini-games and even talking to other engines. As with the previous Hasbro Interactive releases, the player can visit the Fat Controller's office to view or print earned task completion certificates. 
 
Robin Smith provided all voices for the US release of the game, but Michael Angelis was joined by other voice-over artists for the UK release.


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Building the New Line  (PC) came out in 2002, where kids could help build a new branch line for The Fat Controller, and then help decorate engines for the grand opening. Unlike the other previously released games it had a much shorter and more simplified gameplay.  Once a line was built with the chosen  locale and track layout, there is rather limited player interaction on the run.


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This all changed in 2003 with the livelier follow-up Thomas Saves the Day, with the main plot requiring Thomas to deliver crates of chocolates to the Docks on time, whilst helping out his friends in trouble, including Salty, Harvey and Elizabeth. Gameplay involved Thomas finding certain objects and completing tasks in a specific order. At game's end, the player can make a box of customised chocolates,  with the option to view and print off a copy of  the final result. 


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Other game systems including LeapFrog's LeapPad, V-Tech's V-Smile and V-Motion, Semi Logic's Bubble, and Jakks Pacific's TV Plug and Play have released their own series of Thomas games, intended mostly for the younger pre-school audience. All of these games were designed along a common theme to be highly interactive and educational.
 
V-Tech's Engines Working Together, for example teaches rhe pre-schooler about colours, shapes. vocabulary, numbers, logic and spelling through gameplay.
 
Jakks Pacific's battery operated  Thomas the Tank Engine Plug N Play TV Game is playable without the need for a console. The unit hooks directly to the player's television set. The gameplay involves Thomas preparing for a party by gathering supplies and helping his friends, capture runaway Diesel, pick up cargo from Cranky the Crane, bring coal to stranded engines and clean up a mess left by the Troub;esome Trucks.


Examples of pre-schooler video games - click image to view next slide

Video games again radically changed in 2007 as the next two releases featured cartoon aniimation during gameplay. Mastertronic Ltd.'s A Day at the Races was released in the UK for the PlayStation 2 system for use with the patented  Eye Toy USB camera. The game involves completing 10 mini-games to be crowned as the fastest engine on Sodor, with Thomas determined that it be him.


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Brighter Minds released  Special Delivery in 2007 for the PC and distributed on CD-ROM. The game is narrated by voice artist David Holt. Again geared to pre-school players, the game's plot involves helping Thomas and Harold find James, who has lost his way whilst delivering an important delivery to the zoo. Once found, the player must get James and the cargo (animals) to the zoo on time.  The game teaches shape sorting, colour matching, logic and deduction, observation, memory,  following directions, telling time, and counting.


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2008 saw some games released in Japan for the Nintendo DS system; but again, they were not introduced for English-speaking audiences...that is, until  a  DS game based on the CGI special Hero of the Rails was released in late 2011 for a UK release distributed by Barnstorm. In the US, it was to be released by Majesco but the project was cancelled for unexplained reasons.
 
Hero of the Rails was released earlier in 2010 for the Nintendo Wii system. The game features clips from the special, re-edited with the character mouths remaining static,  whilst voice talent David Holt narrates the story. Game options consisted of  playing either 'Game'  or 'Story' mode. With Game mode, one can choose to play from a variety of games such as painting or cleaning an engine, shunting, racing, sorting parts at the Steamworks, fixing Hiro, and card classics such as Snap and Match.  Story mode involves following the story and playing one of the previously-mentioned games at certain points, i.e. when Mavis confronts Spencer at the quarry, she distracts him with a game of Snap!  Hero of the Rails also features the popular  Go-Go Thomas song as a karaoke.


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A Misty Island Rescue game was released by Nova Development for the US in 2010 featuring Michael Brandon and the US voice cast.  Once again, gameplay sets up a fun educational environment for young players to exercise  their basic math, colours, logic, spelling, memory and problem solving skills. 


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Current (2011) software for Thomas and Friends have been developed mostly as applications (apps) for Apple devices namely iPhones, iPods and iPads. These "apps" are bundled together as games and read-along stories for purchase and download by consumers.  As a testament to their popularity, the app bundles released for Hero of the Rails, Misty Island Rescue and the recent Day of the Diesels  have become the most best-selling apps so far.


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These recent innovations may be the beginnings of a new trend for Thomas & Friends related software.  Easily purchased and downloaded to your mobile device, these apps offer marketing advantages to game developers by drastically reducing the time period between the software lab and making them available to the consumer. They are also environmentally friendly as they eliminate the need for traditional DVD media and packaging along with the bulk shipping costs by road, sea and air. In essence, they are instantly available on demand either as individual or bundled applications.

It will be very interesting to see how much further the electronic version of the Thomas and Friends brand will evolve in the coming years. It is a safe assumption to say that the primary focus of software development will continue to be for its educational value, whilst as always retaining its flair to entertain.
 
In the end we can all agree that the Thomas and Friends video games have certainly progressed a lot since their debut!

Thomas videos in the UK and US

by Callum Walker

A History of Thomas Home Entertainment in the UK

Since the series' debut in 1984, there have been countless episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends available on Home Entertainment format, progressing from VHS, Beta to DVD and now-familiar Blu-Ray mediums. While this number grows, we'll explore its long history, both in the UK, US and other parts of the world.

The first UK Thomas videos

In April, 1985, one year after the launch of the Television Series, the first Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends video was released on VHS and Beta format by Guild Home Video. This debut video featured the first thirteen episodes from Series 1.  It was followed by a second volume, "Further Adventures of..." released in October of that same year. Both have become one of the most sought-after Thomas collectibles, with auctions on EBay leading up to more than £20 depending on the overall condition of the tapes.

Troublesome Trucks VHS

Both volumes were produced in limited quantities as later that year, two additional distributors, Kaleidoscope and The Video Collection rereleased all of the first series in three separate volumes.

The Deputation VHS

The Video Collection was tagged as Britain’s biggest selling video label, selling other popular and retro children’s classic titles including He-Man, Sooty, The Flintstones, Get Along Gang, Thundercats, Mask and more to name a few. Helping to pitch the videos was Ringo Starr’s tagline describing Thomas as a “smashing little engine” along with the former Beatle's credit as narrator.

The first releases of the second series in 1986 however, were not issued by Video Collection.  They were instead licensed to Screen Legends (later renamed Pickwick Video), another video house that supplying additional children’s favourites such as Worzel Gummage, Paddington Bear and Henry’s Cat. One year later, Video Collection relaunched the Series 1 videos with new packaging featuring the colourful and familiar artwork of Owen Bell. It's interesting to note that the artwork also included a few images of the new Series 2 characters.

Thomas & Gordon VHS

In addition to the above, special compilations were also released featuring longer length videos and promotional packs such as the Thomas the Tank Engine Bumper Special (1990), and Pickwick Video's final contribution, The Best of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (1991).

Escape and Other Stories VHS

During the same period that Series 1 was rereleased, a series of promotional videos were launched under the title Watch and Play. These compilations included a colouring book pack with a video cassette featuring a small selection of episodes pulled from previously released volumes. Five volumes were produced and released between 1987 and 1994, including Learn with Thomas the Tank Engine (1992) and Thomas Comes to Breakfast and Other Stories (1994).

1991 saw Video Collection taking charge of all future titles, and began with the release of Series 3 episodes before being aired on ITV. Interestingly, the early releases of Time for Trouble/Trust Thomas and Other Stories videos featured Michael Angelis' first pre-recorded narration on the first twenty episodes, which was later rerecorded before their television broadcast debut. Series 3 was wrapped up in 1992 with the release of Escape and Other Stories which included the remaining ten episodes. Video Collection again reissued Series 1 and 2, but the volumes were retitled to showcase specific episodes. Two additional bumper specials were also released during that period namely Thomas’ Christmas Party/Thomas Gets Bumped and 17 other stories.

Thomas and Stepney and Other Stories VHS

Your Favourite Stories VHS

Episode volumes for Series 4 were released after its UK Cartoon Network broadcasts. For non-cable TV viewers the series began a direct-to-video marketing trend beginning in 1994 with Rock ‘N’ Roll and Other Stories. Again, Angelis' first narrative draft was included, but only for the series' first 8 episodes (which were to be re-recorded later). Minor production changes were afoot after the 1995 release of Thomas and Stepney and Other Stories. The roster of the remaining Series 4 episodes would have been completed with the release of Thomas and the Special Letter and Other Stories, but the title was only available in Australia. For UK fans, the remaining episodes would feature in special themed compilation releases and bumper specials such as Thomas’ Train and 17 Other Stories (1995) and Chases, Races and Runaways (1997).

Releases of Thomas videos underwent a major change from the period of 1995 onwards when Video Collection rebranded itself as VCI. Sequential episode title releases were dropped in favour of themed episode compilations. A few of these compilations featured unaired new episodes, while others included specially produced content. One special, Your Favourite Story Collection featured ten children introducing their Thomas favourite story. In July 1996, a special music video was performed and recorded and by The Four Marks Beaver Scouts for The Biggest Ever Christmas Collection. A miscellany of other one-off videos were released including treat-sized tapes, compilations of other children's character episodes including Thomas, and several video sleeves which included a letter from The Fat Controller sharing his opinion of the adventures featured on each tape. 

Classic Collection

Spooks & Surprises

1998 presented further changes which, in addition to the videos, extended to the style and quality of story writing. For the first time since 1985 all 26 episodes of Series 1 were brought together in a double VHS set, digitally remastered with the character name board sequences removed and replaced by new opening and ending episode titles. The new format was applied to the next 4 Series until 2002.

The 1998 release of Spooks and Surprises offered non-cable TV views the first selection of episode stories from the infamous 5th series. Happy Holidays and Rescues on the Railways followed, with a music video included on each tape as a bonus feature.

Peep Peep Party

By 2000, fewer videos were being made, a few of which were fan-voted episode compilations and others with non-story musical-themed content such as Fun Time Favourites and Sing-along with Thomas. One major milestone was achieved that year with Peep Peep Party becoming the first UK DVD release featuring the remaining episodes and songs from Series 5. Truck Loads of Fun and Seasonal Scrapes were also available in both VHS and DVD formats. The final treat size character tape titles were produced during that period, including My Little Thomas and the Royal Visitor commemorating the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002.

The Classic Collection

2002 heralded HiT Entertainment's takeover of the Thomas and Friends brand, and with it, a series of titles were released on both VHS and DVD. VCI also helped with the edited content for the Series 8 releases: All Aboard with the Steam Team, It’s Great to Be an Engine! and Peep! Peep! Hooray: Three Cheers for Thomas. By 2005, Series 1 to 5 were available in a five DVD boxset and later released individually. By fall 2005, VCI was to end its 20 year association with Thomas and Friends, having merged with the BBC to be rebranded as 2Entertain.

Little Engines Big Day Out

2Entertain’s first DVD release was the first Thomas feature length special, Calling All Engines!  It was also to become the new company's first and last VHS release. The switch to DVD format provided the opportunity to include interactive content with higher quality episode video. The DVD format's low maintenance proved also popular with toddlers' parents by no longer having the need to rewind or deal with jammed videotapes.  Series 8 and 9 titles were produced between 2008 and 2008, including the spin-off adventures of Thomas' Trusty Friends (Jack and the Pack), and the first introduction to Series 11's episodes with Engines and Escapades. A retro release of volumes for the Complete Series 6 and 7 were also produced during that same period.

The Great Discovery

The Complete 9th Series

2Entertain's association with Thomas ended with the release of The Spirit of Sodor. By the summer of 2008 used its own in-house production shop to release Thomas DVDs, as it was already doing with its other brands including Bob the Builder and Angelina Ballerina. HiT's foray in the Thomas DVD market began with the Complete Series 8 and the second feature-length special, The Great Discovery.

HiT was no stranger to marketing the DVDs, having done so by releasing promotional titles through newspapers and children's favourites compilations. HiT was able to produce more titles than ever before with up to five or six DVD releases a year by 2009.  Despite being successful in tough economic times, not all of the new DVD titles' content were praised by fans -- every one of the 26 episodes now includes the Island of Sodor introduction along with the Engine Roll Call song the start and end story credits, identical to the episode broadcast format on Channel 5's Milkshake.  Fans were also inconvenienced by the lack of listed episode and bonus feature titles on the rear DVD case sleeves, creating uncertainty about content until purchased.

Up Up & Away!

Although HiT was able to extend the marketing of Thomas episode titles further with ITunes for Digital Download, they also began to reissue the a box set or triple-pack of previous DVD titles as a value gift set. After the successful release of Nitrogen Studio's 100% CGI Hero of the Rails in 2009, HiT produced a new series of interactive segments, including Down at the Station which featured real-life steam and diesel engines at work. UK and American releases also treated fans to Watch with Mr. Perkins, a series of Jackanory-type live segments taped with actor Ben Forster talking to his viewing audience. Despite being popular with fans, the new features' selling points were countered by HiT's decision to only include four episodes per DVD title, which focused on episodes that to older fans, suffered from storytelling quality, especially those from the 15th Series.

2010's feature-length special Misty Island Rescue was followed up in 2011 by Day of the Diesels, the first released in the UK in high-definition Blu-Ray disc format. At this time, it is unknown if future titles will be available on Blu-Ray in the UK, with the only confirmation of the format's availability being in US territory. 

Merry Winter Wish

HiT was the center of a minor news media sensation row in 2011 which delayed their planned October release of Merry Winter Wish by a year. A furor erupted when advance notice of the release caught the attention of the National Christian Institute and fans who complained about the lack of “Christmas" references in recent episodes, citing the 2006 release Little Engines' Big Days Out. As a result, any mention of the neutral sounding Winter Holiday in episode narrations was redubbed to Christmas Holiday for all Christmas-themed episodes from Series 14 to 16. Merry Winter Wish was finally released in October 2012 with the DVD cover tagline Wishes Come True in this Christmas Special!

Complete Series 2

The UK’s current DVD selections were now to feature the ever-popular classic episodes that have been digitally restored to a higher quality from the original footage. At first, the restored episodes were only distributed on promotional DVDs by Scottish newspaper group Daily Record. They were then eventually made available to general consumers in special release compilations; The Best of Thomas (2010), The Best of Percy/James (2012). In time, following successful DVD polls by fans, the digitally restored classic series episodes were released as individual complete series compilations. The Complete Series compilations are a collectible favourite by fans,. Although much requested by North American fans, the new series compilations have not yet made an appearance in America.

Edward's Exploit treat-size episode compilation

Along with regular releases throughout 2013, treat-size compilations were distributed by UK bargain retailer Poundland. Each DVD contained a six episode listing, all for a minimum one pound price. A real bargain for their money for youg families, the compilations exposed and introduced the current generation of toddlers to the original classic model series narrated by Ringo Starr. Four titles were released in May 2013, followed by a further four in July, spanning the entire first and second season, minus their penultimate episodes and Christmas finales.

King of the Railway DVD (2013)

Things got off to a rough start in 2013 when British entertainment retail giant HMV went into receivership, resulting in job losses and store closures across the country. At the time, Thomas and Friends and other HiT Entertainment brand DVD titles were not able to reach surviving stores until November, a few months after HMV was bought out by Hilco. Titles produced throughout the year experienced some stock delivery difficulties in some of their retail on online stores. After its cinema screening in August 2013, the feature-length special King of the Railway (KotR) saw its release in September and became an instant best-seller. Although the HotR DVD was well stocked in most stores, it seemed only supermarket giant ASDA experienced a two week inventory delay despite being listed as being in-stock in their DVD charts.

Merry Christmas, Thomas! (2013)

A familiar title release schedule issue occurred with the UK release of Merry Christmas, Thomas!, resulting in a one week availability delay in ASDA's DVD chart in-store and online. Another animated film The Snowman and the Snowdog was delayed another week even though both titles were being delivered and sold by other retailers. Merry Christmas, Thomas!, the last release for 2013 included a bonus disc, Big Bang Surprise, featuring five additional episodes from series sixteen. With 19 of its 20 episodes are accounted for in the compilation, leaving out only the 20th title - Bust my Buffers! and Happy Hiro from Series Fifteen. The latter two episodes have yet to be released in the UK. although they are currently featured overseas on the US DVD, Schoolhouse Delivery.

Spills & Thrills DVD (UK-2014)

2014 was to introduce the first UK Season 17 DVD in January, The Thomas Way, also introducing a new format that future DVD’s were now to follow, with the episodes playing individually without the titles and Engine Roll Call song endlessly repeated at the beginning and end of every story. They were also to feature the new Mr. Perkins segments reading illustrated stories from the Railway Series, as well as new interactive segments with The Fat Controller and the Earl of Sodor. Spills and Thrills followed in March, with six never before seen stories that had not yet been aired on TV.

Thomas and Friends The Complete Series 15

Following in July, 2014 was the much expected but DVD for The Complete Series 15, surprisingly promoted as a very cheap pre-order for one week online at ASDA but not receiving very much of a warm welcome by longtime fans. In autumn however, the 2014 special Tale of the Brave proved to be a more popular best-seller by its UK September release date after its successful VUE premiere and one week early release on iTunes.

Santa's Little Engine

2014 releases were once again wrapped up by October with the UK release of Santa’s Little Engine, differing from its American counterpart. Whilst the US fans were treated to a re-narrated version of the season thirteen episode Snow Tracks by Mark Moraghan, UK fans were treated to three unreleased bonus episodes being Henry’s Hero, Too Many Fire Engines and The Phantom Express.

Dinos and Discoveries

2015 saw the arrival of six special themed episodes as part of Series 18, Dinos and Discoveries was to introduce the first onscreen appearance of Samson and the unveiling of the Earl of Sodor’s new dinosaur park. A year after its Walmart exclusive release overseas Trouble on the Tracks arrived in the UK with twice the amount of new bonus features, May saw the entire Sixteenth season wrap up Nitrogen’s complete animated era of the series despite being available already for some time on various digital platforms and after two years since it’s Walmart release Railway Mischief arrived for the UK in June with additional episodes and extra content.

The Adventure Begins

Dinos and Discoveries saw the first and only glimpse of the 70th Anniversary special The Adventure Begins, the DVD had initially been planned for May (in which it could of turned out being the highlight of the celebratory month) but it’s final release date became a disappointment to many UK fans who were eagerly awaiting the special following the US release through Walmart, in which their date set was at March. No further (official) publicity was backed from HiT or Walmart’s UK owned chain ASDA since the trailer which led fans to spread the world of its release socially online and through Thunderclap the week before its release. It was finally released to DVD through ASDA stores on July 27th.

1st Class Stories

There was further excitement soon turned disappointment through 1st Class Stories that was released in August, like The Best of Thomas (2010), this 70th anniversary episode compilation was to feature both classic and CGI stories from the start to current series, but not from each this time around. Five classic era episodes (two of them suggested by SiF) made the list including (as before) the first episode Thomas and Gordon, and was joined by The Flying Kipper, Escape, Gallant Old Engine and Thomas the Jet Engine. The rest of the release was dominated by episodes chosen from the all CGI series seasons. (Leaving out 2, 5, 7, 8 -12). Railway Consultant Sam Wilkinson explained that the DVD was to focus on the history of Thomas and that the short classic selection would be an introduction to the current audiences who would be familiar with the CGI series.

In whatever format, and wherever the episode titles are sold, Thomas videos have, and always will be a popular bestseller in Britain.

Tomos y tanc a'i gyfeillion

Welsh video for Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends

The title above would be very familiar and appropriate to Welsh fans of Tomos (Thomas). From 1987 onward, Clearwater Features licenced several video releases that were translated into Welsh and narrated by John Ogwen for Sain Video. All of Series 1's episodes were released with the video collection on three separate volumes, however stories from Series 2 onward were released in eighteen story compilation volumes. To compliment the new Welsh narration, most of the episode scenes featuring signs, nameboards or notices as seen in Down the Mine or Toby and the Stout Gentleman were re-edited. Where practical to do so, the underlying English text was blurred out with the equivalent Welsh translation superimposed. The edited "blank" sign version of the master tapes later became the standard for translation by other non-English countries licenced to broadcast and distribute the Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends episodes. 

Welsh translated signs

Welsh Thomas and Friends DVD

Welsh language releases continued with six further DVD titles featuring stories fron the sixth and seventh seasons mirroring those already distributed by VCI. Welsh versions of the Thomas and Friends episodes are currently broadcasted in the Welsh Region Channel S4C. As of 2011, episodes from the CGI Series 13 and 14 have been translated into Welsh, but have not been released onto DVD to date with only Series 1 to 5 available on VHS. Series 8 to 10 and the featured specials have not been yet translated to, or broadcasted in Welsh, with most of the English titles needing to be imported into Wales by fans as UK imports.


A History of Thomas Home Entertainment in the USA

Thomas Gets Tricked and Other Stories

In 1989, Thomas was formally introduced to North Americans through the new live-action public television (PBS) programme Shining Time Station, created by Rick Siggelkow and Britt Allcroft. Following up to the popularity of the Thomas stories featured in each Shining Time Station episode, the first set of Thomas videos were released in 1990 by Strand VCI Home Entertainment. The videos included episodes of the first and second series of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends with its redubbed Americanized scripts again narrated by Ringo Star who also played the role of Shining Time Station's Mr. Conductor. The videos became an instant success and by 1993, a total of six volumes had been produced when the video company changed its name to Strand Home Video. The rebranded company went on to release an additional 6 titles. Thomas episode Videos were also later released by Time-Life Video, while Quality Home Entertainment, a company formed by Rick and Britt released specials and a few episodes related to Shining Time Station proper.

Shining Time Station: Stacy Cleans Up

The Shining Time Station episode VHS releases were unfortunately not as numerous compared to the availability of standalone Thomas videos. There were only a total of 8 Shining Time Station episode releases produced with special "Drive-In Movie" intros and adverts.
 
Of that number, two videos focused on the Jukebox Band along with a compilation of their songs: The Jukebox Puppet Band - A Day In The Life (1993) and the Jukebox Puppet Band Lullaby Volume 2 (1993).
 
One direct-to-video special focused in Brian O'Connor's character in Schemer Presents (1993). Lastly, the Christmas Special 'Tis a Gift (1990) featured Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree without Ringo’s re-edited dialogue, not heard in its TV broadcast version.

James Goes Buzz Buzz and Other Stories

Thomas & the Special Letter and Other Stories

The US VHS titles differed with the UK versions in that the US episodes were separated by the name board sequences whilst leaving the end credits at the very end of the VHS tape. The videos were bestsellers and very successful in the United States with a few compilations released as gift packs and limited editions. The video compilations were enhanced in 1993 with the first Thomas music video making its US debut in Percy’s Ghostly Trick and Other Stories. A few titles however had audio quality editorial problems. For example, the episode background music featured in Daisy and Other Stories was at times louder than the storytelling. We should point out that a few of the UK released also shared the same problem. In 1993 YES! Entertainment produced two videos for both Thomas (Thomas & Bertie's Great Race & Other Adventures) and Shining Time Station (Sweet and Sour) for the Interactive TV Teddy system.

After Strand Home Video's bankruptcy in 1995, subsequent titles from Series 4 were released by Video Treasures, the first being Rusty to the Rescue and Other Stories (1995). New titles included an exclusive music video at the end of the tape. The most notable of these can be found in Rusty to the Rescue and Other Thomas Stories (1995) where an alternative version of Gone Fishing, believed to have been sung by Junior Campbell can be found. By 1998 Video Treasures was reorganized to become the now-familiar Anchor Bay Entertainment for future releases.

Ten Years of Thomas

Thomas' Christmas Wonderland

Anchor Bay began producing more themed compilation volumes than sequential episode releases, along with Blockbuster merged exclusives and the first set of Series 5 stories narrated by Alec Baldwin. A special compilation was released in 1999 to mark the 10th anniversary of Thomas' introduction to America through Shining Time Station. Ten Years of Thomas featured 10 episode stories chosen by visitors at a Thomas event at the Strasburg Railroad. Because of its popularity, this title is still available on retail websites such as Amazon.

Quality assurance problems did plague the 2000 seasonal release of Thomas’ Christmas Wonderland. The audio for Thomas and Percy’s Mountain Adventure was severely out of synch with the video for the last two minutes of the episode due to it being the redubbed Thanksgiving version. Adverts for Thomas' Trackside Tunes promised two new episodes where only one was actually included, and the American release was given its UK title name by mistake.

Best of Thomas

As was done in the UK, Anchor Bay kept abreast with new mediums by releasing new titles on DVD as well as VHS. DVD offered a novel experience to viewers with interactive segments helped along with Sir Topham Hat (voiced by Robin Smith), with games, songs and read along stories of Thomas books published by Random House. While US DVDs certainly provided a little more content compared to British releases, previous VHS titles were converted to DVD format and treated as new releases rather than producing remastered complete series.

Percy's Chocolate Crunch

Some DVDs included promotional CDs and cassettes of Thomas songs, but one marketing innovation in particular proved itself very popular - including a character or limited edition rolling stock from one of the Thomas Wooden Railway line with the expanded DVD packaging, which provided parents with an economical way to expand their child's Thomas Wooden Railway, a rare offer the UK didn’t receive until the release of Christmas Express in 2010.

New Friends for Thomas & Other Stories

After Alec Baldwin left Thomas and Friends after Series 6, a new American narrator was needed to take his place. With no actor yet available and with production schedule pressures looming, Michael Angelis was asked to narrate  six stories from Series 6 and 7 for New Friends for Thomas (2004) until Michael Brandon signed on as the storyteller for Thomas and the Jet Engine and Other Stories. Only three episodes Brandon narrated featured music by Mike O’ Donnell and Junior Campbell before Robert Hartshorne score new music for the series.

The Early Years: Complete Season 1

In October 2004, Anchor Bay released The Early Years, a 3 disc boxset containing all 26 episodes for Series 1, and a first for American audiences. Each episode was digitally restored from the original film frames in its native aspect ratio. With the footage unformatted (cropped) to fit standard television screens, viewers saw more of the set and even the occasional glimpse of camera equipment at the top or sides of the screen. Along with Sir Topham Hatt’s “Director's Commentary” for the first episode, another pleasant surprise was the presence of alternative episode scenes that were previously omitted from the television broadcast versions. Curiously, the episode narration was Ringo Starr's original UK scripted dialogue, where Americans were not used to hearing mention of troublesome trucks instead of freight cars, and Fat Controller instead of Sir Topham Hatt. Despite fan desires to see more, no subsequent full season boxsets have been released for North American audiences.

Steamies VS Diesels

Whilst Anchor Bay continued to release additional titles, HiT also compiled a few DVD releases with the assistance of Twentieth Century Fox, mostly for Series 8 episodes. These included Steamies VS Diesels, which was promoted in advance in a suspenseful teaser trailer, which upon release did not deliver a storyline that fans expected. Other HiT DVD titles included It’s Great to Be an Engine, Thomas’ Sodor Celebration and the 2005 feature length special, Calling All Engines!

Anchor Bay also provided Totally Thomas boxsets featuring three previously-released volumes, as well as Double Feature DVD’s which combined two previously separately released titles merged into one DVD disc.

The Great Discovery

Following a run of additional boxset and transferred old VHS titles, Anchor Bay ceased releasing titles in 2008. HiT Entertainment entered into a partnership with Lionsgate to co-distribute DVDs beginning with the 2008 special, The Great Discovery, narrated by Pierce Brosnan. The DVD featured additional interactive segments and a behind-the-scenes interview with the narrator. HiT and Lionsgate also re-released most of the previous HiT/Fox and Anchor Bay produced titles, with a focus on the new CGI Series and DVD content for Season 12 onwards. In 2009 and preceding the UK's live-action segments with Mr. Perkins, actor Robert Slade introduced us to Engine Driver Mr. Arkwright in short skits between episode stories. Despite his popularity, Mr. Arkwright was only featured on two DVD titles, Team up with Thomas, and Percy and the Bandstand. Mr. Perkins has since taken over, with the character featured on nearly 20 DVD titles. Several of these DVD titles were also digitized and made available through iTunes.

Greatest Stories

Unfortunately, US fans experienced the same annoyances as their UK counterparts with the CGI episode DVD releases. Again, there were fewer episodes per disc, bundled gift packs and the episodes were not listed on the rear of the DVD covers. In addition, the releases were reformatted to fit standard television screens instead of its native widescreen aspect ratio. The titles were also withdrawn from digital download vendors, in a way not acknowledging that many of today's fans use mobile smartphones and smartpads to catch up on episodes. As mentioned earlier, no additional classic episodes have been digitally restored for US release, with episodes from The Early Years DVD reappearing in later compilations such as The Greatest Stories and Engine Friends.

Blue Mountain Mystery

Lionsgate however has had more success with feature-length special releases. In 2009, Hero of the Rails was the only US DVD release available in widescreen format. With and since the release of Misty Island Rescue in 2010, the specials are available in the US in Blu-Ray, in high-definition video and sound quality, compared to only 1 title being available in that format so far in the UK. Despite US fans being provided with an exclusive first look at Series 17 episodes in 2013, it's hoped that the DVD distributors recognize the fans' strong desire to release titles in widescreen format, as well as making digitally restored post-Series 2 classic episodes available to US consumers.

Railway Mischief (2013)

2013 surprised American consumers with five episodes of the new seventeenth season released in April on an exclusive DVD available only in Wal-Mart stores. Railway Mischief was a success and sold out quickly. The compilation gave North American audiences a first look at Arc’s new animation, stories by new head writer Andrew Brenner and something which came as a complete shock, the new narration by Mark Moragahan. Target also had their own exclusive title released in September: Animal’s Aboard, although the compilation did not include episodes that were popular with fans.

King of the Railway (2013)

By September 2013, King of the Railway arrived on DVD and Blu-ray. Although the specials were available in widescreen vs. the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio, fans noticed a recurring problem with the audio track being slightly slurred and adding an extra two or three minutes to the feature’s playing time (not present on the digital iTunes versions). The audio distortion were also found on the US Blu-ray release of Blue Mountain Mystery. As an aside, we should note that further Blu-ray title releases have been discontinued in the UK since 2011’s Day of the Diesels.

Santa's Little Engine (2013)

Additional Season 17 episodes were released with Santa’s Little Engine, which was to mark another first for both British and American Thomas releases; audiences already familiar with Mr. Perkins can see him in new segments filmed at various heritage railways across the UK, and see him read stories from the original Railway Series accompanied by old and new illustrations flashed on screen, all made possible thanks to Andrew Brenner. In-between the episodes quizzes and engine facts will also be featured. The Thomas Way will be the last 2013 American title released in December leading into its UK release in January 2014.

Trouble on the Tracks DVD (USA-2014)

America (as well as the UK) received The Thomas Way as its first DVD for 2014 followed by Spills and Thrills, marking not only another DVD exclusive in terms of unseen episodes, but finally putting an end to the aspect-ratio problem making it the first standard CGI release on a DVD rendered in widescreen, as the previous releases only gained on ITunes. In April, Railway Mischief became a standard release one year after its Wal-Mart exclusive release, Trouble on the Tracks was the second to be released in this availably providing a first look at Season 18, although to the surprise of many it was to be the last and final title after a seven year run to be distributed for HiT by Lionsgate.

Tale of the Brave

News arrived before the summer that the Hollywood studio name Universal Home Entertainment was to continue where Lionsgate left off releasing titles in partnership with HiT, starting with the 2014 special Tale of the Brave. For a second time for a special, The title was released on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download. Wal-Mart offered a bonus title with the special upon its release Engines to the Rescue. 2014 wrapped up with The Christmas Engines in October, and Signals Crossed in December. 2015 has at this moment confirmed one upcoming title with more untelevised Season 18 episodes, Dino’s and Discoveries.

Universal also obtained the full catalogue of previous DVD titles from both Anchor Bay and Lionsgate, including those dating back to the 1990s, putting doubts again on remastered new classic compilations being produced for American fans. Petitions and blog posts have since then posted to try and persuade HiT to make more complete seasons available to the American Market.

Thomas Videos in Australia & New Zealand

A History of Thomas Home Entertainment in Australia and New Zealand

by Callum Walker

First Australian Thomas VHS release (1987)

AUSTRALIA
Video releases of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends were distributed by the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) following its first transmission of the television series in 1987.  For Australians, ABC obtained the distribution rights to produce and release the same video titles that The Video Collection and Screen Legends released in the United Kingdom.  Series 2 episodes were distributed in Australia a year later after its UK debut, with Series 3 following in 1993. There were however a few minor content differences between the Australian and UK VHS tape releases.

Time for Trouble and Other Stories

ABC did not mirror all title releases that were produced and distributed in the UK, and also changed the order of a few episodes. For example, Buzz Buzz, as found in Escape and Other Stories in the UK was instead featured in the Australian version of Trust Thomas and Other Stories. The later produced Australian version of Spooks and Surprises left out the Horrid Lorry episode. ABC also followed The Video Collection's lead by re-titling and re-releasing their older previously sold volumes, but unlike their UK counterpart did not produce any early episode compilation or bumper special titles.

Thomas & the Special Letter and Other Stories

All episodes for the fourth series were released between 1995 and 1996, along both Rock ‘N’ Roll and Thomas and Stepney and Other Stories, and and additional volume available only in Australia: Thomas and the Special Letter and Other Stories which included the remainder of the Series 4 episodes. The Biggest Ever Christmas Collection was released both in Australia and New Zealand but didn’t include the seasonal song performed by The Four Marks Beaver Scouts that was featured in the UK version of the volume.

Happy Ever After

ABC eventually began to produce their own video titles by changing the episode and song lists on the same releases UK consumers were already familiar with; Happy Ever After was released in 2000, followed by Truck Loads of Fun which also shares the distinction of being the first Australian DVD format title of the franchise. Australian releases of the sixth season began with the titles Thomas and the Jet Engine, Twin Trouble, and Rusty Saves the Day. The VHS format era of Australian Thomas titles ended with the rekease of Peep! Peep! Hooray: Three Cheers for Thomas.

Together on the Tracks

While UK distribution companies continued changing hands in the UK, ABC Kids remained stable with its Thomas video production, and continues to do so by slowly keeping pace with the titles being released in the UK by HiT Entertainment and 2Entertain. ABC introduced one innovation by presenting the DVDs in a durable plastic carry-case packaging design, and at times changing the episode and bonus feature content. In 2006 ABC at last began releasing the complete classic series in DVD box sets and individually.  The company also resumed producing their own compilation titles along with HiT's feature-length specials..

My First Thomas

In 2009, ABC started producing a series of  "introduction" DVDs that featured both classic and new episodes focusing on a particular Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends character. Sony Creative Products were doing the same for Japanese distribution with the same episode content. Keeping with the times, ABC soon made digital media episodes available via iTunes, providing restored footage for some of its My First Thomas titles.

Like the US and UK releases, ABC's DVD content include CGI series episodes, but without the segments with Mr Perkins or additional bonus features such as two extra episodes. Two Best of releases to celebrate Thomas' 65th Anniversary were released in 2010. Australian Blu-Ray releases of the feature-length specials have kept pace with America with Misty Island Rescue and Day of the Diesels. By contrast, the latter title has been the only title available in that format so far in the UK. 

ABC's The Best of Thomas and Misty Island Rescue

The Party Surprise

With the UK only releasing one title with Series 12 episodes (Heave Ho!), ABC released a one-off The Party Surprise in 2009, which featured 7 episodes from the series that were not included in the UK version. New Australian Thomas titles are far and few in between due to high retail prices to offset production costs. Despite this, sales of Australian DVD Thomas titles continue to be as successful as their US and UK counterparts.

Spills & Thrills DVD (AUD-2014)

New Australian Thomas titles are far and few in between due to high retail prices to offset production costs (fans feel that the DVD clamshell is not required and shoulf mimic the lower priced packaging of the UK and US), and more recent titles from only a few years back have arrived long after their release in other countries. The Australian release of Spills and Thrills proved rather disappointing, with the episodes already shown on ABC TV. As a result the release did not receive as much praise as the UK and US versions. Although shown in cinemas, the additional segments were cut and the Season 14 episode Jitters and Japes replaced Thomas’ Shortcut. The digital release included The Thomas Way, although some consumers believe that the final release was “tampered” with.

Time for Trouble and Other Stories

NEW ZEALAND
Most Thomas the Tank Engine VHS titles distributed in New Zealand were either British and Australian imports. Videos produced in New Zealand were distributed by Roadshow/Endeavour Entertainment. Oddly, the majority of these releases included episodes narrated by American George Carlin, and included a promotional tagline for Shining Time Station which wasn't broadcasted in the UK territory.
 
A series of five Bumper Collection videos which featured all Series 1–3 episodes, plus the first two of Series 4 were released in 1997. Current Thomas episode releases in New Zealand are identical to the Australian DVD titles. To date, Thomas episodes are not available to New Zealanders through iTunes.

Collect-a-Cel

Unique collectables licensed by Britt Allcroft's company

In 1999, Simitar Entertainment under licence by Britt Allcroft (Thomas) Limited introduced these unique limited edition numbered collectables of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends chroma-cel animation artwork under their Collect-a-Cel line. They retailed at the time for $34.95 US. With 5000 prints issued for each, the pictures measured 16" x 12" with the white matte which could be later framed by the purchaser. We believe that the series was limited to the ones displayed below; 2 from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, and 2 of Owen Bell's artwork. Each item came shrink-wrapped with its own Certificate of Authenticity.

Above: Chroma-Cel from Series 4's Sleeping Beauty
(click image to see larger version)

Collect-a-Cel Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends
Above: Chroma-Cel from Series 3's Thomas, Percy and the Dragon
(click image to see larger version)

Collect-a-Cel Certificate of Authenticity
Certificate of Authenticity for above Collect-a-Cel
(click image to see larger version)

Collect-a-Cel print by Owen Bell
Above: Collect-a-Cel of Thomas and Bertie artwork by Owen Bell. 
(click image to see larger version)

Collect-a-Cel print by Owen Bell
Above: Collect-a-Cel of Thomas, Annie & Clarabel by Owen Bell. 
(click image to see larger version)

TIMEFRAMED LTD. RAILWAY SERIES PRODUCTS

Railway Series history collectables licensed by Britt Allcroft's company

Timeframed Ltd was a UK company founded in early 1999 specialising in the licensed production and sale of limited edition framed wall-hangings of exclusive items of interest compiled from sports, transport, war, and literature subject archives. The goal of each item was to tell the story of a subject’s heritage.
 
Intended for a subject’s niche of dedicated followers, each product was hand-crafted with high quality replicas of archival material. Each edition was uniquely numbered and accompanied by a signed certificate of authenticity and a booklet.  Though expensive, these higher-end limited edition products were promoted as being “coveted by many, but possessed by few” and providing the purchaser with a real sense of pride of ownership.
 
The company ceased operations in 2001 and has long since dissolved.
 
From the information at hand, we know that Timeframed produced 5 limited edition products of 1000 apiece covering the history of the Railway Series under license with Britt Allcroft who by now owned the rights to the original artwork and source material (featured in the 1995 Thomas the Tank Engine Man BBC Bookmark documentary) We’ve compiled a list of them below.  A few of these are occasionally listed for auction on eBay.

Timeframed's The Art of the Rev. Awdry (large)
Thomas the Tank Engine - The Art of Reverend Awdry
Code: A1005302 - Original Price: £195.00
Dimensions: 854mm x 600mm - Limited Edition Quantity: 1000
 
Product Description: Reverend Wilbert Awdry, writer and creator of the Thomas the Tank Engine provided guideline sketches from which C .Reginald Dalby illustrated the first book series - The Three Railway Engines. (click image to see larger version)


 
PHOTO NEEDED
(If you have one to share, please contact us)

The Art of Reverend Awdry 1 (small)
Code: A1012902 - Original Price: £79.50
Dimensions (MM): 445mm x 377mm - Limited Edition Quantity: 1000
 
Product Description: First published in 1945, Thomas the Tank Engine became one of the most successful children's characters ever featured in books, TV or film. This edition features exact replicas of 2 original drawings the late Reverend produced as guidelines for the illustrator of the first books. These originals are presented alongside those versions actually published, highlighting how closely the illustrator stuck to the original sketches.


Timeframed's The Art of the Rev. Awdry 2
The Art of Reverend Awdry 2 (small)
Code: A1013102 - Original Price: £79.50
Dimensions (MM): 445mm x 377mm - Limited Edition Quantity: 1000
 
Product Description: Reverend Wilbert Awdry created Thomas the Tank Engine in 1942. This second edition features exact replicas of 2 more original drawings the late Reverend produced as guidelines for the illustrator of the first books. These originals are presented alongside the published versions. (click image to see larger version)


PHOTO NEEDED
If you have one you’d like to share, please contact us)
 
The Origins of Thomas the Tank Engine
Code: A1003202 - Original Price: £195.00
Dimensions (MM): 860mm x 600mm - Limited Edition Quantity: 1000
 
Product Description: Thomas the Tank Engine has become one of the most loved characters in children's literature. Created in 1942 by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry, Thomas books became hugely successful making the Reverend one of the most widely read children's authors in the world. This frame contains a fascinating selection of original text and drawings, a letter from Reverend Awdry's literary agent outlining the first publishing offer, the receipt for the same, a rejection letter, and the front cover illustration for the first published book.


Timeframed's The Art of TTTE (small).jpg
The Origins of Thomas the Tank Engine (small)
Code: A1011702 - Original Price: £79.50
Dimensions (MM): 595mm x 445mm - Limited Edition Quantity: 1000
 
Product Description: This smaller edition features a fascinating selection of original handwritten stories and drawings along with the front cover of the first published book 'The Three Railway Engines' (click image to see larger version).


Timeframed Ltd. Certificate of Authenticity
Example of Timeframed Ltd Certificate of Authenticity for the items listed above that would be affixed behind the frame

An Important Note to Collectors
Whilst most of the Timeframed Railway Series history items are assigned unique numbers from 1 to 1000 in the bottom right corner of the piece, you may encounter a few numbered HC/1000. These products were produced for the publisher's use only and withdrawn from being sold ("HC" is French for hors de commerce). These would also not normally have a certificate of authenticity (as was the case with the 2 in my personal collection).
 
In principle the HC/1000 versions should not fetch more $ than the certified 1-1000 numbered lot. With that said, the quality between both versions of the product are equally matched, and still makes for a lovely keepsake for fans of the Railway Series.

Manuscript Framed Prints

Manuscript framed prints of Owen Bell's Railway Series artwork licensed by Britt Allcroft and Kaye & Ward

In the mid 1980s, Manuscript (UK) produced a series of collectable framed prints under license from Britt Allcroft who owned the rights to the TV series, and Kaye & Ward who at the time solely owned the rights to the Rev. Awdry's Railway Series.
 
Artist Owen (Owain) Bell's artwork were featured in these plastic framed prints - each individually numbered. Not much information is available about the company or of the variety or number of prints produced.

Manuscript Trevor & Edward Print by Owen Bell
Manuscript Trevor & Edward Print Serial Number
Owen Bell's Trevor & Edward Manuscript print.  (Image courtesy Kate Potts - click image to see larger version)
The framed Manuscript prints of Owen's artwork were all individually numbered. (Image courtesy Kate Potts)