A look at some of the classic merchandise
associated with Thomas & Friends and the Railway Series
Written by CPK & Ryan
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
When you hear Thomas whistle...
'Peep Peep!' ... Turn the page!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Thomas Gets Bumped
A Bump On The Line
Thomas, Percy and the Dragon
Percy's Night Out
Percy and the Dragon
Diesel Does it Again
Trouble in the Harbour Yard
No Joke For James
A Passenger for James
Thomas, Percy and the Post Train
The Post Train
After the Last Train
Edward, Trevor and the Really Useful Party
Edward and the Party
The Vicar's Fête
One Good Turn
Percy, James and the Fruitful Day
Percy Gets Jammed
In a Muddle
Bertie's Bumpy Road
* issues unknown, although the
latter was reprinted in Collected Edition No.37
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 FatController) 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.
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.
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.
'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.
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.
'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 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
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.
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.
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.
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’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...
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
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 there's no indication that there will be improvements made to
the current roster of models.
The greatest criticisms of the Thomas Hornby range stem from the over-inflated pricing on the engines
and the use of the outdated 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’.At present, the plans for the future of the Hornby range are
as yet unknown, however, with a vastly reduced range on the market, it may well be that Hornby are having a re-think on how
they deal with this particular brand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. 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). 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.
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. 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). 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.
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.
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 authenticy.
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
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
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.
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.
2010 had Misty Island Rescue characters (Bash, Dash, Ferdinand,
and Captain) with the same packaging style. It saw the introduction of yet another line, “Early Engineers”.
These models had four wheels for each model, and were shorter and taller than their standard counterparts. This line only
lasted one year, as it was not mentioned by Wooden Railway for 2011, nor was the Talking Railway. 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
All in all, the line saw numerous changes, and had similar themes and
patterns stay the same from the beginning. The line is 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.
Update below courtesy Callum Walker (2013-APR-08)
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 has so far seen 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.
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.
Example of the TOMY TRAINS product range
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
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.
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 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" and new version of Trackmaster Thomas by Fisher Price
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.
This toy system has steamed itself into the Guinness record
books as London's Drayton Manor Thomas Land Theme Park in 2008 set a world record for building the longest toy train track,
1.8 kilometres in length with Thomas going around the circuit in 2.5 hours on 10,530 pieces of track.
Drayton Manor 2008
Not to be outdone, Australlia's Workshops 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 three hours longer to steam around than the Drayton Manor record, but beating it by being 364 metres longer than the
previously-held record, which was built at Ediage/Aqua City, Odaiba, Japan in 2006. Interestingly, on 28th
July 2011 the Japanese broke their own record, the track being 2,221.514 m, 207 m greater than the previous record
holder. This attempt used 10,575 pieces of track.
In closing, 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!
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)
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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!
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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,
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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.
click image to view next slide
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 becomethe most best-selling apps so far.
click image to view next slide
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Fan polls and online reviews of most current DVD releases
of the CGI series have been positive, with the digitally restored classic complete series episodes being highly requested
With new titles now including five to six CGI episodes
per DVD along with enhanced bonus material, consumers are getting better value for their money.
In whatever format, and wherever the episode titles are
sold, Thomas videos have, and always will be a popular bestseller in Britain.
A History of Thomas
Home Entertainment in the USA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.