Here, we look at other children's television
shows and books that have links to Thomas or are of a similar ilk...
In addition to his famous engines, the Rev. W. Awdry also penned two novellas
aimed at older children, about the adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle.The first
title, Belinda the Beetle appeared in 1958, followed in 1968 by sequel, Belinda Beats
The Band.Taking a totally different slant on writing, the Belinda
books had far more dense plotlines, and took advantage of events that Awdry would not have endeavoured to use in the Railway
Series books such as thievery, kidnapping and car chases – all of which were delivered in his own old fashioned innocent
Sadly, Belinda never achieved the notoriety of her railway counterparts, but lives on in
their shadow, with some of those interested in Awdry’s work taking notice of her adventures to ‘complete’
their collections.Belinda’s books were not as colourful as the bold Railway
Series illustrations, but did contain work by John Kenney for the sequel book, with the original done by Iconus.Both novellas were reillustrated by Val Biro later on.
Following the second series of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends,
Clearwater Features wanted to create their own original series.Both he and David
Mitton wanted to create a new world which would challenge them creatively and stretch their expertise.Wishing to continue with a transport theme, the idea of Tugboats piqued the interest of Producer, Robert
D. Cardona, whilst in San Fransisco.Thus, the idea for TUGS was born.
Set in an international port of Bigg City Port (referred
to as the ‘biggest Harbour in the world) in the 1920s, it chronicled the daily lives of two rival Tugboat fleets
– the hero Star Tugs, who were portrayed as honest, industrious and friendly, led by the suave Ocean-Going Tug, Hercules,
with wise Paddle-Steamer OJ and river-wise Harbour Tug, Big Mac, to keep things running smoothly for the clumsy Warrior, uppity
Top Hat and the two younger switchers, Ten Cents and Sunshine. Competing against them were the villainous
Z-Stack fleet, who were presented as devious, rude and occasionally, stupid (often
as villains are presented to us in fiction), led by the cunning Zorran, who had the arduous task of co-ordinating
the two bumbling switchers Zip and Zug, as well as his underling Harbour Tugs, Zebedee and Zak.
Whilst regarded as similar to Thomas in terms of production, TUGS was regarded as superior in terms of scripting.
Within the longer and variable 15 to 20-minute running length, the writing staff
were able to create far more dramatic and enthralling storylines, as well as incorporating elements of comedy throughout which
balanced the series out. Director, Writer and Co-Creator, David Mitton is
fondly remembered by members of the production team for having a keen interest in explosions, being regarded as one of the
finest pyrotechnics to work for Century 21st (Gerry Anderson’s Company), and he took the
chance time and again to incorporate fire and explosions into his storylines... although fellow Director / Writer, Chris Tulloch,
also indulged in the art of explosives in his episode Trapped.
A second series of TUGS was planned long before the first ended shooting; however, these plans were shelved
when TVS (partners in TUGS Ltd. with Clearwater Features) went bankrupt.TUGS became the last major production made by Clearwater Features.David Mitton went on to join the Britt Allcroft Company and continued to produce and direct for Thomas until 2003,
when he chose to leave following the HIT Entertainment takeover.Robert D. Cardona
went to live in Canada and carried on the spirit of the TUGS Series in a new production, Theodore Tugboat, which he produced
and occasionally directed.
Following liquidation of Clearwater Features and final confirmation that TUGS would not
continue in production, some of the models and sets from TUGS were sold to the Britt Allcroft Company for use in filming Thomas
the Tank Engine and Friends.Certain models were heavily modified (such as OJ who appeared altered in Series 4), whilst others such as the SS Vienna (Liner) and Big Mickey
(Harbour Crane) continued unaltered throughout.Big Mickey in particular
has had the longest post-TUGS lifespan having appeared in every Thomas series since 1991, and being rendered in CGI for the
new animated series!
The series saw a brief return to life as the footage was used as part of an American series, Salty’s Lighthouse.However, the visuals were re-edited (often
badly) throughout to create original storylines with new voiceovers.A DVD
Campaign for TUGS has been going on for some time, but seems unlikely to bear much success given the fragmented nature of
the rights to the series.We hope that these will eventually resolve themselves,
but in the meantime, we have fond memories.
Tozer’s creation Mumfie had previously been adapted by Mary Turner and John Read for ATV as the puppet animation TV
Series, ‘Here Comes Mumfie’ between 1976 and 1979, running for 52 episodes. This version has been subsequently overlooked as the years have progressed, being overtaken by Britt Allcroft’s
adaptation, which first appeared in the early 1990s, following on from production of Series 3 of Thomas the Tank
Engine, which had been the first full production that Britt Allcroft Productions had produced on their own steam.
Ironically, Storyteller for Mumfie, Patrick Breen, was initially in mind for a role in Thomas & The Magic
Railroad, but was sadly dropped as were a number of other voice talents.
Unlike Thomas, Britt instead decided to utilise 2D animation
to create ‘The Magical Adventures Of Mumfie’, reimagining the original Catherine Tozer
novels to see Mumfie finding his faithful friend the Scarecrow, who had been made redundant by the Farmer, and a timid piglet
called Pinky, who had run away from his home, which had been taken over by the Evil Master who is keeping his mother prisoner.He, Mumfie and Scarecrow make it their mission to save her, and encounter various
obstacles and make new friends along the way.
also encompassed 26 Broadway style songs into its format, with lyrics by her writing partner, John Kane, music by Larry
Grossman and songs and music produced by Steve Horelick. Mumfie also saw a Movie release based on
the character’s initial adventures in Britt Allcroft’s reimagined series.In 2008, Britt reacquired the rights to Mumfie from HIT Entertainment.
Tugboat was thought up by Andrew Cochran, a worker at Halifax Harbour, as a means to explain to his young son
all the characteristics and work of the different vessels within the port. The idea seemed to have merit when Cochran formed
his own production company in 1989 and developed the series with the CBC in Canada along with former Thomas / TUGS Producer
Robert Cardona, who directed a number of episodes of the series. It is likely that the premise of live action animation
was introduced by Cardona, using his previous experience learned from Thomas and TUGS. The series ran for five
seasons between 1992 - 1998 with 130 episodes in all.
follows the adventures of a young tugboat named Theodore who lives in the Big Harbour, handling life's lessons portrayed through
the working life of a tugboat. With his best friend Hank, and the other tugboats - Emily the "Vigorous", George the "Valiant"
and Foduck the "Vigilant" - they all strive to do a good job and make the Big Harbour "the friendliest Harbour in the world".
The stories were told by the Harbourmaster, played by Denny Doherty.
In a similar format used by Thomas and TUGS before, the series was filmed
using character models and sets, all which were designed and made by Fred Allen, and are to this day on permanent display
at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But unlike Thomas or TUGS, not only were the tugboats, barges
and ships given various personalities and expressions, but other structures such as buildings, bellboys, bridges, oil rigs
and even docks received the same treatment - case in point with Benjamin Bridge and Donald Dock. To add also, all the names
of the ships in the series were deprived from real-life locations mainly from the Nova Scotia region - such as Truro, Shelburne,
Inverness and Canso Colossus, to name but a few.
The series ended production in 2001, and the rights were sold onto Classic
Media, but to this day many Americans remember Theodore as much as they do with Thomas, with tons of merchandise to seek after
- books VHS Cassettes, Ertl models. But Theodore is still remembered today by a life-sized replica tugboat (bearing the
name Theodore Too) which resides in Halifax Harbour, giving sightseeing tours to visitors.
Ivor The Engine... look, there he is, standing next to the notes I’m currently writing with Jones The Steam...’
– okay, you get the picture!Ivor the Engine was the creation
of Oliver Postgate, who produced and created several other much-loved British children’s classics such as The Clangers
and Bagpuss with his collaborator, Peter Firmin.Set in the top
left-hand corner of Wales on the Merioneth and Llantisilly Railway Traction Company Limited, the series followed the adventures of their engine
– Ivor – and his friends.
Ivor was a peculiar machine. He was very far removed from his Railway
Series counterparts, both in account of the fact he could only communicate through his whistle and he could go anywhere he
liked without the aid of his Driver, Jones the Steam to stop him or apply the brakes. Truly, Ivor had a mind of his
own! Funnily enough, his lack of verbal communication did not seem to hinder him in the slightest, Jones The
Steam was somehow able to understand every communication that Ivor's whistle intended to tell him and would be able to
relay it to the uninitiated such as grumpy Dai Station - The Station Master and snooty Mrs Griffiths
- The lady from the Antiquarian society who was to help Ivor's friend Idris the Dragon.
The original Ivor series in 1959 was a set of 6 episodes,
the first of which explained how Ivor got his new pipes to play in the Choir, were made for Associated-Redifusion
Ltd as black and white episodes. Later two sets of thirteen further episodes, also in black and white
were also produced, which introduced the Dragons and an Elephant. The series was given a resurgance of life again in
1975 when Smallfilms acquired the rights to the series and set about remaking the original films and adding several more until
they met a quota of 40 in total.
In recent years, Ivor has made something of a comeback, becoming a viable alternative in the world of Heritage
Railways who want to hold Ivor The Engine Events. The colour TV series has since been released on DVD, with all forty episodes available.A CD release has also been made with the themes and sound effects from Ivor The Engine included. An enjoyable
and endearing little train!
and intended as a means of ‘knocking Thomas into the sidings’, Underground Ernie featured
the vocal talents of former footballer, and current pundit, Gary Lineker in the title role.Set in London’s Underground system, it ran for 26 CGI-based episodes with characters named after different Tube
routes – Bakerloo, Circle, Victoria, Hammersmith, City and Jubilee. It is set in International Station, a fictional worldwide underground network, and focuses
on the everyday adventures of Ernie, a friendly Underground supervisor, Millie, his multilingual colleague and Mr Rails the
lovable maintenance man.
numerous re-airings on the CBeebies channel, Ernie is yet to see another series, with producers Joella Productions trying
to raise the £4 million pound funding to create one.However, with the overwhelming
success of modern-based ‘Chuggington’ on CBeebies, and Thomas’s
continued dominance of all things that run on rails, it’s questionable what levels of success that Ernie will have if
he does make a return.
You’re probably wondering what a series about a clown who becomes stuck on an island, surrounded by various
other surreal characters has to do with Thomas.Charlie Chalk was a
children’s comedy conceived by Ivor Wood of Woodland Animations, who also produced classic shows such as Postman Pat,
Bertha and Gran.However, Charlie’s link with Thomas lies with Jocelyn
Stevenson, the sole writer for the entire series.
Jocelyn would later go on to work with Jim Henson as a writer and producer on several other major productions
such as Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street
and The Muppet Show.She later ascended
the ladder of HIT Entertainment to the role of Executive Producer, and overseen the transformation of Thomas and Friends
when brought into the HIT stable in 2002. She left HIT Entertainment in 2006 and was replaced by Christopher Skala,
who has pushed through even more innovative changes for all the major HIT properties.
Set on the island of Merrytwit, Charlie meets an odd mixture of new friends.There’s Arnold the clumsy elephant, Lewis T. Duck who believes he has the answer to everything, Captain Mildred
who runs the island, Trader Jones who runs the only general store on the island and Edward the Gorilla, who likes to sleep
all day long.As with the Island of Sodor, everything and anything can happen
on Merrytwit and usually does...
Charlie Chalk is unique among the Woodland Animations properties of the 80s, being one of
only two to have had a full DVD release of every episode produced (The other being
Gran). The episodes have stood the test of time and will undoubtedly bring a smile to faces of nostalgic fans or
children being exposed to the series for the first time.
Adventues On Orsum Island was intended to be a culmination of David Mitton’s
years as a Director, Producer and Writer for television.Working with long-term
business associates from his days of the Clearwater Film Company, Michelle Fabian-Jones and David Lane (who has worked on several major features and series), the series was intended to be groundbreaking in terms of
visual and technical innovations – with live action sets and 3D CGI characters and effects.
Sadly, the project was abandoned following David’s untimely death in May 2008, when only four episodes
had been completed.The series was due to follow the race for survival of Kodi,
Divine Flower and their two friends Monty and Fidget, as the evil Zarkan tried to rid the land of all life using his terrifying
army of The Viners, led by Malus. Monty provides a comic counter-point with his sidekick Fidget – as the last remaining
dragon on the island he has yet to master the art of flight but, more importantly needs to learn to control the balls of flame
that keep shooting out of his nose!
Intended as a production aimed at older children, Orsum Island was praised by those who saw it was a
means of filling a gap in the market, which is felt to be sorely overlooked by broadcasters and producers.However, with the project abandoned, it is now very unlikely that the episodes will air – however,
clips from the series are scattered across the internet.
While more famous for The Muppets, the Jim Henson Company stretched their expertise in the late 1990s to create
a brand new TV Series focussing upon construction vehicles.Construction
Site was like a cross between Thomas’s ‘Live Action Model Animation’ format and Jim
Henson’s own puppetry techniques and charm.Steve Asquith (a long standing
Thomas veteran from 1984) was employed by the Jim Henson Company to act as a technical consultant, and the series was
directed by Simon Spencer (who would become the Producer for Thomas in 2004). Jocelyn Stevenson (Exec Producer
of Thomas from 2003 to 2006), Paul Larson and Marc Seal (Thomas writers) all wrote episodes for the series prior
to their work on Thomas and Friends under Gullane and HIT Entertainment.
Construction Site was unique in the setup of the Jim Henson Company as it was the first pre-school
series to make effective use of the company’s advanced animatronic technology.This had been reserved previously for major film productions such as Lost In
Space and Babe.Each animatronic character was performed by a single puppeteer and a ‘driver’, who were
also makers and maintainers of the vehicular characters. Each character cost over $30,000 to produce with new techniques having
to be developed to accommodate the vast number of servos in a small area and new silicon for the tyres.
The series followed the day to day adventures of the construction vehicles as they went
about their work, with new recruits Diggs the Backhoe and Scooch the Dump Truck learning the tricks of the trade from the
older machines.Construction Site ran for four series
from 1999 to 2002, became ranked by The Guardian one of ITV’s Top Ten Children’s Shows, and nominated for the
Live Children’s BAFTA two years running.
Based in a child's bedroom prior to the show's opening theme, Dream Street featured the adventures of a group of toy
vehicles. Starring Buddy the Breakdown Truck and Tech the wise old robot, they help make sure that Dream Street is a happy,
cheerful place to be, alongside Daisy Do-Right the police car, her band of Sleeping Policeman, the gossiping traffic lights
Amber and Scarlet, Ice Cool the ice cream van and Half-Pint the shy little milk float.
But every so often, a few other characters wind up causing
or landing themselves into trouble - which usually varies from Jack Hammer the energetic pneumatic drill, Hot Rodney the reckless
Hot Rod car, Hot Air the three-wheeled whoopee cushion or the unruly band of traffic cones known as The Wild Bunch. That's
when Buddy knows "It's Magic Time" and picks up various accessories from Tech to help save the day!
series aired in 1990 for several seasons on CITV including a half-hour Christmas Special, and featured the voices of Russ
Abbott, Dave Benson Philips, Charlotte Bellamy, Chris Jarvis and Emma Tate. Also in line with Thomas, TUGS
and Theodore Tugboat, it was created using animatronic models and sets, although CGI special effects were included
for the more magical scenes. Chris Tulloch, director and writer of TUGS, helped develop the series as Production Manager alongside
Ian Davis, director Brian Johnson (not to be confused with the lead singer for AC/DC!!) and producer Nigel Stone.
Steve Asquith was also notably part of the team as 1st Assistant Director on the series.
As the series progressed, Dream Street
also taught children road safety in a campaign called Get Streetwise, which can be viewed online today!
Bob the Builder was one of HIT Entertainment’s first major success stories.Created and designed by Keith Chapman, the series has evolved throughout the years with Bob taking on numerous
building tasks from simple odd-jobs around Bobsville to the massive project to build the eco-friendly new town in Sunflower
Bob’s team includes Scoop the Digger, Muck the Bulldozer, Dizzy the Mixer, Roly the Steamroller
and Lofty the Crane, who are eager to work on any job, anywhere. Other machines include Trix the Forklift Truck, Skip the
Skip Lorry and Travis the Tractor. Originally, when the show was being pitched, there were talks of not having the machines
talking at all—but after trying to rewrite the episodes to meet that agreement, that idea was scrapped.
Bob’s third incarnation – ‘Bob The Builder: Ready, Steady, Build!’ will be a move to full CGI animation, much in the same breath
as fellow HIT properties, Thomas and Friends and Fireman Sam.However, like the previous second ‘spin-off’,
‘Project Build It’ set
in Sunflower Valley, Bob and his team will move to the new setting of Harbour Town instead.
Fireman Sam started out as an idea from two former Firemen from Kent, Dave Gingell and
Dave Jones, and co-produced by Welsh broadcaster S4C and Bumper Films.The series
followed the events in the Welsh town of Pontypandy, where Sam and the rest of the crew were based, and showcase the various
tasks and responsibilities faced on a daily basis by Fire Crews.Aside from putting
out fires, these would include rescuing people from precarious situations, such as falling down mines, becoming trapped on
rooftops or in one instance, subject to inhaling dangerous chemicals.
The focus of the series relied much on the promotion of fire safety, and making
children realise that accidents can happen in a number of ways – either through carelessness, coincidence or, often
with naughty Norman Price, deliberate actions or plain stupidity.Sam
was seen as a positive role model within the local community, admired up to by the children and well liked by the local townspeople
such as Bella Lasagne, Dilys Price and Trevor ‘The Bus’ Evans. He would often
be seen as a guiding light to younger fire-fighter, Elvis Cridlington, providing much needed relief to their often
exasperated boss, Station Officer Basil Steele.
Under Bumper Films, 32 x 10 minute episodes were produced between 1985 and 1994, along with a 20-minute Christmas special
in 1988.In 2000, Bumper Films were acquired by Gullane Entertainment (formerly the Britt Allcroft Company), but no plans were prominent for Fireman Sam at the time.Upon Gullane’s takeover by HIT Entertainment in 2002, Fireman Sam was commissioned for a new series
– a co-production between S4C, HIT Entertainment and Sirriol Productions, run by Robin Lyons who had been involved with
the previous production.
In the 2003-05 series, the townsfolk of Pontypandy were joined by newcomers such as the Flood family and Tom
Thomas – an Australian pilot of rescue helicopter Wallaby One.There was
also a change of animation style, with greater levels of detail on settings and looking closer to Sirriol’s other productions
than the original production, as well as the inclusion of three voice actors, without the inclusion of John Alderton.The new voice of Sam and other male characters was John Sparkes, who was joined by
Joanna Ruiz and Sarah Hadland. This series ran for 26 episodes, and while Sam
was still promoted and broadcasted, no further episodes were commissioned as Sirriol’s management were bought out and
the team went on to form Calon TV.
In 2008, HIT Entertainment bought out S4C’s remaining shares in Fireman Sam and set out a new agenda to produce a new series with full creative
control.Sam became one of the first HIT properties to be redefined in CGI, this
becoming the third incarnation of the series.52 episodes were commissioned by
HIT and outsourced to Hibbert Ralph Animation (HRTV) and Xing Xing of Beijing.The
new series launched in 2009, changing Pontypandy from a mountain village to a seaside town, and introducing new characters
such as Sam’s brother Charlie and sister-in-law Bronwyn, and displacing classic character Bella Lasagne.As part
of the CGI switchover, Sam also received his first 60-minute special – The Great
Fire Of Pontypandy, released in April of 2010.
is produced by former HIT Entertainment Executives, Robert Lawes and Charlie Caminada, who left the company and set up Ludorum.Made in full CGI in a very colourful world, Chuggington
follows the adventures of Brewster, Koko and Wilson – three ‘Trainees’ on the Chuggington Railway.Unlike Thomas and Friends, Chuggington is a very modern
setting, with the lead voice actors being children themselves to align themselves more to the characters they are playing.The series has been a very successful venture for Ludorum, and airs regularly on CBeebies
in the UK and Playhouse Disney in the United States.
both rely on railways to tell stories, the producers of Chuggington have taken greater artistic licence with their characters
and setting.Chuggington’s location is very much ambiguous, with rocky
mountain landscapes and lush green fields, it could quite literally be anywhere in the world.The range of locomotives used as well is wide and varied with designs derived from all over the world from an LNER
A4 Pacific (such as Olwyn) to an electric Japanese Bullet Train (Koko), with a myriad of American and British
engine designs that make up the character base.
And unlike Thomas & Friends which has always been grounded in a sense of reality, Chuggington
embraces a greater sense of cartoony fun, where engines can leap and bound off the rails, move their entire bodies in a humanistic
fashion and in more extreme cases... fly and spin their entire bodies around!It
also retains the look of a toy / fantasy world with the design of the rails themselves, which do not resemble any proper railway,
and instead look similar to those found on Tomy Railway sets instead!However,
similarly to Thomas, there are certain locations used to drive the stories such as the Quarry, Farm, the old abandoned Chuggington
town, the Ice Cream Factory, run by the eccentric Frostini, and Safari Park run by Mtambo.
Throughout each episode the Trainees learn the value of loyal friendship, telling the truth, listening
carefully, persisting under adversity, completing tasks, resolving conflict without violence, and many similar important life
values. There is also great emphasis upon learning and respecting the older Chuggers such as the forgeful Old Puffer Pete,
wise Speedy, brash Harrison and kindly Olwyn. The chuggers have real-life emotional strengths and weaknesses, too. Through all their adventures,
they strive to use their strengths for the good of the community and to deal effectively but realistically with their personal
foibles. Much of the time, such dealing involves good humour and personal understanding.
Chuggington has also branched out with a spin-off series
called Badge Quest, where the younger characters carry out tasks which enable them to learn about the different
roles and tasks they will have to perform on the railway. Upon successful completion of each task, they are rewarded
with badges which relate to what they have just learned, often with help from the older Chuggers. Badge Quest episodes run for 5 minutes as opposed to normal Chuggington episodes which
run for 10.
Suggested by David Jenkins,
an employee at Brands Hatch Race Circuit, Roary the Racing Car is the third major success story
of Chapman Entertainment, the production company behind Bob the Builder and Fifi and the Flowertots. The
series follows the adventures of a series of motor cars at their grand prix circuit track. The majority of the action takes
place at the workshops and pit stops of the track, though the cars are followed on their adventures around the track and to
the nearby surroundings. The majority of the series relies on traditional model animation, though does incorporate CGI for
certain story elements, particularly the race segments.
The series follows the adventures of Roary, a cheeky, energetic
new racing car, whose over-curiosity and longing for adventure can often cause trouble for him and his friends. Among those
friends are Maxi, the rather highly strung F1 racing legend; Cici, the French electric car and Roary’s closest friend;
Drifter, the hi-tech car with poor handling, and Tin Top, the rather accident prone stock car. The cars live under the watchful
eye of Big Chris, the caring if absent minded mechanic; Marsha, the far more reliable race marshal, and Mr. Carburetta, the
flamboyant, hot headed owner of the race track.
The links with the world of motor racing are
clearly evident; the series is set at the fictional ‘Silver Hatch’ race track (an amalgamation of the two
British grand prix tracks; Silverstone and Brands Hatch). Racing legend Sir Stirling Moss provides the opening and closing
narration, whilst Australian V8 racer and 5 times Bathurst 1000 winner, Craig Lowndes, voiced
the new character ‘Conrad’ (named after the famous straight at the Mount Panorama
Circuit in Bathurst, New South Wales) in
The bulk of the series’ success, however, stems from
Peter Kay, one of the most celebrated comedy personalities of the last decade. Kay provides the voices for the loveable Big
Chris, the Chief Mechanic at Silverhatch, Tin Top - an American car,
as well as Big Chris’s mother, Big Christine, whom he described as potentially ‘the next Susan Boyle...minus
the Priory!’ Kay’s comedy talents are evident in the series, with some of his lines containing more than
a touch of improvisation with his dialogue, and he is also known to sing quite frequently in the course of some episodes!
With a series that features a cheeky, energetic character
as the lead role, a series of numbered cars and a large man in control, the links with Thomas are clearly evident. In 2009,
Kay helped to make these links clearer. For Children in Need, Peter arranged a charity single in which all the most well known
personalities of children’s television gathered together. This was depicted in the music video through Big Chris arranging
for all the characters to meet at Silver Hatch. At one point, Roary even got to sing a duet with our favourite blue tank engine!